Welcome to the period of the NFL calendar teams dread most.
The six-week break from the end of spring practices to the start of training camp gives players a chance to reconnect with their families and get some much-needed rest. It also provides them the sort of free time that scares teams, because that's when bad decisions can be made. Surely, that was part of Sean McDermott's message before the team raced out of One Bills Drive this week.
Let's get to this week's mailbag:
Mike Busch asks: Should we be concerned Josh Allen hasn’t signed yet?
Jay: In a word, no. Rookie contracts in the NFL are slotted based on draft position. That means the hardest part of a usual negotiation – money – isn’t an issue. There can still be some minor hang-ups over contract language and structure. Two years ago, the Chargers’ Joey Bosa held out after the two sides couldn’t agree on whether his deal would have offset language – meaning the team could recoup some money if it cut him and he signed elsewhere before the end of the contract. Bosa also wanted his bonus payments scheduled differently, and sat out until the end of August.
That’s rare, though. There were three unsigned rookies last year as teams reported to training camp – the 49ers’ Solomon Thomas, the Titans’ Corey Davis and the Raiders’ Gareon Conley. All three were under contract before the start of August, so they missed very little time.
It’s worth noting that the Bills had last year’s first-round pick, cornerback Tre’Davious White, under contract by May. It’s obviously taking a little longer with Allen, the No. 7 overall pick, but that’s not a reason to worry right now. When Allen does sign his deal, it will be worth slightly more than the four-year, $19.75 million last year’s No. 7 overall pick, the Chargers’ Mike Williams, got.
Patrick Schrader asks: Who’s returning kicks and punts this year?
Jay: Good question. That’s one of the areas that hasn’t gotten much attention during the spring, but is something the team has to figure out. Colleague Mark Gaughan will take a more in-depth look at the issue during our training camp preview series next month. My best guess as of today is that rookie Ray-Ray McCloud will get the first chance at punts, while veteran Taiwan Jones gets the first crack at kickoffs. Neither is a lock for the respective jobs, though. The Bills have room for improvement in both categories. The team ranked 24th in average kickoff return in 2017, at 20.0 yards. Punt returns were better, at 8.9 yards per return, which tied for 10th in the league, but lacked an explosive play, with no touchdowns. A big part of the reason why McCloud was drafted was to fix that.
Tim Sauda asks: If McDermott thinks they are further along at this point after minicamp vs. last year, how does that translate into how you think they do this year? Buying it? Seems hard to believe with the new quarterbacks, a drastically changed offensive line, lack of wide receiver depth and a couple of new pieces on the defense.
Jay: I’m buying part of it. McDermott is a defensive-minded coach, and it’s not hard to buy that they are further along on that side of the ball. The secondary is back, save the E.J. Gaines-for-Vontae Davis swap, and the defensive line looks to have gotten better with the additions of Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy. Having Tremaine Edmunds fall to them in the first round of the draft (after a trade up) is something General Manager Brandon Beane admitted he never imagined. If he can fill the Luke Kuechly role, the defense could be much improved.
Overall, though, I’m not buying it, based on the reasons Tim laid out above. Without knowing who the starting quarterback is going to be, it’s tough to think the Bills could possibly be ahead of where they were a year ago. Could they get there? Absolutely. That’s especially true if the quarterback – whoever it ends up being – gives them better play than Tyrod Taylor did last year. I would consider that possible, but not exactly likely.
Michael Hamm asks: Is Josh Allen going to get possible starter reps? Meaning working with the third team the majority of the time is not possible starter reps. Will he be handcuffed as far as legit reps with the starters or will it be Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron getting them? Will he get as many as the other two?
Jay: We can only go off what Sean McDermott told us, which was the following Thursday:
“We’ll keep it like it’s been. It’ll be Josh with the threes and the other two will be with the ones and twos for the most part. Periodically, they’ll change a little bit, but like I said, at this point in time, for the foreseeable future, that’s the way we anticipate starting training camp."
We'll see how long that lasts if Allen shows at camp and he's deserving of more time with the starters. If the team is being truthful about playing whoever is the best man for the job, Allen should get a fair opportunity to show that he's that guy.
Nicole Becker asks: As far as center goes, has either Ryan Groy or Russell Bodine seemed to be favored or one doing better than the other? Interested to see what unfolds there.
Jay: Bodine got two days' worth of starting reps during the mandatory minicamp, while Groy got one. That could be a small indication that Bodine is slightly ahead in that competition. McDermott would probably deny that, though. Keep in mind that it’s extremely difficult to evaluate offensive linemen in helmets and shorts. Until the pads go on at training camp, it’s tough to say whether Bodine or Groy has the upper hand. That will be one of the positional battles to follow at St. John Fisher.
Niccoli asks: Do we trade or sign another wide receiver?
Jay: (Shakes Magic 8-ball) ... All signs point to yes. I’ve found it interesting that on more than a few occasions this offseason, Beane has referenced how building the roster is a yearlong process, and that meaningful games don’t start until September. What that tells me is he’s aware there are still holes on the roster – none bigger than the one at wide receiver.
Brendan Sweet asks: Who is the safest player on the Bills roster (excluding Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds.) Also, who wins the U.S. Open this week?
Jay: I’ll give you two – one on each side of the ball. Left tackle Dion Dawkins and cornerback Tre’Davious White. The reasoning is similar for each one. Dawkins and White are on their rookie contracts, making them terrific bargains. They both play premier positions, and played them well in 2017. There is no way either of them is going anywhere.
As for the U.S. Open, colleague Mark Gaughan runs a fun golf pool in which you pick four golfers (with no repeats) for six tournaments throughout the year (the four majors, the Players, the Memorial). My picks this week were Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. In order, those picks look like this: Great, bad, terrible, OK. Johnson should have at least two U.S. Open titles by this point in his career, and looks to be at the top of his game. When that’s the case, he’s the best player in the world – as evidenced by his No. 1 ranking. So writing this before he tees off in the second round Friday, I’m sticking with him as my pick.
Rick McGuire asks: Terrell Owens declined the invite to his Hall of Fame induction in August and I know the overall reaction has been quite negative. Could this be a new "shove it" trend directed at the NFL and its politics or more of a T.O. being T.O. move and likely an isolated incident?
Jay: Absolutely the latter. Never before has a player declined his invitation to Canton for the induction ceremony. It’s hard not to think this is simply Owens trying to stick it to the Hall of Fame and its voters for not electing him in his first year of eligibility in 2016. Owens called the Hall a “total joke” after he didn’t get in on the first try. While he might have a legitimate beef about that, not attending the enshrinement is a slap in the face to the other members of his class and everyone else in the Hall of Fame. I see no way this becomes a trend.
Tyler Ford asks: I haven’t heard much about Vontae Davis during spring. Any indication of his performance or what we can expect?
Jay: I spoke with Davis after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. That interview will be part of a “10 questions” series we’re doing leading up to the start of training camp. The question will be very similar to Tyler’s above. I’ll say this: Davis says he’s 100 percent and feeling the best he has in years. He’s been with the starters throughout the spring. He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy, but so far, so good in that regard. Davis also should be a positive influence on rising second-year cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Liam Canadian asks: How often do you get off the golf course and actually come into the office?
Jay: Real talk: I haven’t played nearly as much golf this season as I would like. I’ve got a two-week vacation coming up at the end of next week and plan to fix that. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: AJ McCarron/ Brandon Beane/ Dion Dawkins/ E.J. Gaines/ Josh Allen/ Nathan Peterman/ Russell Bodine/ Ryan Groy/ Sean McDermott/ Terrell Owens/ Tre'davious White/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Vontae Davis