The Buffalo Bills got robbed.
Members of the Pro Football Writers of America voted recently for its yearly awards, one of which is the Pete Rozelle Award, which is given to an “NFL club public relations staff that consistently strives for excellence in its dealings and relationships with the media.”
This year’s winner was the Minnesota Vikings. The Bills were one of four other finalists.
Full disclosure: My vote went to the Bills. Under Derek Boyko, the team’s approach to the media, especially locally, has been first class all the way.
Let’s get to this week’s mailbag:
Jeff F. asks: It's early, but how has Josh Allen looked compared to past Buffalo rookie quarterbacks?
Jay: Better, but that should be the case, right? It’s remarkable to think the Bills have so rarely drafted quarterbacks in the first round. Since I was 1 when Jim Kelly was drafted, I’ll hold off on any comparison there. The two first-round picks before Allen whom I’m most familiar with are J.P. Losman and EJ Manuel. That is not a high bar to clear.
The reality is, Allen better be much better than those two, or else the Bills will have made a huge mistake. Keeping in mind that it is early, as Jeff points out, I’d say Allen looked better than I thought he would in the spring. While he did miss some throws that you expect an NFL quarterback to make, he also made some throws that the other two quarterbacks on the roster can only dream of. His arm is as strong as advertised. By all accounts, he takes coaching well. After throwing a bad interception, he immediately sought out safety Micah Hyde to figure out how he broke on the ball so quickly. Those are all good signs.
Fletcher Doyle asks: Can the Bills pick up any offensive linemen off the waiver wire or will that be too late for a player to help along the line?
Jay: It’s highly unlikely that any player acquired that way would be able to contribute right off the bat. That’s not to say that General Manager Brandon Beane would totally dismiss the idea, but there is truth in the old cliché about how offensive linemen need time to become a cohesive unit. The Bills did use waivers last season to acquire an offensive lineman, acquiring Connor McDermott after he was released by the New England Patriots during final cuts. McDermott spent most of the season inactive on game days. The Bills will certainly scour the waiver wire at final cuts again this season to see if there are any players available that would be upgrades on their current roster, but the best bet says the team’s five starters already are on the roster.
Brendan Sweet asks: As it stands right now, who would you pick No. 1 overall in a fantasy football draft? Totally off topic, where is LeBron James going to end up playing next season?
Jay: I’d love to throw caution to the wind and take Giants rookie Saquon Barkley No. 1, but I’d play it safe and take Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. He does everything you need a No. 1 overall pick to do. As for LeBron, the Lakers would be my favorites. They’ve cleared the necessary cap room for this moment, and with Magic Johnson in charge are sure to come up with a compelling sales pitch. There are rumors the Lakers are also targeting San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonhard in a trade, which would only help their cause in signing LeBron. Those two could be joined by Paul George to create a big three that would challenge Golden State and Houston.
Rick McGuire asks: After last season's surprise playoff berth, what are Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane's real expectations for this year? Do you think they would truly accept a losing season after what they were able to accomplish in their first year here? Would the fans accept it?
Jay: Beane is one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around, so a losing season would obviously not sit well with him or McDermott. That said, he has made comments about how he told Terry and Kim Pegula that it would be a two-year project just to fix the team’s miserable salary cap situation. That will be completed after this year.
Here are some of the reasons to be pessimistic about the Bills’ chances this year. They have one of the more unsettled quarterback positions in the NFL. The offensive line lost three opening-day starters from last year, and a team captain in center Eric Wood. The wide receiver talent appears to be lacking (more on that later). All of that adds up to a team with understandably low expectations.
Here’s the thing, though. Expectations were also low last year. If you want to take the glass-half-full approach, start here. The defense should be better in the second year of McDermott’s system, particularly with the additions of Star Lotulelei, Tremaine Edmunds and Vontae Davis. It’s not a total reach to think the offense can get the same or better quarterback play from whoever wins the job. LeSean McCoy is still LeSean McCoy. Perhaps a return to full health leads to a big season for Kelvin Benjamin, who’s playing for a new contract. The point is, preseason expectations sometimes don’t match up with performance.
As for the fan base, I see a group that’s fully on board the Beane-McDermott Express. One thing that last year’s playoff berth did was erase the stigma of “The Drought.” Without that looming over their heads, fans can buy into where the franchise is heading. Even if they don’t get there this year, if progress is shown – particularly with rookie quarterback Josh Allen – there should be reason for optimism.
Eric Esch asks: Handicap this receiver group. Which guy is going to emerge from the pack behind Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Jeremy Kerley? I’ve got a feeling about Malachi Dupre. Who’s your horse in that crew?
Jay: Are we convinced Jones is even in that top three? I think that’s a reach until he can prove himself. I agree that Kerley has worked his way into that grouping. It looked in the spring like he is the favorite for the slot job.
After that, there are 10 more receivers on the roster. Good luck separating them. When I did my initial 53-man roster projection last week, I had Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud and Rod Streater making the team, so I have to rank them as the next three. Holmes and McCloud both have special-teams roles, while Streater has been consistently strong in practice dating back to last year’s training camp.
Here’s how I would rank the chances of the remaining receivers on the roster: Brandon Reilly, Austin Proehl, Kaelin Clay, Robert Foster, Malachi Dupre, Quan Bray, Cam Phillips.
Anthony asks: Do you see the Bills making any significant moves to enhance their wide receiver depth via trade or other? Or do they stand pat with what they have and see who emerges behind Benjamin?
Jay: Wide receiver is a popular topic in the mailbag these days, for obvious reasons. We saw last year when Beane traded away Sammy Watkins and brought in Jordan Matthews in separate transactions that he’s not afraid to shake things up during training camp. If the front office and coaching staff decides that none of the players on the roster are capable of providing what the team feels like it needs from the position, then Beane will have no choice but to look for an upgrade, whether that’s through a trade or on the waiver wire. Perhaps a young player on another team emerges this summer and that makes a veteran expendable. As Beane is fond of saying, meaningful football isn’t played until September, so there is time for him to make changes. My prediction is there will be at least one receiver on the 53-man roster who is not currently under contract with the Bills.
Agame asks: How has Kim Pegula’s new role changed the team’s approach?
Jay: If it has at all, it’s not been visible. Less than two months have passed since Russ Brandon resigned, and that came at a time when the news cycle is relatively slow by NFL standards. It was good to see Pegula answer questions at the most recent owners’ meetings. As president of five professional sports franchises, she should be expected to do that more often. But in terms of overall approach, I would not say there are any noticeable differences. The Pegulas are funding a renovation of the club suites at New Era Field, another sign that they’re not in any hurry for a new stadium. On the field, the vision for the franchise is being executed by Beane and McDermott. It’s too soon to say whether it will work, but at least you can say they have a plan. That was not always apparent under previous front offices.
As for the day-to-day operations on the business side, the Pegulas have a management team in place that is unchanged after Brandon’s resignation.
Pat Reale asks: Who do you think will be the surprise player to make the 53-man roster?
Jay: I'll go with Levi Wallace, the undrafted rookie free agent out of Alabama. I love his story of going from a walk-on to a starter in a loaded Crimson Tide secondary. He's got the measuarables that teams look for (6-foot, 179 pounds).
@AlexDub182821 asks: Will you post a video of me chewing my arm off if Nathan Peterman starts?
Jay: Yep, it’s time for vacation. Thanks for all the questions, and talk to you soon!
Story topics: Andre Holmes/ Bills Mailbag/ Brandon Beane/ Brandon Reilly/ Cam Phillips/ Connor McDermott/ ej manuel/ J.P. Losman/ Jordan Matthews/ Josh Allen/ Kaelin Clay/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Kim Pegula/ LeSean McCoy/ Levi Wallace/ Malachi Dupre/ Nathan Peterman/ Quan Bray/ Ray-Ray McCloud/ Robert Foster/ Rod Streater/ Sammy Watkins/ Sean McDermott/ Star Lotulelei/ Terry Pegula/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Vontae Davis/ Zay Jones