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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Does Shaq Lawson have a future in Buffalo?

Jay Skurski

I'm leading this week's Mailbag with a weather question that was debated in the Bills' media room: How many days a year is it nicer in Buffalo than Atlanta?

Now, if you love hot, humid conditions, the answer would be close to 0. But if you can't stand the heat, what is it?

You could look at the average number of days with a room temperature of about 72 to get a pretty good  idea. With that in mind, I set the number at 75.

I figure I've got a five-month window from May to September to rack up my days. It might even be a little higher. Tweet me your answers: @JaySkurski. On to this week's Mailbag ...

Vancouver Bills Backers asks: Will Shaq Lawson be traded before the end of the season?

Beth Sullivan asks: Will Shaq Lawson manage to get on field and justify his first-round draft selection or will he be a surprise cut/trade?

Jay: Before I answer yes or no to these questions, let’s look at the reasons why he could. The biggest one would be, he wasn’t drafted by the current front office. While General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott insist their intention is not to rid the team of every player acquired by former GM Doug Whaley … that’s pretty much what they’ve done over the last year. Lawson was drafted for Rex Ryan’s defense, not McDermott’s.

The other obvious issue is production. Shoulder surgery limited Lawson to just 10 games as a rookie, including one start. He finished with 13 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He played in just 11 games in 2017, missing the last four because of an ankle injury that left him on injured reserve. In those 11 games, 10 of which he started, Lawson finished with 33 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. The one game Lawson didn’t start came against Kansas City, and the decision appeared to be disciplinary in nature. McDermott said after that game that he was keeping the reason private.

By signing Trent Murphy this offseason, the Bills have another payer capable of stepping into the starting lineup opposite Jerry Hughes. They also added depth players in Terrence Fede and Owa Odighizuwa, so Lawson could be expendable in that regard.

There are two main reasons why Lawson wouldn’t be traded. No. 1 is potential. He was picked in the first round for a reason, and the current coaching staff will want to try everything to get the most out of him. The second is money. Lawson has two years remaining on his rookie contract, and the Bills hold an option for a third year after that. If he were traded after June 1, the Bills would save $1.4 million against this year’s salary cap, while taking a $1.4 million dead-money hit on the 2019 cap. So there is not a lot of financial incentive to move him.

Another reason not to trade Lawson is the team would be selling low. Clearly, he hasn’t come close to performing like a first-round draft pick. Maybe if he gets off to a good start in 2018, he can establish some value. But if that happens, would the Bills want to trade him?

After weighing those pros and cons, I’d say “no” to the question of whether he’ll be moved.

Rebeccatuori asks: I've been concerned about WR and all the recent news about Zay Jones alarms me even more. Should I be concerned? Are you seeing any potential in standouts among the wide receiver group at OTAs? Give me some good news Jay lol

Jay: I’ll try. Here’s the good news. Kelvin Benjamin looks like he’s ready to go. It’s a good sign that he’s participating fully in spring practices after offseason knee surgery. He should be highly motivated to have a big year given that it’s the final one of his contract. Clearly, the Bills will need it.

You’re right to be concerned about Jones, who has had a brutal offseason. In addition to surgeries on both his knee and shoulder, there was the bizarre, naked arrest in Los Angeles. We haven’t heard from him yet since that happened, so we don’t know if the physical issues are his only issues. Bottom line: It’s getting harder and harder for the Bills or their fans to count on much production from Jones in 2018.

So what needs to happen? Jeremy Kerley regaining his 2016 form when he had 64 catches for 667 yards and three touchdowns would be a good place to start. That would give the Bills a viable option out of the slot.

After that, don’t be surprised if General Manager Brandon Beane looks outside the roster for help. He often points out the team doesn’t play meaningful football until September, and the Bills have plenty of draft picks next year to dangle in potential trade talks. Dez Bryant is still a free agent, too, and a one-year deal could be a good match for both sides if the Bills think Bryant would fit into their locker room.

Mike Freedman asks: Should the Bills just have taken Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 in 2017 rather than spending a year of maneuvering to take what many consider a lesser prospect at No. 7 this year?

Jay: I don’t buy that many considered Allen a lesser prospect. It was hard to find any draft analyst who didn’t view him as a first-round prospect. That wasn’t always the case with Mahomes, who rose to a first-round prospect in the lead up to the draft. Cold take alert: I had the Bills drafting Mahomes … in the second round of my first mock draft of 2017. Whoops.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network ranked quarterbacks from the last three draft classes and had Allen No. 6. The top five were Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz, Josh Rosen, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield. Mahomes was not in the top 10. That’s only one opinion, but Jeremiah is a respected analyst.

I understand the point Mike is making, but right now it’s too early to say the Bills' trading down in 2017 was a mistake. Tre’Davious White was excellent last season and is the team’s No. 1 cornerback. With two first-round draft picks this year, the Bills were able to come away with potential franchise cornerstones in Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. There is no doubt Allen’s career will be compared closely to those of Mahomes, Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Arizona’s Josh Rosen. The Bills passed on all of them. Right now, the only thing we can say about whether that was the right decision is “we’ll see.”

Mike Canfield asks: Any surprise cut candidates?

Jay: Sure. The definition of a “surprise” is likely to be different for most people, but I’ll float a few: Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Nathan Peterman.

Plenty has been written about how the first two on that list are products of the Doug Whaley Era, and we’ve seen what has happened to those on that list. I laid out my thoughts on Lawson above, and with Hughes, there would be a significant cap savings if he were cut. Doing so would save the team $6.5 million against this year’s salary cap and leave them with a $2.9 dead money charge in 2019. Hughes has just 15 sacks the last three years after having 20 in his first two seasons in Buffalo. I wouldn’t say it’s likely he’s released because there aren’t  a lot of other proven pass rushers on the roster, so that’s why he would be a surprise.

As for Peterman, one quarterback job is going to Josh Allen. AJ McCarron figures to be no worse than No. 2 on the depth chart, so if the team only wants to carry two quarterbacks, Peterman would be the odd man out. Speaking of Peterman …

Nick Ilardi asks: Why are the Bills spinning their wheels with Peterman given the lack of investment (fitth round), talent and production? His getting first-team reps feels like a waste with AJ, and especially Allen, there. This is a guy who I doubt would be on another active roster if cut.

Jay: There is a definite disconnect between the way the team feels about Peterman and the way the fan base feels about him. It’s easy to understand why that is. All fans have to judge Peterman on is one disastrous showing against the Chargers, a start in a blizzard against the Colts and a desperation-time drive against the Jaguars in the postseason. He looked, in two out of three of those performances (throw out the snow game), awful.

Clearly, the Bills’ coaching staff is seeing something else in practices, which are closed to the media after training camp. I don't see the harm in keeping him on the roster right now, though. Maybe he can develop. If not, as Nick mentioned, he was only a fifth-round draft pick, so it’s not some huge investment that would set the franchise back if he failed to become a contributor. I don’t see any issue right now with giving him first-team snaps. There is a lot of time between now and September for the coaching staff to determine who is the best man for the job.

Gman asks: I can’t wait for the season to start. Can you?

Jay: Yes, I can. One of my pet peeves on social media are the “Is it October yet” posts from Bills, or especially lately, Sabres fans. We get about three months of nice weather here. Let’s not rush things. You’ll be able to watch Ryan O’Reilly lament his nightly effort soon enough. Go to a festival, or a Bisons game, or play some golf. Speaking of which …

Brendan Sweet asks: What are the most underrated and best value golf courses in Western New York?

Jay: Now we’re talking. I could fill the Sunday paper with golf takes. I’m going outside Western New York to Southern Ontario. Growing up in Lewiston, my cousin and I would head over the bridge to get the twilight rate at Whirlpool multiple times a week. That’s my favorite public course in the area. The second and third holes that wrap around a pond are absolutely awesome. With the exchange rate it’s about $30 for the twilight rate, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Given how long the days are now, that’s enough time to get in 18 before it gets dark. My favorite time of day to play is at dusk, so that’s the best value for me.

Another deal I’m fond of is on Tuesdays at Willowbrook in Lockport. The course has a special for $58 for two golfers with a cart. Willowbrook would also be on my list of underrated courses. The North 9 in particular has some great holes, starting with the par-5 third that requires a third shot to an island green.

If you live in the Tonawandas, the season pass is a great value to play Sheridan, which is a gem for a municipal course. I feel like most golfers recognize what a great track Sheridan is, though, so I wouldn’t call it underrated.

I consulted colleague Mark Gaughan on this, since he plays a lot of public-course golf. He nominated Harvest Hill as being underrated for what a quality course it is.

Mike Griffin asks: Why don’t you live in Tampa?

Jay: I found myself asking that very same question every day in March and April. Buffalo has and always will be home, but as a proud University of South Florida graduate, I’ve got much love for Tampa. Thanks for all the questions this week!

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