By now, the Buffalo Bills are used to life on the road.
Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts closes a brutal stretch of five road games in the first seven weeks of the season. While that's great for my Marriott points, it's not so good for a Bills team struggling to score points. The home-heavy portion of the schedule starts next week when the Bills play an AFC East opponent for the first time this year, New England, on Monday Night Football.
Let’s get to this week’s mailbag …
Dale Zuchlewski asks: Is it too early to speculate if the Bills will draft another quarterback next year? It’s not like Josh Allen has shown he is the franchise guy.
Jay: The short answer is, yes, it is too early. Here’s why I think so: Allen could still play again this season. I’d say it’s likely that he does. If that happens and he looks good, quarterback is out of the question, at least in the early rounds.
Even if he doesn’t return or struggles when he does, though, I still don’t believe the Bills would move on from Allen so soon. They’ll justify that by saying his injury didn’t give them time for a full evaluation – which is fair – or by rationalizing that Allen will look better with a stronger supporting cast. Again, that could be true.
With that being said, if I was running the team and there was a quarterback I was certain would be a franchise guy (which is not really possible to do), I’d draft him. It just doesn’t happen in the NFL, though, and I don’t see the Bills breaking the mold.
@badmoon716 asks: Can our offense be worse than it has been, outside of the Vikings game, with Derek Anderson?
Jay: Yes, it can. In Buffalo, it seems like things can always get worse. Anderson has played 25 games since the start of 2011. He attempted eight passes a year ago. What’s to say he won’t be worse than Allen or even Peterman? That’s entirely realistic for a 35-year-old quarterback with less than two weeks to prepare.
At least in terms of where the team ranks, it’s true that things can’t get much worse. The Bills are 31st in total offense and last in both passing yardage and points per game. It’s an offense that desperately needs a total overhaul, but that won’t come until the offseason at the earliest.
Mike Canfield asks: Sean McDermott always talks about “building a team” and “building a culture.” How is that even possible when the team is signing guys off the street and playing them each week (e.g., Jordan Phillips, Derek Anderson, Nate Orchard)?
Jay: Every team turns over the bottom of its roster to a certain extent, so I don’t know how important that is. What matters is getting a group of leaders who can be trusted. The Bills have that in Lorenzo Alexander, Kyle Williams, LeSean McCoy, Stephen Hauschka, Taiwan Jones and Patrick DiMarco.
If those new additions to the bottom of the roster don’t fit in the locker room, it’s just as easy to move on from them as it is to bring them in. Phillips, for example, is a good case study in this. There were character questions about him following his departure from Miami, but the Bills looked into that and felt comfortable bringing him here.
The bigger question for me is what happens if the defense continues to play lights out and the offense continues to throw up on itself. At some point, frustration and resentment figure to set in.
@InYourEyes4u asks: The quick franchise turnarounds in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and probably Chicago hinged on new head coaches and quarterbacks. Do you feel the heat will be on Sean McDermott if Josh Allen doesn’t make similar significant improvements like his counterparts made and the Bills are not a serious playoff team in 2019?
Jay: Absolutely, 100 percent. McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane have identified Allen as their franchise quarterback. Rarely does a GM/head coach combo get a second crack at that. If Allen fails, it does not bode well for the current brain trust. They know that, too. With 10 draft picks at the moment and about $90 million in salary-cap space, there is no reason that the roster should not be significantly upgraded, particularly on offense. The pressure to win in 2019 will be very real on Beane and McDermott.
Bill N. asks: Danny Crossman has struggled with his special teams since coming to Buffalo. They present little to no return threat, appear undisciplined, but yet he appears to have say in acquiring players with solid special-teams backgrounds. What’s the rub? This unit should be a difference maker.
Jay: McDermott agrees with you. Here’s what he told me Thursday when asked about how confident he is that the special teams can get things turned around quickly: “There's certain guys that were kept for special-teams purposes primarily. We've all got to step our game up in that regard. It's worth field position, it's worth a competitive advantage. We've kept some guys to create that, and we haven't gotten the job done the last two weeks.”
That’s about as critical as you’ll hear McDermott in public. It is fairly amazing that Crossman has survived two coaching changes so far. It’s fair to say his seat has warmed considerably in the last couple of weeks.
Wilson asks: You get to be GM for the day. You get to make three moves. What are they?
Jay: No. 1, I’m burning up the phone lines trying to find a taker for Kelvin Benjamin in a trade. I’ve got no interest in re-signing him after this year, and don’t think he’s a positive presence in the locker room. He’s got to go. I’d be happy to take a sixth-round pick for him.
No. 2, I’d make it known that LeSean McCoy is available via trade – for the right price. I’m not desperate to move McCoy the way I am Benjamin, but I’ve got the worst offense in the league with him. I can do the same thing without him. My asking price would be a second-round draft pick, but I’d probably do it for a third.
No. 3 – and I’m going to pretend tampering rules don’t exist – I’m reaching out to the agents of the following players, which brings us to our next question.
Eric Sharp asks: Who should the Bills target next year with their cap space?
Jay: Golden Tate is No. 1 on my list. I’ve said for the past few weeks that the Bills could very well need five new wide receivers next year. Zay Jones will probably be back, but other than that, there is nobody I would consider a lock. Tate would immediately fill a huge hole.
Depending on what happens with Kyle Williams, a defensive tackle would be on my shopping list. The Falcons’ Grady Jarrett is only 25 years old and has been a productive player since entering the league.
A backup quarterback is also a need. Usually, I’m not big on reunions, but Ryan Fitzpatrick could fit in that role. So, too, could the Jets’ Josh McCown.
The offensive line also figures to be an area that’s targeted. One name to think about there is Daryl Williams. He’s on the Panthers’ injured reserve at the moment with a knee injury, but should be fine for 2019. Obviously, there is the Carolina connection with the Bills’ front office. Williams is a former second-team All-Pro.
Paul Catalano asks: Is your gut feeling McDermott wanted to stay with Nathan Peterman, but just couldn’t because of the possible repercussions of losing the locker room?
Jay: It’s getting harder and harder to make the case that McDermott doesn’t have a blind spot for Peterman. It should have been clear after the season opener that he’s not cut out to play in the NFL, but the Bills didn’t make a move to bring in another quarterback before signing Anderson. That meant they were comfortable being one play away from Peterman having to play again. It’s not hyperbole to say Peterman has been one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history in the limited opportunities he’s had to play.
At least publicly, McDermott has denied he was worried about losing the locker room if he started Peterman again. I don’t know if he truly believes that, but I’m guessing he’s smart enough to realize that if he played Peterman again and he melted down again, there would start to be serious questions about whether McDermott is cut out to be the coach.
Luigi Michael asks: Of the questionable moves McBeane has made with the Bills, the Kelvin Benjamin acquisition intrigues me the most. They knew this guy inside and out with the Panthers and even considering the spotty Bills quarterbacks, he appears below average. Your thoughts?
Jay: One of the big mysteries with Benjamin is his usage in the red zone. He’s been targeted inside the opponent’s 20-yard line just three times this season, and just twice inside the 10-yard line. His greatest strength is his size, but there has been no effort made to take advantage of that. Perhaps that’s because the coaches lack confidence in him.
The reality is, there have only been very brief flashes of the player the Bills thought they were getting. In snap counts and targets, Benjamin is the clear No. 2 receiver behind Zay Jones. At this point, the trade for Benjamin does not look like a good one.
Louis Stromberg asks: How many games does Anderson have to win until he’s given the key to the city?
Jay: Here we are, a decade after Terrell Owens, still making “key to the city” jokes. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: Brandon Beane/ Danny Crossman/ Derek Anderson/ Jordan Phillips/ Josh Allen/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Nate Orchard/ Nathan Peterman/ Ryan Fitzpatrick/ Sean McDermott/ Terrell Owens