The mailbag is loaded this week with questions about the offensive line, tight end Charles Clay, the Sabres' big trade ... and even my slow-pitch softball team that is an absolute juggernaut.
Without further ado ...
Paul DuBourt asks: Jay, it’s early, but is it concerning that the O-line seems to be getting handled at each practice? Love our defense and I think it will be top 10, but our quarterbacks don’t matter if the O-line is a sieve.
Rick McGuire asks: I'm not sure who to be more worried about … the offensive line or the quarterbacks. Sounds like Vlad Ducasse is struggling at left guard. Would it make sense to start Ryan Groy at left guard and Russell Bodine at center? And do you think coach Sean McDermott has AJ McCarron penciled in at quarterback for opening day?
Jay: It's understandable to be worried about the offensive line. Losing Eric Wood and Richie Incognito is tough. I've said all offseason, though, that I'm not as down on who the Bills have up front as some others. If Groy plays the way he did in the second half of 2016 when he replaced an injured Wood, that position shouldn't see much of a drop in production. Ducasse replacing Incognito – a Pro Bowler the last three seasons – is a downgrade. The line would be greatly helped if John Miller can regain the promising form he showed in 2016. We have to wait and see how the line looks in a game where the other team can actually hit the Bills' quarterback. That's when you can better evaluate its performance as a whole.
To Rick's question, I wouldn't move Groy to guard at this point. Clearly, the coaching staff likes him at center. That's where he's been throughout the spring. Moving him now would look like they're panicking.
As for McCarron, the key part of that question is "penciled in." This is purely my opinion, but if the regular season started tomorrow he's who I think would start. But there's a lot of summer left for that to possibly change.
JW asks: Can Jeff Skinner play receiver?
Jay: Quick Sabres take: I like that trade a lot. The Sabres have been starved for goals, and that was before trading Ryan O’Reilly. Skinner has been one of the best goal scorers in the league the past few years. Three draft picks and a decent prospect is not a big price tag. The 2019 second-round pick is the best of those, and the Sabres are scheduled to have as many as three first-round picks in that draft. The sixth-round pick in 2020 will likely never sniff the NHL. We’ll see if Skinner signs a contract extension, but even if he doesn’t, the Sabres could move him at the trade deadline and get back some of what they gave up. OK, back to football …
Brendan Sweet asks: What are the chances the Bills have something in the works to acquire a veteran wide receiver? Also, with Stefon Diggs re-signing with Minnesota, what wide receivers could be free-agent targets next season?
Jay: Knowing General Manager Brandon Beane, pretty good. He showed last year he's not afraid to make a deal at any time – whether that's during training camp, at the trade deadline or at the draft. Beane knows what you all do: There is little by way of experience at wide receiver. They are surely analyzing the trade market, but also keeping a detailed list of which players they think could be released. We might see some additions to the Bills' 53-man roster after final cuts. As for free agents in 2019, if you're really dreaming big, Odell Beckham's contract is up. It's hard to see how the Giants wouldn't use the franchise tag on him, though, if they aren't able to reach a new deal before then. Of course, the Bills will have a decision to make on what to do with Kelvin Benjamin.
Some of the other names range from intriguing to "meh." They include Randall Cobb, Devin Funchess (Carolina connection!), Martavis Bryant, Jermaine Kearse and Donte Moncrief.
Vancouver Bills Backers asks: What can we expect from Charles Clay in Brian Daboll's new offense?
Jay: Clay has been remarkably steady in three seasons with the Bills. Over that time, he’s averaged 52 catches, 546 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Given the state of the receivers, it’s fair to expect those numbers to go up if he can stay healthy. Daboll, of course, coached tight ends in New England. Make no mistake, Clay isn’t Rob Gronkowski, but he’ll be in an offense that prioritizes involving the tight end. That’s good news, because Clay needs to make a big impact for a $9 million cap hit.
“Amish” asks: Do you think Tremaine Edmunds has a shot at Defensive Rookie of the Year? In my opinion, I think he runs away with that title.
Jay: Absolutely he has a shot – maybe the best of any rookie defensive player. That’s because, as a middle linebacker, he’s going to be put in position to make a ton of plays, which means statistics. Those carry significant weight for voters. Saying he “runs away with it,” though, is a stretch. Denver’s Bradley Chubb could put up big numbers opposite Von Miller. Denzel Ward will be counted on in Cleveland to be the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback. The point is, there will be a lot of competition.
Tyler Ford asks: Who’s the weakest link on the starting defense this year? So far, seems like the Bills could have a top unit in the NFL.
Jay: In the base defense, who will be the strong-side linebacker? If it’s Lorenzo Alexander, can he hold up at 35 years old? When the team goes to its nickel package, is rookie Taron Johnson up for the slot cornerback job? Those would be two of my biggest questions so far. How do both Vontae Davis and Trent Murphy hold up physically after coming off serious injuries a season ago? That’s another thing to keep an eye on. It’s reasonable to expect the defense to improve in the second year of the same system, and that’s before considering the additions the team made. I have to see it on the field in a real game before I’m saying it can be a “top unit,” though.
Jimmy Zolnowski asks: Bigger chance of getting cut/traded – Andre Holmes or Shaq Lawson?
Jay: I’ll say Holmes, but that’s only because he doesn’t have the pedigree of a first-round pick. We all know by now how quick the current front office has been to move on from players acquired by the previous regime, so Lawson should by no means feel safe. He’s running with the second team behind Murphy at defensive end. The one problem I have with trading him is the team would be selling low. The only way that makes sense is if they planned to cut him anyway, and I don’t think that would be wise. Murphy is coming off a serious knee injury, so even if it’s just as a depth player, Lawson has a role for this team. He’s on a cheap contract, so it doesn’t hurt to hang onto him with the hope he can eventually live up to his draft status.
By the way, if Holmes was released, the Bills would save $1.05 million against this year’s salary cap. The coaching staff likes him on special teams, but is that enough to justify a roster spot?
Jeremy Reinhardt asks: Are people going to be critical of other team’s first-round quarterbacks, like they are/have been/will be to Josh Allen? I just watched Lamar Jackson scramble on his only two dropbacks.
Jay: I don’t know that critical is the right word, but people in Buffalo will absolutely pay attention to what the other first-round quarterbacks do – particularly with Josh Rosen in Arizona and Jackson in Baltimore. As they should. Those are two players the Bills passed on to take Allen, so they all should be compared. The same goes for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson from the 2017 draft, although Beane was not a part of the Bills’ decision-making process then.
There will be an interest in what Baker Mayfield does in Cleveland and how Sam Darnold fares with the Jets, but those two players were gone before the Bills picked, so it’s not exactly fair to judge them against Allen.
The quality of each team’s supporting cast will play a part in the success or failure of those quarterbacks, of course, but the comparisons between them will be constant.
Tom asks: Will the Bills make a play for Dez Bryant?
Jay: If they haven’t already, it would seem like they’re not in the market for him. Of course, that could be Bryant not having an interest in playing for the Bills. He seems intent on waiting for the right opportunity, but that could change as the season gets closer and he’s still out of a job. Clearly, he’s not viewed around the NFL as a game-changing player, or some team would have brought him in by now. There’s no question he would significantly improve the Bills’ wideout room, but there is a legitimate concern about how he’d fit into the “culture” that the team’s front office and coaching staff are trying to build. The Bills have gone down the one-year contract for a former Cowboys receiver before, with middling success.
John D. asks: Will the Shotgunners win it all???
Jay: This is my Thursday night softball team. We better. After a dominant regular season, we put together a nice victory in the semifinals this week. Unfortunately for me, the championship game is Thursday, the same day the Bills open the preseason against Carolina. Thanks a lot, Roger Goodell. Go get ’em boys.
Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: AJ McCarron/ Andre Holmes/ Baker Mayfield/ Bills Mailbag/ Brandon Beane/ Charles Clay/ Deshaun Watson/ Dez Bryant/ Eric Wood/ Josh Allen/ Josh Rosen/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Lamar Jackson/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Patrick Mahomes/ Richie Incognito/ Rob Gronkowski/ Ryan Groy/ Shaq Lawson/ Taron Johnson/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy/ Vlad Ducasse/ Vontae Davis