We won't know if the Buffalo Bills aced the 2018 NFL Draft for a few years.
We can safely say now, though, that General Manager Brandon Beane accomplished nearly every one of his goals. The team left the draft with potential franchise cornerstones on both offense and defense in quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. They got a potential nickel cornerback, depth (and a possible long-term replacement for Kyle Williams) along the defensive line and a guard who will be in the mix for a starting job. The one area that wasn't addressed sufficiently in the eyes of most outsiders is wide receiver, even though the Bills did add two of them in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Most importantly, according to Beane, they did all of that without sacrificing any of their 2019 draft picks – nine in all. Lets's get to this week's Mailbag:
Matthew Corey asks: Who’s your guess at Day 1 starting linebackers?
Jay: Let’s start in the middle with Edmunds. Even though he’s just 20 years old, Edmunds should be in the lineup immediately. He’s the type of talent a defense can build around.
At weak-side linebacker, Matt Milano is back and should start. He had a solid rookie season after taking over the starting job from veteran Ramon Humber.
The last starting spot figures to go to veteran Lorenzo Alexander when the team is in its base 4-3 defense. Given how much teams play with five defensive backs, though, the third linebacker spot is the first one off the field, so Alexander might not play as much as the team’s nickel cornerback. The only other player on the roster who might seriously challenge for a starting spot is Julian Stanford, who was signed as a free agent from the New York Jets. The best bet for him, though, is playing a reserve role with a focus on special teams.
Rick McGuire asks: Brandon Beane recently commented about quarterback Josh Allen: "We're not going to rush him but if he wins the starting job, he wins it." Am I'm reading more into this or does it sound like Beane was hinting that Allen is being viewed as the starter rather than a backup, at least by him?
Jay: After listening to Beane for the past week, I get the sense that he thinks Allen is further along than most outside observers. During an interview with WGR 550, he objected to describing Allen as “raw.”
"I hate that word," the GM said. "All these guys come in with different things. There's none of them, I promise you, that are flawless. I don't think that's a fair label. I think what happens is nationally a guy or two who are so-called 'gurus,' they label each of these guys, 'he's the best pure passer, he's the rawest guy, he's got the most upside, he's too smart for his own good. He's whatever.' A lot of these guys did not come across to us as what was nationally reported about them, so I don't think that's a fair label to give him, is raw."
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that means Beane views Allen as the starter. I think the GM is playing it exactly right in regards to that. The Bills are shaping up to have an open competition for the starting job, which is how it should be. If Allen proves in training camp and the preseason that he is clearly the best option, then he should play. The good news is, he won’t be forced to. The signing of AJ McCarron gives the Bills a good Plan B. I’m not as down on McCarron as most seem to be, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him being, well, good.
Matthew Rule asks: Your guess as to when Josh Allen sees his first game action?
Jay: I’m tempted to say the season opener, but I’ll go with Week 5. Here’s why: The Bills open with three of their first four games on the road. That’s a tough ask for any team. Giving Allen that month to see the NFL game from the sidelines makes sense.
If the offense struggles, the team can make the move to Allen when it returns home Oct. 7 against Tennessee. With the bye not coming until Week 11, it’s too late in the season at that point to make the switch. Doing so in Week 5 would give Allen valuable development time and show the front office what the team needs to add around him next offseason.
Jimmy Spoon asks: Do you think next year’s draft and offseason is all about offense? Wide receiver, running back, etc. kind of like the Bears did this year after Trubisky’s first year?
Jay: I do agree. Keep in mind that the Bills are projected to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million in cap space next offseason. That means they should be big players in free agency. Wide receiver is undoubtedly the biggest question mark on the current roster, and you’re right that a successor to LeSean McCoy at running back needs to be found soon.
There is also the possibility that they decide to move on from tight end Charles Clay and his big salary, while right tackle Jordan Mills will be a free agent after 2018. That makes for a lot of offensive needs.
“Bobcat 29” asks: No 64 given to new players. Are they still holding out hope that Richie Incognito changes his mind?
Jay: I don’t get that sense. In fact, if Incognito does change his mind, I’m not even sure the team would want him back. Incognito’s bizarre way of retiring calls into question his mental state. He bailed on the team after agreeing to a pay cut, which can’t sit well with the front office. The likelihood of Incognito returning after 2018 was slim, anyway, given that he’ll be 35 before this season and was entering the final year of his contract. The Bills were just forced to find his replacement a little sooner than they were planning, but they knew the moment was coming. Which leads us to …
Rebeccatouri asks: Thoughts on Wyatt Teller starting at the left guard position? Do you think we have a good replacement for Incognito or will we see a drop off at the left guard position?
Jay: If Teller does win the job, that would mean going from a player who made the last three Pro Bowls to a rookie fifth-round draft pick. It’s fair in that case to expect a drop off. The chances of Teller starting hinge on where the team wants to use Ryan Groy. If the coaching staff wants to keep him at center, where he would compete with Russell Bodine, then Teller might be the favorite to start at left guard. If Groy gets a shot there, I’d give him the edge against Teller at this point in their careers.
Sam Ruggiero asks: Does Dez Bryant still have it or will he be just another aging receiver coming here to “die on the vine?” Or should McBeane wait until next year’s supposed bountiful crop of receivers in the draft?
Jay: General Manager Brandon Beane addressed that very topic in the past week.
"Dez is a very good player," Beane said during an interview with WGR 550. "Is he the same player he was five years ago? Probably not, but he can still play in this league and still help a team. I've never personally met Dez, so we would have to bring him in and visit him and see if he was a fit. We were generally focused on what we were going to be getting in the draft before looking at that. It's something we'll talk about, but that's probably as far as I can say right now.”
Bryant reportedly is seeking a one-year contract that will allow him to hit free agency again in 2019. If I were running the Bills, I’d be interested in that if the money is reasonable. There are some fair questions to ask about how Bryant would fit into the Bills’ locker room, but he would be the team’s No. 1 receiver from the minute he signed. Wherever he ends up, Bryant will be highly motivated to have a good year so that he can cash in next offseason.
“who” asks: If the Bills don’t make the playoffs will the general manager and coach be fired?
Jay: Did I miss the sarcasm font on this? I feel like I must have. The short answer to this question, of course, is a resounding no. In case you forgot, the team ended a 17-year playoff drought in the first year of the Beane-McDermott Era. That rightfully buys them some rope in their current positions. Also, they just drafted potential franchise cornerstones for their offense and defense in the first round. If both Allen and Edmunds pan out (particularly Allen), the franchise could be set up for a sustained run of success. There isn’t a record in my mind the Bills could put up in 2018 that would spell trouble for the current front office and coaching staff.
Jim Banko asks: Now that it’s golf season will you learn to hit a draw or keep playing that weak slice?
Jay: A man can dream, can’t he? Sadly, I just don’t think a draw is in my golf future, as much as I want it to be. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: AJ McCarron/ Bills Mailbag/ Charles Clay/ Dez Bryant/ Jordan Mills/ Josh Allen/ Julian Stanford/ LeSean McCoy/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Ramon Humber/ Richie Incognito/ Sean McDermott/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Wyatt Teller