When I sent out the call for questions for this week’s mailbag, I should have known the majority would deal with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Released Friday by the Kansas City Chiefs, plenty of Bills fans are eager to know whether their team is interested in reuniting Maclin with running back LeSean McCoy, with whom he spent numerous years in Philadelphia.
It's a pastime of sorts in Buffalo to speculate on any player released by another team who fans think could help the Bills. In Maclin's case, however, the interest make sense, because the wide receiver depth chart is uncertain behind No. 1 Sammy Watkins and rookie Zay Jones. If signed, Maclin would challenge Jones for that No. 2 role right away and give the Bills some insurance in case Watkins isn’t healthy. Maclin had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and ’15 with the Eagles and Chiefs, respectively, before his production dropped to just over 500 yards in 2016, when he missed four games because of injury.
So what's the likelihood the Bills sign him? That depends on Maclin's price tag, for starters. The Bills have shown with their interest in tight end Gary Barnidge recently that they're not against adding to the roster at this point, but spending big money to do it doesn't seem to be in their plans. With about $15 million in space under the salary cap, they should have room to do just about anything they want, including go after Maclin, who should have some good years left at 29. When he was released, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said he was “shocked” – although considering the move created $10 million in salary cap space for the Chiefs, perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Considering all of that, I would expect the Bills to have an interest in Maclin, but not participate in a bidding war. I think that covers all Maclin-related inquiries.
With that, here are the rest of this week’s questions (I took the liberty of editing them slightly to meet newspaper style – hope you don’t mind), along with my answers.
Mikeh, via Twitter, asks: How is Cardale Jones looking and do you think he will beat out T.J. Yates for the backup quarterback job?
Considering we've watched all of two spring practices and it's much too early to make any sort of definitive judgments, let's do it anyway! Jones has looked similar to how he did in practices last year. That means he shows glimpses of NFL-level throws while also missing passes that have to be completed at the professional level. Those types of inconsistencies will have to improve drastically by the end of summer if he is to mount any sort of challenge to Yates.
Even with that being the case, I’m with you that Yates doesn’t feel like a roster lock to me. While his experience in Rick Dennison’s offense likely makes him the No. 2 quarterback heading into training camp, it's not like his career has been so distinguished that it's impossible to think the Bills could consider Jones and/or rookie Nathan Peterman a better option at position. To me, the only way Yates makes sense as the backup quarterback is if the Bills lose Tyrod Taylor early in the season and feel they are a playoff team that needs to go with a veteran option. If Taylor gets hurt and the team is out of the playoff hunt, it would make no sense to play Yates, who is on a one-year contract. The team would be much better off at that point getting a look at what either Jones or Peterman can do. If Yates does hold onto the No. 2 job, I could see Jones’ roster spot being in jeopardy.
Richard Brennan, via Facebook, asks: This is a question for down the road … can Western New York ever justify and support a billion-dollar-plus stadium? Without corporate support, suites, etc.? It does not look possible. By the way, ‘The Cap’ is a great stadium for enjoying a football game.
I left out the last part of Richard’s question. Let's just say he's not a big fan of the politics of the NFL. I've learned to never underestimate the taxpayer’s willingness to support professional sports even when study after study has shown committing public dollars to things such as stadiums does not have any real positive impact on the local economy. The tide on that may slowly be turning, though. Both the Chargers and Raiders are on the move because there was not going to be enough public money offered up in San Diego and Oakland to get new stadiums built.
Would it be the same way in Buffalo? The support of Bills fans, who continue to trudge out to New Era Field to watch a mediocre (or bad) football team year after year, continues to amaze me.
Terry and Kim Pegula have not made a new stadium one of their front-burner issues. However, the NFL will surely begin to apply more pressure on them in that regard. The league has shown their goal is to milk every last available dollar out of every last market.
The Bills have a lease that runs through 2022. I do not expect a new stadium to be built before then. The hope has to be that by that time, the corporate economy in Western New York is stronger, even though it’s never going to put the Bills in the stratosphere of teams like the Cowboys, 49ers or their New York City counterparts.
This is a business, after all, and the Pegulas haven’t been shy about treating it as such with their annual ticket-price hikes. At some point, a serious discussion will have to take place about where the Bills are going to play moving forward. When that occurs, we’ll get a better idea of what the price tag will look like for the public.
Rob Quinn, via Facebook, asks: What’s the WR depth chart?
Let’s assume Maclin isn’t a part of it for now. To me, the locks are Watkins and Jones. That’s it. Andre Holmes and Philly Brown, signed as free agents, would be the favorites for the third and fourth spots. Brandon Tate is on track based on his return ability. That gets us to five.
If the team keeps six receivers, that leaves Jeremy Butler, Kolby Listenbee, Dez Lewis, Walt Powell, newly signed Rod Streeter and undrafted free agents Brandon Reilly and Daikiel Shorts fighting for one spot. In that case, I’ll go with Powell right now. A lot of people seem to think Listenbee will have a spot, but until he actually gets on the field, I’m not sure how they’re coming to that conclusion.
One interesting thing to consider, though, is that if Holmes were cut, he would not count in the compensatory draft formula. As ESPN’s Mike Rodak first reported, if the Bills cut three such players – offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse and defensive end Ryan White could be the others – they would be in line to acquire a third-round draft pick for the loss of Stephon Gilmore. I’m fully on board for that move, and think it’s something the team should do. Holmes can’t be just ok in training camp. He has to show the Bills it would be a huge mistake to cut him.
But as of the first weekend in June, my six would be Watkins, Jones, Holmes, Brown, Powell and Tate.
Matt Siuda, via Facebook, asks: When are the Bills going to make the playoffs?
Full disclosure: I went to high school with Matt and used to buy chocolate-covered granola bars from him for .50 cents a pop. I submitted his question, though, since it’s a fair one.
Let’s put the over/under on it on the same timeline as a new stadium. Will they still call Orchard Park home by the time they make the playoffs? I’d feel better in saying yes if I knew for sure Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would retire in that time. I’m fairly convinced Brady is Benjamin Button.
Outside of a surprise retirement, the Bills’ best hope is to land a franchise quarterback, ideally in the 2018 draft. That’s why I’m so intrigued by their two first-round draft picks.
In coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane, the team has a leadership structure in place that has gotten positive initial reviews. But they need time to work. Even though they’ve flipped over exactly half of the roster (as I reported last week, 34 of 68 players to appear in a game in 2016 are no longer with the team), there is still a lot of reshaping to do. Give Beane and McDermott the next three years. I know that’s a tough answer to hear for a team sitting on a 17-year playoff drought, but it’s the only one I’ve got.