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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Is Sean McDermott panicking over defense?

Jay Skurski

One of my pet peeves is people from Buffalo asking in July, “Is it October yet?” We get maybe four months of summer, tops. Let's not rush them along, OK?

To all those people, it looks like your time has arrived. Count me among those who will miss the 80-degree days. Onto this week's mailbag ...

Rick McGuire asks: I interpret Sean McDermott’s takeover of the defensive play-calling as a sign of panic. I’ve seen other signs as well. Benching of Tyrod Taylor last year, starting Josh Allen after one game by Nathan Peterman, and then naming him the starter the remainder of the year. A pattern maybe? Your thoughts?

Michael Sansano asks: With a prized rookie quarterback and middle linebacker, both would have benefited from their predecessors to garner some NFL experience without being “thrown to the wolves.” Signing Vontae Davis over EJ Gaines? The money wasn’t crazy. The result has not been addition by subtraction. Decimation by subtraction? The Bills’ secondary was the strongest position unit last year and returned three out of four starters. Is the drop-off in play more the result of losing one player or in scheme by replacing Gill Byrd?

Jay: I grouped these questions together because they’ve got the same theme. I don’t know if I would use the word panic, but rather pressure. McDermott knows his defense couldn’t continue to look the way it did through the first six quarters of this season. That was supposed to be the strength of the team. The Bills spent big up front on Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy, traded up in the first round for Tremaine Edmunds and added defensive tackle Harrison Phillips in the third round. That’s a lot of investment on that side of the ball. The results through the first two weeks are absolutely unacceptable. The quickest way McDermott will find himself on the hot seat is to have his defense fall apart. That’s his background.

Michael makes a good point in asking about McDermott’s decision to fire defensive backs coach Gill Byrd and replace him with John Butler. The secondary has been a mess this year after having such high expectations entering the season. Butler oversaw a Houston secondary last season that ranked 24th in passing yards allowed per game and tied for 20th in interceptions. How exactly is he an upgrade over Byrd? That’s a topic that hasn’t been brought up much, but it should be. General Manager Brandon Beane deserves some heat here, too. The Davis signing was a disaster. I suspect the Bills had their reasons for letting Gaines walk, but that looks like a terrible decision so far.

Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. of USC makes a catch against Utah on Sept. 20, 2019. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

I don’t agree on the quarterback point, though. We knew that the Bills weren’t fully on board with Taylor as their quarterback from the minute he took a $10 million pay cut. You don’t make that move if you have full confidence in him. The switch to Peterman came after a pair of terrible showings by the offense. I don’t blame McDermott for seeing if he could upgrade the position. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the coach wasted little time going back to Taylor after Peterman’s implosion in Los Angeles. As for this year, after Peterman’s first half against the Ravens, what other choice was there but to turn to Allen? It is painfully clear that Peterman is not a viable starting option in this league. My criticism of the quarterbacks this year is trading AJ McCarron. If you wanted Allen to sit on the bench and learn at the start of his career, it would have made more sense to give yourself one more option in the event Peterman couldn’t hold onto the job. The Bills lost that opportunity when they traded McCarron.

Brendan Sweet asks: If LeSean McCoy can get healthy and have a few good games, would the Bills think about trading him? Or is there no market for him? What are the chances Shady is on the opening day roster next year?

Jay: Trading McCoy would be the ultimate sign that this is strictly a rebuilding year. Truthfully, it may already be that, but don’t expect Beane and McDermott to admit it. It’s questionable how much trade value McCoy would have. Any team trading for McCoy would have to pay his $6.075 million base salary. He also comes with significant off-the-field baggage. How confident could any team be that the police investigation in Georgia won’t take a turn, possibly jeopardizing McCoy’s availability. Then there is the question of his age (30) and production. Through the first two games, he’s got just 61 yards on 16 carries. Of those 16 carries, 10 of them have gone for 3 yards or less. None of that figures to make him a hot commodity on the trade market.

As for whether the Bills would be open to trading him, my guess is that Beane’s answer to that question is something along the lines of “we’ll do what’s in the best interests of the team.” In other words, I don’t think a trade can be ruled out. I’d put the chances of McCoy being on the roster next year at 50-50. Moving on from him after this season would save the team $6.375 million in 2019 salary-cap space, leaving $2.625 million in dead money. At some point soon, the team is going to want to get younger, and cheaper, at the position.

Oliver Hays asks: The Jeremy Kerley move seems bizarre. Why cut your third wide receiver for a defensive tackle who played six snaps because of one hot day? Is there more to the story here? Why get rid of a semi-proven receiver on a team with almost none?

Jay: Those are all fantastic questions, Oliver. I honestly don’t have an answer. I’m with you that the move looks bizarre. It was reported and explained after it happened that it was a numbers crunch. To the point that the Bills had only three defensive tackles, I can somewhat buy that. What’s more interesting to me is what the Bills see in rookie Robert Foster that nobody else does. I know he’s got speed, but they must feel like there’s a whole lot of potential there to keep him on the 53-man roster. I wouldn’t close the door on Kerley coming back at some point. The team has just four receivers at the moment. Unless or until that happens, though, his signing is another blemish on Beane’s record.

@Dianegentzke1 asks: Considering the Bills do not have an experienced quarterback to help Josh Allen, would they consider bringing in someone like Carson Palmer?

Jay: Palmer is definitely a no. He’s retired, and there’s no chance he’d come out of retirement to serve as a backup in Buffalo. The Bills are doing their due diligence in looking at quarterbacks, including workouts for Paxton Lynch and Tyler Ferguson that we know of. It doesn’t seem all that likely that the team would be in the market for a veteran, though. The point of adding a mentor in the quarterback room, in my mind, would be to help a rookie like Allen with the playbook. That’s not going to happen now, since any veteran signed would need time to get up to speed. There would be other benefits, too, but clearly this front office and coaching staff does not view it as a priority.

Now for the Vontae Davis portion of the mailbag …

“Double Dough” asks: If the Bills win the Super Bowl this season, does Vontae Davis get a ring?

Dolores Fontana asks: How much cash does he get paid for this season now? 1.5 games’ worth at most, I would hope, right? Or less.

Jim Benoit asks: Do they have half-game checks?

Dean Cutlip asks: Vontae Davis nine-plus years in the NFL. I’m wondering if CTE is in play here?

Carol Ball asks: How could he not know beforehand that he wasn’t prepared? Worse yet is, how did his coaches not know he wasn’t giving full effort to the team?

Jay: Let’s go through these one by one.

Double dough (great name): Maybe. A 2015 article in SB Nation stated that the NFL pays for 150 Super Bowl rings for the winning team, but more can be purchased. “There are a lot of variables in play as to who gets rings, but generally you can expect every player on the 53-man roster, the entire coaching staff and the front office to earn rings. … Other players who can receive rings include practice squad players, players on injured reserve and players who were on the roster at some point during the season. Teams will often consider everybody who contributed at any point in the season worthy of a ring,” the article states.

So maybe Davis earns some bling. Now, the Bills just need to win the Super Bowl. Nothing to it, right?

Dolores, he gets his first two game checks, which is a little more than $130,000. Former agent Joel Corry tweeted the exact details this week, saying the Bills will get $2,282,169 of cap relief — $1,985,294 from not paying the final 15 weeks of his base salary, plus $109,375 and $187,500 from not paying 53-man and 46-man-active roster bonuses. The Bills also can go after a portion of Davis’ $1.5 million signing bonus, although it’s unknown if they’ll do that. Given that Davis quit on the team in the middle of a game, they just might.

Jim, I laughed.

Dean, I’m not going to speculate on Davis’ mental state. I’ll say that in both his statement and a later interview he did with ESPN’s the Undefeated, Davis sounds like someone who simply decided he didn’t want to play anymore. It wouldn’t be fair to pin that on something like CTE.

Carol, we can only take Davis at his word that something clicked during the game and he decided he couldn’t do it any more. I don’t blame the coaches for that. All of them said Davis was working hard to get ready for the season and doing what was asked of him. In speaking to him before the year, he sounded excited about the possibilities in Buffalo. For whatever reason, and Davis isn’t saying, that changed.

Paul Catalano asks: Does Elliott break 100 first this year or the Bills get a win?

Jay: This sounds like a challenge to play more golf. Side note: I took a lesson Tuesday with Wanakah pro Marc Rosa, and now the only thing I want to do is go to the driving range. I’m obsessing over it. My money is on Elliott (my 4-year-old son, for those new to the golf portion of the mailbag), although I’ll probably only have a few more chances to get him out this year.

I’ll leave you guys with a question my wife asked this week. Who wins a game first: the Sabres or the Bills? Thanks for all the questions this week!

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