Remember when Mario Williams made his visit to Buffalo Bills as a free agent and the weather was incredible?
I've been thinking about that a lot this week, as the Bills bring some of the draft's top prospects to town for visits. The conditions outside are drastically different than they were in March 2012, when there was a glorious run of 80-degree days during Williams' visit.
It's a good bet the top prospects will leave Buffalo thinking of our area as some Siberian outpost -- which wouldn't be wrong after this spring. Let's get to this week's mailbag:
Rick McGuire asks: What are your thoughts on San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny? I watched him run wild in the Senior Bowl and have been hoping the Bills use a second-round pick on him. I can see him being part of a great one-two punch backfield duo with LeSean McCoy.
Jay: Penny led the nation in rushing in 2017 with 2,248 yards, so he’s certainly productive. He also ran a strong 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, so he’s tested well, too. I like the idea of the Bills adding a running back at some point, but I wouldn’t use a second-round pick on one.
For starters, those two second-round picks the Bills currently possess – Nos. 53 and 56 – could be trade bait in an effort to move up for a quarterback. If they’re not, the team has other needs that I would prioritize over a running back. Sure, General Manager Brandon Beane can tell the team’s official website that he wants to draft the best available player at every pick, but he has to say that (think about how weird it would sound if he said “yeah, we really reached here, but we needed a running back”). The reality is, every NFL team drafts for need at some point. It’s almost impossible not to.
I see quarterback, middle linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver easily being bigger needs than running back. If I was running the Bills’ draft, those are the four positions I would target in the first two rounds. The earliest I would take a running back would be Round 3, with the 96th overall pick. Getting a prospect who can take some of the load off McCoy, who will be 30 during the 2018 season, is a good idea. In a perfect world, that rookie would eventually become McCoy's replacement.
Vancouver Bills Backers asks: Name one player who could be unexpectedly cut before the end of camp.
Jay: Jerry Hughes. He’s a part of the old guard, and we’ve seen how quickly Beane and coach Sean McDermott have moved out players acquired by former General Manager Doug Whaley – even if they say that’s not their intention.
Cutting Hughes after June 1 would save the Bills $6.5 million against the 2018 salary cap. He would count $2.9 million in dead money against the 2019 cap, but that’s not an exorbitant figure.
After combining for 20 sacks in his first two seasons with the Bills, Hughes has just 15 over the last three seasons. He’s also got a maddening propensity to take dumb penalties, and will be 30 before the season starts. Add it all up, and he’s an easy choice for a possible release, particularly after the team added Trent Murphy in free agency.
Tom Mehs asks: Any word on if they are doing a Wall of Fame induction this year who might get the nod (Eric Moulds or Ruben Brown perhaps)?
Jay: That will be up to the Wall of Fame selection committee (full disclosure: I’m a member). We meet in the summer before the start of training camp to discuss and decide that. Brown and Moulds will certainly be candidates, while it’s a good bet that there will also be a discussion on Cornelius Bennett. Stay tuned.
Jim Eimer asks: Beside the top six quarterbacks talked about, are there any second- or third-round prospects that might be on the Bills’ radar?
Jay: Absolutely. Bills quarterbacks coach David Culley was at the pro day of Washington State’s Luke Falk. He’s in that second or third-round range. It’s my understanding that the Bills were intrigued by Falk in 2016, although that opinion may have changed when the front office did. Culley’s presence at his pro day would indicate at least some interest. Other names to keep an eye on during Day 2 are Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta and Western Kentucky’s Mike White. Lauletta has been widely connected to the New England Patriots, who have a pair of picks in both the first and second rounds. White, meanwhile, is a former high school pitcher who has one of the best arms in the draft. He didn’t have great protection in 2017, but still threw for 4,177 yards and 26 touchdowns. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all three of those players drafted before the end of Day 2.
Marshall’s Chase Litton, Memphis’ Riley Ferguson, Virginia’s Kurt Benkert and Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek are among the quarterbacks who could be drafted in the later rounds.
Greg Kash asks: Does hanging on to the glory years and the people who made them as hard as our fan base does hurt the current generation of Bills by creating an almost 30-year-old hype they can’t live up to or is it something that makes Buffalo special?
Jay: About half the Bills’ roster wasn’t even born during the Super Bowl years. I honestly think what happened in the early 1990s hasn't any impact on the current roster whatsoever. I bet Bruce Smith could walk into the locker room and there would be members of the team who have no idea who he is.
If there are fans hanging onto the glory years, No. 1, I can’t blame them. The more time that passes from those years, the more impressive the accomplishment becomes. Making it to four straight Super Bowls is an accomplishment that might not ever be repeated. It is part of what makes Buffalo special, just as losing all four is what makes fans so hungry for that first championship.
I don’t feel like the current team is burdened by expectations, though. Heck, look at how happy fans were simply to make a wild-card game this past season. The team’s brutal stretch of futility has drilled down expectations. I get the sense this fan base is cautiously optimistic about the current front office and head coach and willing to be patient with the plan. If the team exits the first round of the draft without a quarterback, however, that patience will be tested.
Bobby C. asks: Do you think it is "economic anxiety" or something else that makes Richie Incognito a more beloved figure in Buffalo lore than Tyrod Taylor?
Chris asks: You think this is about money? I know what No. 68 said, but all signs point to money.
Jay: I grouped these questions together since they are both dealing with Incognito’s retirement. I’m not totally sure I buy the argument about Incognito being a “more beloved figure” than Taylor, but let’s stay that he is. There are a couple different reasons why that might be. For starters, he was a darn good player in his three seasons with the Bills, making the Pro Bowl every year. He also was unafraid to speak his mind (remember when he went off about Thursday night games?), whereas Taylor was usually much more guarded in interviews.
As for why he made his decision, only Incognito can answer that, which he did when speaking to my colleague, Vic Carucci. “I'm done, that's it," Incognito said. "It's been a long career. My liver and kidneys are shutting down. Nothing I can't restore with some balance, but the stress is killing me.
“I went to a doctor's appointment the other day and they said, 'Listen, the stress is killing you, what are you doing?' And I said, 'Listen, I'm just doing what I love and that's playing football.' So that's why I'm done."
Is health the primary reason Incognito decided to retire, or is it something else? It wouldn’t be right to speculate. His recent behavior on social media has come across as confusing, at best, or maybe a better word for it is troubling.
If money was at the root of his decision to retire, why did he agree to a pay cut, and then post about how excited he was to be back with the team? He could have refused the pay cut, and if the Bills released him, tried to find a job with a new team.
By retiring, Incognito opens himself up to the team trying to recoup more than $2 million in bonus that has already been paid to him. That’s not exactly a wise financial decision.
“Wanger” asks: I see D-line signings. What about O-line or is Shady left all by himself?
Jay: They did make a couple signings along the offensive line in former Cincinnati center Russell Bodine and former Oakland tackle Marshall Newhouse. The Bodine signing, in particular, becomes even more important if the team gives Ryan Groy a crack at replacing Incognito at guard. Newhouse, meanwhile, will compete for the job at right tackle.
I understand the larger point to the question, which is that the Bills have lost arguably their top three offensive linemen from last year in Incognito, center Eric Wood and left tackle Cordy Glenn. Dion Dawkins' performance as a rookie at left tackle made Glenn expendable, though, so I'd say the team has a couple more options than what seems to be the popular opinion. Thanks for all the questions this week!