Once the Buffalo Bills finalize contracts with their 12 undrafted free agents, the team will have its 90-man roster set.
That's not to say there won't be changes before September. June 1 is a key date for potential cuts around the league, and the Bills will surely have an eye on any players who hit the open market who could help. After figuring in contracts for their drafted rookies, the team should have about $14 million in cap space. That's enough to add a player or two, if desired.
On to this week's mailbag ...
Tyler Ford asks: Does the schedule change the plan to start Josh Allen? Are they less likely to throw him into a very heavy road schedule up front?
Jay: That should absolutely be a consideration. Five of the first seven games on the road is a tough ask for any quarterback, not just a rookie many analysts feel could benefit from some learning time on the bench. The team has answered the question about Allen’s playing time as a rookie in the right way as far as I’m concerned. Giving him a chance to win the job in training camp is the right thing to do. I feel like for him to be in the lineup for the season opener, though, it will have to be beyond obvious that he’s the best choice. The presence of AJ McCarron means the Bills won’t have to force the decision on Allen or feel pressured to play him right away.
Josh McCarty asks: Is there a move you think the Bills should make at wide receiver that would help them now, or are they better off waiting until June roster cuts? I'm not convinced Dez Bryant has much left.
Jay: It doesn’t appear like the Bills are, either. General Manager Brandon Beane has talked about the possibility of signing Bryant, but the team hasn’t even brought him in for a visit (at least one that has been reported), so it doesn’t seem like it’s a big priority at the moment. It’s fair to wonder how Bryant would fit into the culture coach Sean McDermott is trying to build.
Outside of Bryant, Jeremy Maclin is a free agent after being released by Baltimore. The Bills looked at him last year before he opted to sign with the Ravens. Maclin has had three straight seasons in decline, however, so he doesn’t look to have much left in the tank. After those two, the free-agent market looks as bare as you would expect it to in the middle of May. Waiting to see if any other players at the position pop free after June 1 makes sense. You also can’t rule out a trade, which we’ve seen Beane isn’t afraid to make. The Bills’ GM frequently mentions how the team doesn’t play meaningful football until September, which is his way of telling people to relax, because there is still time to address the position.
Mike Canfield asks: Which undrafted free agents have the best chance of making the team?
Jay: The best way to project this is to identify the weakest position group. That’s easy: It’s wide receiver. Given that, I’ll give the best odds to Alabama wide receiver Robert Foster. He had just 35 receptions for 389 yards and three touchdowns in his four seasons with the Crimson Tide, but he’s a known commodity to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and also has been a punt returner. That versatility can only help his chances.
Eric DuVall asks: Sight unseen, what are the odds a 20-year-old can win a starting spot on an NFL roster?
Jay: When he’s drafted 16th overall, very good. Considering the hole the Bills have at middle linebacker, even better. One look at Tremaine Edmunds shows he’s not your average 20-year-old physically. The concern then would be that asking him to play in the middle of the Bills’ defense in a role that typically involves communicating the defensive signals would be a heavy mental lift for such a young player. The Bills, though, specifically challenged Edmunds’ football IQ during the pre-draft process and came away impressed. Remember, his dad played in the NFL, and his two brothers are currently in the league. Football is in his blood. He’s starting.
“OliveskinnedGump” asks: What do we expect from the Bills’ linebackers? Who will fit where in McDermott’s scheme?
Jay: As mentioned above, Edmunds will be the starter in the middle. Matt Milano earned the starting job on the weak side last year as a rookie, so no change is expected there. The third starter figures to be Lorenzo Alexander on the strong side, but with NFL defenses playing nickel with five defensive backs at least half the time, Alexander figures to be the first linebacker off the field. He fits best as a designated pass rusher on third downs. Edmunds and Milano project as every-down players, which should give fans hope that the linebacker play as a whole will improve in 2018.
Bill N asks: Bills were on the hunt for a veteran middle linebacker presence. Even with the youngster Edmunds on board, wouldn't a teacher like Navarro Bowman be a good entry in the mix, say for like two years at $4 million per?
Jay: That's starter money, so I wouldn't expect that. Right now, the top backups are Julian Stanford, Ramon Humber and Tanner Vallejo. Humber has plenty of experience, but if the Bills think they need another veteran in the room, going after a minimum-salary type would make more sense than paying Bowman that much, especially if his primary job would be mentor.
Steve Urbanski asks: What do you think is the biggest lesson Sean McDermott learned about game management last year?
Jay: It better have been "don't try a field goal on fourth and 1 from the New England 32-yard line when trailing, 23-16, with 13:08 left in the game." Say it with me: Field goals don't beat Tom Brady. That decision was the worst of McDermott's first year as head coach, as Stephen Hauschka missed a 50-yard attempt and the Patriots drove to the touchdown that put their Week 16 win away.
Overall, I'm in favor of a coach being aggressive, but McDermott fell on the conservative side in 2017. The Bills ranked 22nd on Football Outsiders' "Aggressiveness Index," which rates how often a head coach goes for it on both fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2 situations and factors in the rate when those situations happen from the opposition's 31- to 39-yard lines.
Dom asks: Reports out of Cleveland say they're willing to trade Corey Coleman. Think Beane might pull the trigger on something like that, and if so, how much do you think it would cost?
Jay: Beane has shown that he’s always willing to test the trade market, so it can’t be ruled out. As mentioned, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Coleman could be available via trade for a “decent price.” The question then becomes, what exactly is that? Coleman has broken his hand twice in his first two seasons, and that has limited him to just 19 games. Over that time, he has 718 receiving yards. Beane would be attempting to buy low on a player who might need a change of scenery. If I was doing the negotiating, I wouldn’t trade anything more than a late-round draft pick.
G-Ray asks: What do you expect from the Bills secondary this coming year?
Jay: I expect three of the team’s starters to challenge for a spot in the Pro Bowl. In other words, there is plenty to be excited about in the secondary if you’re a Bills fan. The safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer proved last year to be one of the best in the NFL. They should be even better with another year in the scheme. The same goes for cornerback Tre’Davious White, who made a strong case to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. The two big questions in the secondary are: 1. Can Vontae Davis stay healthy and return to his Pro Bowl form, and 2. Is fourth-round draft pick Taron Johnson ready to be the nickel cornerback? If the answer to those questions is “yes,” the secondary has a chance to be special.
Roy Seneca asks: What makes Josh Allen different from EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones, two big-armed athletic QBs who had problems with accuracy and reading defenses?
Jay: For starters, Allen’s arm is better than both of them.
“Dude is 6-foot-5, 237 pounds. He's the same size as Carson Wentz with bigger arm talent and he's a better athlete,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock wrote of Allen in correctly projecting the Bills would trade up to select him. “Out of maybe any player in this draft, his upside might be the highest. I don't think he's ready Day 1, but if he can get over some hurdles, he's going to be special.”
Obviously, that’s just one opinion, but nothing like that was being written or said about Manuel or Jones when they came out. The Bills might have been the only team to think Manuel was worth a first-round draft pick, an act of desperation after it became clear Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t going to work out. Jones was the last pick of the fourth round – miles away from the rarefied air of the top 10 where Allen went.
That’s no guarantee Allen will pan out, but he’s universally looked at as a better prospect than Manuel or Jones were coming out.
Bob Sharpe asks: Are the Bills going to hire a legit quarterback coach, or stay the course with Brian Daboll and David Culley?
Jay: Any changes to the coaching staff at this point would be highly unusual, so I’m saying they will stay the course. The point of Bob’s question seems to be he has a fair amount of skepticism about the offensive coaching staff developing Josh Allen. That’s a fair concern. The last time Culley coached quarterbacks exclusively before last year was in 1984 at Western Kentucky. That doesn’t mean he can’t do it, but it doesn’t scream “quarterback whisperer” either.
As for Daboll, the list of starting quarterbacks he’s worked with in three previous stints as an offensive coordinator is uninspiring to say the least: Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Matt Moore, Chad Henne and Matt Cassel. How much blame does Daboll get for not better developing those players? I suspect most people would say Vince Lombardi himself couldn’t get that group to be replacement-level quarterbacks, but it’s fair to keep close watch on the job done by Culley and Daboll.
Joe Zanghi asks: No disrespect, can we enjoy spring and summer and put Bills away? Winter just ended ... thanks Jay.
Jay: There are two seasons in Buffalo, Joe. Football season and waiting for football season. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: Bills Mailbag/ Brandon Beane/ Brian Daboll/ Cardale Jones/ David Culley/ ej manuel/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Julian Stanford/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Micah Hyde/ Ramon Humber/ Sean McDermott/ Tanner Vallejo/ Taron Johnson/ Tre'davious White/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Vontae Davis