It's hard to believe, but we're only five days away from football.
The annual Hall of Fame game takes place Thursday between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio. Aside from being the first game of the new season, Bills fans may be interested to tune in and see the Ravens, Buffalo's Week 1 opponent. Like the Bills, the Ravens have a first-round rookie quarterback in Lamar Jackson. He figures to get at least some work in the Hall of Fame game.
The Bills, meanwhile, will practice in pads for the first time Saturday, then have another session Sunday before taking Monday off. Let's get to this week's mailbag ...
Eric Sepci asks: Way-too-early 2019 free agency question – with our free agent bankroll next year, have the Bills been eyeballing/coveting any to be free agents in 2019? The wide receiver class looks like it has potential.
Jay: It’s tough to project free agency a year away for two reasons: 1. Teams can sign those players to extensions at any point between now and next March, and 2. The franchise tag. So while it looks appealing that Odell Beckham’s contract is in its final year, the chances of his actually becoming a free agent seem remote. That said, Eric is right that the Bills will have a ton of money to spend. If you’re dreaming really big, Beckham would be a good place to start. But there could be other options at receiver, like Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs or Detroit’s Golden Tate. The Bills will also have to figure out what they’re doing with Kelvin Benjamin, who is in the final year of his deal.
At other positions, what about Khalil Mack? It seems like he’s got a pretty frosty relationship with Jon Gruden considering the two haven’t spoke since the new Raiders’ coach took over. He's currently holding out of Oakland's training camp. Crazier things have happened than the Raiders making a dumb personnel decision.
Rick McGuire asks: Do you think the Bills would consider bringing back Mike Gillislee if he gets cut by the Patriots? Sounds like he may be on his way out.
Jay: That would be an interesting possibility. It’s easy to say that the Bills’ interest would appear to be minimal since the current coaching staff was involved in the decision not to match the contract offer Gillislee got from New England as a restricted free agent. Of course, if the team simply decided that a fifth-round draft pick was fair compensation, then that could be why he was let go. The team’s salary-cap situation was also far worse last year than it is at the moment.
I still don’t know that they would be interested in a reunion – unless there was a change in the status of LeSean McCoy. If that happens, then any running back on the open market would figure to be a consideration.
Mark David asks: Who are some familiar names to Bills fans that could get cut after training camp, and who are some potential choices on the roster to unseat them?
Jay: Colleague Vic Carucci had a list of 10 Bills on the hot seat entering this year’s camp, so I’m going to borrow (steal) from him. I’ll start with Lorenzo Alexander. The 35-year-old is simply at the age when teams sometimes decide to get younger. He still offers plenty as a respected leader in the locker room, but that might not be enough if a younger player flashes potential as a pass rusher.
Next would be Andre Holmes. He actually led the team with three touchdown catches last season, but that says more about the wasteland that was receiver than it does Holmes’ play. He finished with just 13 catches for 120 yards and became more of a special-teams contributor as the season went on. The Bills could save more than $1 million against the salary cap by releasing him.
The final name, and most recognizable, is Shaq Lawson. The 2016 first-round draft pick lined up with the second team Thursday night during the first practice of camp. While I still think it would be a surprise if Lawson got cut outright, it’s totally plausible that the Bills shop him in a trade. As we all know by now, members of the current front office and coaching staff haven’t been slow to move on from players acquired before they got here.
Patrick Moran asks: Which of the Bills’ quarterbacks is the best golfer? I want my quarterback and leader to be a formidable golfer.
Jay: AJ McCarron would probably say it’s him, and I can’t disagree. He can bomb it. McCarron and Nathan Peterman went out to Harvest Hill this spring after practice. This question will require more research, though, since Josh Allen can probably rip it, too. No matter who it is, they’re playing for second place among Bills golfers behind Kyle Williams.
Richard S. asks: In retrospect, did the Bills miss the mark on Woods, Watkins and/or Goodwin?
Jay: Tough one. Would they have been better in Buffalo with better quarterback play? That’s probably the case. All three players are examples of a quarterback making his receivers, and not the other way around.
It’s understandable why the Bills moved on from each one. Goodwin dealt with injuries and simply did not produce that much in his four years here.
Woods was a dependable No. 2 receiver, but the Bills thought they could replace him in the draft. The problem is, the second-round pick used on Zay Jones isn’t looking very good right now. Woods’ contract looked like an overpay at the time, particularly because the Bills’ cap space was hurting last offseason, but after a $9 million cap hit this year, that drops to $5 million and then $6 million the next year. That’s affordable for a No. 2 receiver.
Watkins also dealt with injuries, and there’s no telling if the Bills would have been able to re-sign him after the 2017 season. He could have gone to management directly or indirectly and made it clear he wasn’t interested in staying. If that was the case, the team did well to get a second-round draft pick and one year of solid play from cornerback E.J. Gaines.
I’d say the Bills misjudged the situation with Woods, but made justifiable decisions on Goodwin and Watkins.
Nick Kaplan asks: Will all three quarterbacks see time as a starter this year? If so, what order?
Jay: I’ll assume you mean barring injury. If that’s the case, I say no. Switching from McCarron to Peterman or vice versa would be simply delaying the inevitable. As the seventh overall draft pick, Josh Allen’s going to play sometime soon. I still think McCarron is the favorite to start this year. Which leads us to …
Patrick Sheltra asks: Let’s be real: Beane would love for McCarron to start 16 games, get the Bills into the playoffs and flip him for a ton of draft picks. Right?
Jay: Absolutely. The best thing that could happen for the Bills is that McCarron (or Peterman) proves he’s a legitimate NFL starter, and Allen turns into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. That would give the Bills a huge trade chip heading into next offseason, when they are scheduled to have the cap space to be aggressive in free agency.
Carole McNall asks: How do you think the Bills will handle this year’s edition of the anthem protests?
Jay: Coach Sean McDermott was asked that question Thursday before the start of training camp. Here was his answer: “We've basically acknowledged that we're aware of the conversations going on with the league and the NFLPA. We appreciate both sides can come together and hopefully come to a good solution here and work together on it.”
In other words, it sounds like the Bills will not have any sort of defined anthem policy.
On a side note, let’s be sure to point out that NFL players have not been protesting the national anthem, but rather using the stage they have to point out racial injustices in this country. That’s an important distinction.
Brendan Sweet asks: Have you placed a bet on your son to win the British Open someday like Rory McIlroy’s father did? Any chance Buffalo could get a G League team affiliated with the Raptors?
Jay: To answer the second part of that question first, that would require the Raptors moving their G League team from its current location, which is Toronto. That seems unlikely. So my guess is that’s not a possibility, which is too bad because I’ve long thought a G League team would be a nice fit in Buffalo. The best hope would be for one of the few remaining NBA teams without an affiliate to come to Buffalo. The Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Pelicans don’t have affiliations, but none of those teams are a geographic match.
As for Elliott, here’s his golf update: He shot 45 Thursday with his grandpa at Oakwood. That comes after shooting a 40(!) last week. No bets placed yet, though.
Thanks for all the questions this week!