Quarterbacks, as you might have predicted, are a popular topic in this week’s Bills Mailbag.
Here, for example, are four questions generated after Buffalo’s 19-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Friday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Joey D. asks: Gotta be Josh Allen with the start next game. Gotta see him with the ‘ones.’ Thoughts?
Brad Hesch asks: Is Josh Allen the favorite now?
Bill Perry asks: Will the week 3 starter be the de facto QB derby winner?
Bobby B. asks: Did Josh Allen earn a Week 3 start?
Jay: Let’s hit them all at once. In short, yes, I would start Josh Allen against Cincinnati in Week 3 of the preseason. I thought Allen looked terrific Friday night against the Browns. His touchdown pass to Rod Streater was a thing of beauty, as he danced away from pressure, stepped up in the pocket and kept his eyes downfield before delivering an accurate strike to the back of the end zone for the Bills’ first touchdown.
While that play was the highlight, I was also impressed by Allen’s ability to take 8- or 9-yard completions to the outside and make them look like layups. His arm strength on those throws is ridiculous.
I said this last week, but it bears repeating: There were a ton of hot takes about Allen before the draft, along with legitimate concerns about his accuracy. So far this summer, he has not looked wildly inaccurate. Yes, he’ll miss some passes, but so did No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield on Friday.
I’m not convinced the Bills are quite ready to start Allen in Week 1 of the regular season, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he gets time with the starters against the Bengals. Another performance like the one he had against the Browns could make it difficult for the coaching staff to keep him on the bench.
James W. Porter Jr. asks: Offensive line was in real trouble last night against the Browns. Any chance we pick someone up? Better to protect the quarterback than get his collarbone broken.
Jay: I'm afraid this what the Bills will be rolling with in 2018. There are not starting-caliber offensive linemen out on the street, and even if there were, they would need some time to get up to speed with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's system. There is reason to be concerned about the line after what we saw Friday, both in the running game and passing game. LeSean McCoy had absolutely nowhere to run, and McCarron took way too many hits, including the one he was injured on. It's hard not to feel absolutely terrible for him.
Michael Parthum asks: Is it possible that Matt Milano played himself out of a starting job? Conversely, could Shaq Lawson start Week 1 even if Trent Murphy is fully healthy?
Jay: I'm not there yet with Milano, but there is no question it was a bad week for him, capped off by a miserable game. The Bills' run defense was abysmal against the Browns. Milano and rookie Tremaine Edmunds are central to that.
“Not good enough," is how coach Sean McDermott described the run defense Friday after the game. "I thought last week we did a good job in stopping the run, and this week, it wasn’t good enough by any means. It wasn’t up to our standards, so we have to go back and take a look at it. Some of those were hitting inside. Sometimes it takes the film to really diagnose where it was hitting and why, so you go back and we get things corrected, and get it up to the standard that we so desire."
The problem with benching Milano is, who takes his place? Milano replaced Ramon Humber in the starting lineup late last season. Has anything changed to make anyone think Humber would be a better option now? Perhaps Keenan Robinson, who was signed shortly before the start of training camp, can make a push for the job. The ideal scenario, though, is for Milano to regain the promising form he showed as a rookie.
As for Lawson and Murphy, the No. 1 priority has to be getting the latter healthy. It was a concern to hear McDermott say the Bills are trying to "figure out" the veteran's groin injury. The one thing Murphy's injury has done is basically guaranteed a roster spot for Lawson.
TimJayTee asks: Who are the candidates for the practice squad?
Jay: There are several, so let's go position by position. Center Adam Redmond has drawn the praise of McDermott on more than one occasion. At cornerback, Levi Wallace and Breon Borders are logical candidates if they don't make the 53-man roster. At defensive tackle, Rickey Hatley would make sense, although he could challenge for a spot on the roster if Kyle Williams' knee injury is long-term. Candidates at linebacker include Xavier Woodson-Luster and Corey Thompson. The Bills could try to squeeze safety Siran Neal onto the practice squad if the fifth-round draft pick can't crack the roster. Finally, at receiver, there are plenty of candidates, including rookies Austin Proehl, Cam Phillips and Robert Foster.
Keep in mind that the Bills can fill spots on the practice squad with players released by other teams, too, so that significantly adds to the pool of available options.
Paul Catalano asks: What does it take to get Khalil Mack? And realistic odds it happens?
Jay: At the risk of appearing on @OldTakesExposed, I'll say there is a minimal chance of it happening. Like 100-to-1 odds. The Raiders would be crazy to trade Mack, who is one of the top two or three defensive players in the league.
If I were running the Raiders, any trade package for Mack would have to include at least two first-round draft picks, and a young starter still on his rookie contract. That's obviously a huge price tag, but it shows what kind of player Mack is. As much as bringing Mack back to Buffalo sounds appealing, I don't think it's realistic. First-round picks are gold in the NFL, and if the Bills struggle as some have predicted they will this year, that might be a top-10 selection. Perhaps drafting that high, they could select the next Khalil Mack, and have him on a cost-controlled basis for the next five or six years.
Side note: I posed a similar question to my Twitter followers this week, asking what they would be comfortable giving up in a trade for Mack if he was to become available. That generated an avalanche of replies, but none were better than @jamadari, who said "Sam Reinhart, John Murphy and North Tonawanda." I'd just like to state for the record that I would very much be in favor of that trade.
JW Mills asks: Is Marcus Murphy running away with that third RB spot (pun intended)? Although Keith Ford had a few decent runs, it's pretty clear due to string/reps who they viewed as the better of the two.
Jason asks: They have to find a spot for Marcus Murphy, don’t they?
Jay: Yes, if I were making the roster decisions, Murphy would have a spot. As impressive as he looked running the ball against the Browns, the thing that might have helped him even more was his 39-yard punt return to set up a field goal in the second quarter. That kind of play only enhances Murphy’s value, because the team is still deciding on returners.
“The Duke of Blasdell” asks: I know all the so-called experts think Nick O’Leary will be cut, but man he just catches everything thrown his way! It’s not pretty, but facts are facts – he rarely drops a ball. Should he be kept?
Jay: Give credit to O’Leary for producing the way he did. Four catches on four targets for 70 yards and a touchdown is solid. It doesn’t change the fact O’Leary was the fifth tight end in the game, though. Because of that, he would appear to be behind Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Logan Thomas and Khari Lee on the depth chart, meaning it will be an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster. Croom appeared to suffer a leg injury of some sort Friday, however, so that could also factor into the competiton.
“behrnise” asks: If AJ is an injury buyout, what available/potentially available vets provide the wisdom needed in the QB room?
Jay: That list has to start with Colin Kaepernick, right? After that, Matt Moore would be an option. He would add that veteran experience to the quarterback room. I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves some talking about McCarron being an injury settlement, though. There are still three weeks before the start of the regular season, so he can get a good head start on the healing process.
J. May asks: So, if the Bills end up drafting top 3 next year based off a poor season and a can’t-miss quarterback is on the board, do they take another swing on a prospective franchise guy? My opinion, draft one every year.
Jay: That’s easy. Of course if there is a can’t-miss prospect, you draft him. I’m not sure that player is going to be there, though. Early reviews from analysts on the 2019 quarterback class have indicated there are some promising prospects, but no established pecking order. There is definitely not an Andrew Luck-type, no-brainer who is going to go No. 1 overall. The Bills are fully committed to Allen right now, as they should be, but that doesn’t mean they should stop looking.
Rick McGuire asks: Do remarks like the ones Jalen Ramsey made recently really get under a player's skin? Josh Allen blew it off like it was nothing but does it eat at him while he waits to play the Jags later this season?
Jay: I can’t speak for Allen, but he certainly did not sound like someone who was bothered by it in the least. And really, why should he be? Sure, he’ll see Ramsey later this season, but right now he has plenty of more important things to worry about, like trying to win the starting job. To borrow a phrase from McCarron that I love, Allen would just be creating “mental clutter” for himself by worrying about what someone on another team says about him.
Will he have that in the back of his mind when the Bills play the Jaguars? Probably. But don’t bet on him adding fuel to the fire in the week leading up to the game.
Michael Rafe asks: Did Josh Allen cement himself as an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame Friday night?
Jay: Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the Josh Allen hype train picking up steam. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: Adam Redmond/ AJ McCarron/ Austin Proehl/ Bills Mailbag/ Breon Borders/ Brian Daboll/ Cam Phillips/ Charles Clay/ Corey Thompson/ Jason Croom/ Josh Allen/ Keenan Robinson/ Khalil Mack/ Khari Lee/ LeSean McCoy/ Levi Wallace/ Logan Thomas/ Marcus Murphy/ Matt Milano/ Nick O'Leary/ Rickey Hatley/ Robert Foster/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Siran Neal/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy/ Xavier Woodson-Luster