Remember that feeling of the last day of school before summer vacation?
Reporters covering the Buffalo Bills got to experience that Thursday when minicamp wrapped up. Welcome to the dead season on the NFL calendar. Teams have about six weeks off before reporting to training camp, a break when the non-stop news cycle of America's most popular sport slows to a crawl.
Before we head to the golf course, however, we're answering your questions on the Bills in our third edition of the mailbag.
Let's get to it:
What are the starting base LB week one?
— Buffalobred (@Merckbillsmafia) June 16, 2017
In the spring, it was Ramon Humber on the weak side, Preston Brown in the middle and Lorenzo Alexander on the strong side. We can all agree Alexander's spot is the safest of that group. Brown and Humber figure to get serious challenges from Reggie Ragland and Gerald Hodges, respectively.
Keep in mind that the team will likely be in sub packages the majority of the time, meaning a linebacker will come off the field. Hodges, who was signed late in free agency, has been working both inside and outside. Given his athleticism, he would make sense as a nickel linebacker because of his coverage skills. So while Humber might be the starter, it's possible Hodges ends up playing more. The middle linebacker competition will be one of the most interesting to watch. Ragland only recently started taking full team reps, so it's not a big surprise he wasn't with the starters in the spring.
My prediction is that by Week One, he is. So I'll go with Alexander-Ragland-Humber.
You were harsh on Cardale when he threw an INT the other day. Tyrod has thrown at least 2, one to a rookie DB. Should this not be a topic?
— Rick McGuire (@mclennon99) June 16, 2017
Here is what I wrote in my 10 takeaways from spring practices: "Taylor, for that matter, also wasn’t that sharp – although his best practice by far was the final one Thursday." His issues with accuracy were absolutely a topic, both here and with other media members on the beat. Those who watched every practice would tell you the same.
Here's the thing, though: The Bills don't have any other options. The backups ranged from mediocre to brutal throughout the spring. Without Taylor, this is maybe a four-win team. The question of whether he is a franchise quarterback has been debated for the better part of two years now. The truth is, nobody has that answer, which is why the Bills brought him back, but only with a $10 million pay cut. If he shows he is, the team has him under contract for another season. If he shows he's not, he can be released with a moderate impact on next year's salary cap.
I wouldn't be surprised if the start of the 2018 offseason is exactly the same as the one we just went though: the pro-Taylor and anti-Taylor camps digging their heels in the ground about why they're right and the other group is wrong.
Do you really see Dre Holmes at the 2nd wr or Zay Jones ?
— TERRY MCBRIDE (@Woodyisagoodie) June 16, 2017
Holmes earned plenty of praise for coach Sean McDermott in the spring – we'll have a story on him in Monday's edition of The Buffalo News – but I'm sticking with Jones as my No. 2 receiver. The rookie missed some time because of a sprained knee, but looked back to full strength for the mandatory minicamp. Holmes does provide the Bills with a tall receiver, which is something they haven't always had (Justin Hunter was a good option in the red zone last year, but didn't do much in the middle of the field). I'd say that Holmes' performance in the spring solidified him as the No. 3 receiver, but that Sammy Watkins and Jones are still ahead of him on the depth chart.
Is Hauschka in danger of getting cut if he has a poor preseason, or would there be a lot of dead money on the cap from such a move?
— MarcDecon (@MarcDecon) June 16, 2017
I've been surprised by just about every move the Bills have made with Hauschka, starting with his contract. He got a three-year deal worth a shade under $9 million that includes $4 million guaranteed. His cap number in 2017 is $2.6 million. That jumps up to $4 million if the team were to cut him. That's not an outrageous increase, but it certainly wouldn't be ideal.
I was also surprised at just how much undrafted rookie free agent Austin Rehkow worked on field goals in the spring. It was enough to wonder whether he's auditioning for more than just the punting job, which was the belief when he was signed and seemed to be confirmed by special teams coordinator Danny Crossman a few weeks ago. The counter to that is it's possible the Bills were just keeping Hauschka fresh.
I haven't seen enough of Rehkow, or Hauschka for that matter, to think that the latter might be in danger of losing his roster spot. Hauschka would have to be brutal in training camp with Rehkow being spectacular for the Bills to really consider making that change, in my opinion.
What are the top 2 or 3 things you will be paying close attention to during training camp?
— Jeremy Powley (@JeremyPowley) June 16, 2017
Let's start with the Sammy Watkins Watch. That will be a daily item on the agenda at camp. Watkins is entering a contract year, and it's imperative he stays healthy, not just for the success of the offense, but also for his next contract. There is no denying his talent, but until he proves he can make it through a 16-game season, he's not going to get the type of second contract he likely envisions.
After that, McDermott's impact on the defense will be a key focus. The team should look much more organized and aware of what's going on this season, because let's face it, it's hard to imagine that getting any worse than it was under Rex Ryan. A full half year after the fact, and it's still baffling the Bills managed to have just 10 players on the field in overtime against the Dolphins for a play that all but decided the game and knocked Buffalo out of the playoff race.
No. 3 is a broad answer, but the depth at several positions is a concern. Included among those would be offensive tackle, running back, tight end, defensive end and safety. Who steps up at those positions to earn the final roster spots?
Why should I feel better about this years team opposed to the previous 3 years
— Craig Whalen (@CraigWhalen2) June 16, 2017
Would you rather have Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan running the Bills or Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott? I know the Bills' new general manager and coach are both in their respective jobs for the first time, but I'd take the unknown that comes with that as opposed to the mediocrity of Whaley and outright fraud of Ryan.
Terry Pegula objects to the word "dysfunctional" describing the way things were with his team in December, but it fits. Every day, there was another story about who was going to get fired, and then one disastrous press conference after another.
That's all gone under Beane and McDermott. You can bet the GM and coach won't get into screaming matches on the sidelines the way Whaley did with Doug Marrone. The team has a leadership structure that makes sense, and Beane has surrounded himself with experienced personnel men, the same way that McDermott has an experienced coaching staff. That might not improve to an increase in wins this year, but give this group some time.
With two first-round picks in 2018, the Bills might have the ammunition to find a quarterback of the future – provided Taylor's not that guy. That's why you should be rooting hard against Kansas City this season.
Does the team really believe in two un-proven leaders coming off of a losing season when they should've been SB contenders?
— Derek Evers (@derekevers) June 16, 2017
Absolutely they do. I feel like Pegula would have hired McDermott to coach the Sabres too if he wanted the job. It's very clear the Bills' new head coach has won over ownership.
Several national outlets have mentioned it's somewhat unusual that McDermott has been given so much power considering he is a first-time head coach, but I go back to what more than a few NFL front-office types expressed to me at the scouting combine in March. Each one, uninitiated, mentioned what a good hire the Pegulas had made. For comparison's sake, I never heard such a thing when Ryan got the job in 2015.
That's not to say he's going to be a success. As mentioned above, the first order of business will be finding a franchise quarterback, and that's proven to be much easier said than done. It's true that Beane and McDermott haven't proven anything, but would your question be "Does the team really believe in two retreads" had the Bills hired a general manager and coach with previous experience? Those people would have been on the open market for a reason, after all. The Bills tried a first-time head coach with Marrone and that blew up the same way it did when they hired Ryan, who had experience.
Is what the Pegulas have done the right move? Obviously only time will tell.