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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: How 'meddlesome' are the Pegulas as team owners?

Here's a great bar conversation to have, courtesy of a tweet from NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah on Friday.

"The 2011 NFL Draft class should be a documentary one day," Jeremiah wrote on Twitter. "Seven of the top 11 picks will be Hall of Famers. Cam Newton (1) Von Miller (2) AJ Green (4) Patrick Peterson (5) Julio Jones (6) Tyron Smith (9) JJ Watt (11)."

I'm not sold on Newton as being Canton worthy just yet. Initially, I thought the same of Green, but after looking it up, he's had at least 1,000 yards receiving in six of his seven seasons, and the one year that he missed finished with 964. It's a good debate if all seven will eventually make it there.

It's also a painful reminder of what could have been for the Bills, who took Marcell Dareus third overall that year. While he played well enough to earn a contract extension pushing $100 million, his off-the-field problems torpedoed his career in Buffalo.

Let's get to this week's Mailbag.

Luigi Michael asks: How would you rate the Pegulas in the world of meddling NFL owners? Below, above, or average? And how do they compare with Ralph who was famous for meddling?

Jay: Average. The Pegulas have a reputation for being great to work for. Maybe that’s true for some, but not if you’ve been a general manager or coach. Since taking over the Sabres in February 2011 and the Bills in October 2014, the Pegulas have fired eight of them – Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Darcy Regier, Tim Murray, Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley. Another coach, Doug Marrone, walked away from his contract, while both teams' president, Russ Brandon, resigned earlier this month. Another former Sabres president, Ted Black, also  was canned.

Change is a constant in professional sports and few would argue any of the firings listed above weren’t justified. The true definition of “meddlesome,” in my mind, would be if the team owners were making decisions about players. That's what they pay their general managers and/or coaches to do. Without being in those meetings, it’s hard to know whether that’s the case. It’s fair to say that they have had a very difficult time since being professional sports owners of getting the right people in place to run those teams from an on-ice or on-field perspective. That doesn’t make them more or less “meddlesome” than other owners, though.

Rick McGuire asks: We often hear Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane mention that the Bills have a long way to go before they're where they need to be. Just how long do you think they're looking at?

Jay: It wouldn’t surprise me if the coach and GM sold ownership on a five-year plan. Beane has been on record as saying cleaning up the salary cap alone would be a two-year project. The Bills are feeling the pain of the bad contracts agreed to by the previous front office but will be in much better shape in regards to the salary cap starting in 2019. After that comes talent acquisition. Obviously, the biggest move the team has made is drafting Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the first round last month. If he can realize his potential and be the long-awaited next coming of Jim Kelly, that would speed up the rebuilding plan considerably. Expectations for Allen and the team as a whole aren’t real high this year, but the Bills have nine draft picks next year and a boatload of cap space to improve the roster. It would be a disappointment if they weren’t a playoff contender in 2019, and from there they'll need to turn into a Super Bowl contender. One possible factor to consider in that: the long-term future of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is in question. New England has lorded over the AFC East for close to 20 years, but that run is in jeopardy when Brady walks away.

Joe Lojacono asks: Which free agent wide receivers might be available after June 1?

Jay: Keep in mind that teams can designate two players a year as “June 1” cuts, but let them go prior to that time. Doing so spreads the salary cap hit for guaranteed money already paid out – known as dead money – over two seasons instead of one.

That means we shouldn’t expect a wave of new free agents to flood the market in a couple of weeks. Most of the receivers who were potential cap casualties already have been released. That list includes Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson (who has since signed with the Raiders), Dallas’ Dez Bryant, Baltimore’s Jeremy Maclin and Tennessee’s Eric Decker.

The Bills have thus far not shown much, if any, interest in Bryant. Perhaps that could change the longer he stays on the open market and the lower his price gets. Buffalo had an interest in Maclin last offseason, but has not had him in for a visit since he was released by the Ravens.

CTBillsFan asks: How effective is Shady this year with all the changes to the offensive line, quarterback and the offensive coordinator? What’s the plan for him?

Jay: Much the same as it was last year, which means relying heavily on him. McCoy will be 30 at the start of the 2018 season, but keeps himself in terrific shape. He frequently talks about how his shifty style helps him avoid taking too many big hits. I don’t expect much of a drop in production from him, and the Bills must not, either, because the team did not make running back a real priority in the offseason. Chris Ivory was signed to be the new No. 2, and should be an upgrade over Mike Tolbert, but the Bills did not draft a running back, choosing instead to bring back Travaris Cadet and Taiwan Jones from last year’s team. It’s clear they’re riding with McCoy as the feature back for at least one more season.

LeSean McCoy on Thurman Thomas: 25 following 34's footsteps

The quarterback switch and the change to Brian Daboll at offensive coordinator should mean plenty of work in the run game. In Daboll’s four previous seasons as an offensive coordinator, his teams never ranked more than 19th in passing plays per game. Given that whomever wins the starting quarterback job will be largely unproven, it makes sense that the Bills would want to run the offense through McCoy. As for the offensive line …

Adam Jacobs asks: Record for 2018, go.

Brendan Sweet asks: With the potential for legal gambling on the horizon, the Bills over/under win total for next year is 6. My heart says over, but I'd probably bet the under. What's your way-too-early bet?

Jay: Let’s pair these questions together. I said 6-10 in my game-by-game predictions after the schedule was released the week before the draft. The question then becomes, how much did the Bills improve at the draft?

It’s possible Josh Allen surprises as a rookie and wins the starting job (more on that later), but that pick was made with the longer-term future in mind. More of an immediate impact should be made by the second first-round pick, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. He’s going to be a Day 1 starter, and could have a huge impact. After that, we’ll see. Third-round pick Harrison Phillips should be a part of the defensive tackle rotation. Fourth-round pick Taron Johnson will get a chance to win the important nickel cornerback job. Fifth-round pick Wyatt Teller will be in the mix at guard. If the Bills want to play Ryan Groy at center, Teller could have a chance to start as a rookie. Wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (sixth round) and Austin Proehl (seventh round) figure to be depth players, at best, as rookies, although McCloud could contribute as a returner.

I don’t think the draft class will have a major impact on the win-loss record, but I’ll bump it up by a game and say they finish 7-9, so I’d take the over.

Adam Jacobs asks: Starting QB week 1, go.

Jay: AJ McCarron. I reserve the right to change my mind after seeing how training camp and the preseason goes, but if I had to answer right now, my belief is the Bills want to be patient with Allen. For him to start Week 1, it would have to be plainly obvious that he’s by far the team’s best option. That can’t be ruled out, but I think McCarron’s got a chance to surprise people. That would be a good development for the Bills, by the way, because it would give them an attractive trade chip next offseason if Allen shows he’s ready for the job.

Bills Mr. E asks: Do you think Logan Thomas can ever turn into a legit tight end threat in the league?

Jay: I’m not all that hopeful. It wasn’t a good sign to see the Bills use Khari Lee at times last season in favor of Thomas in the lineup. That was primarily for blocking reasons, but if the team really thought Thomas could be a difference-maker as a receiver, they would have found a way to keep him active. Thomas deserves credit for being open to the switch from quarterback to tight end, but hasn’t shown anything to this point that suggests he’s going to develop into an upper-echelon player at the position.

Alex M. asks: How did Brian Gaine do in the draft as the new GM of the Texans? Do you see him following the footsteps of Beane?

Jay: Gaine walked into a tough situation for his first draft. The Texans traded away both their first- and second-round draft picks to Cleveland in separate transactions. One of those trades resulted in them being able to draft quarterback Deshaun Watson, who looked terrific last season before suffering a knee injury. If he makes it back from a torn ACL, he has to factor into the review of this year’s draft. The selections of Stanford safety Justin Reid and Mississippi State offensive lineman Martinas Rankin both got positive reviews from draft analysts. I also liked the pick of Texas Tech wide receiver Keke Coutee in the fourth round – he can help out of the slot.

Much like Beane’s success in Buffalo will be closely tied to how Allen does, the same is true of Gaine with Watson in Houston.

WEEMZER4thand12 asks: What is one major issue that will stop the Bills from making the playoffs this season that can be controlled by Sean McDermott and his staff, not outside influences?

Jay: I’m not sure I totally follow the question, but the one area that falls directly on the head coach is game management. When to punt, when to go for it on fourth down, when to use the team’s timeouts – all of those are important decisions McDermott must make in the heat of the moment. In last week’s mailbag, I addressed his decision to try a 50-yard field goal against the Patriots on Christmas Eve with the Bills trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. I absolutely disagreed with that call at the time, and still do.

Woj asks: Yanny or Laurel?

Jay: At first I heard Laurel, but now when I listen to it I hear Yanny. I fear that my brain is melting from the topic. Thanks for the questions this week!

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