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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Are free agents more likely to choose Buffalo or New York?

A jam-packed Bills Mailbag this week, so without further ado ...

Rick McGuire asks: It looks like the Jets will have about $106 million and the Bills $92 million available for free agency in 2019. I know money talks, but could you see players signing with Buffalo over New York for less because of the direction the team is headed, or will the “Big Apple” city life be more attractive?

Jay: Here’s what I think free agents prioritize: No. 1 – Money. No. 2 – finding the best possible scheme for their talents, which in turn gives them an opportunity to play well and thus make more money. It’s up for debate what No. 3 is, but it’s far behind the first two in terms of importance.

It will be interesting to watch the “arms race” between the Bills and Jets this offseason, since both teams figure to be big spenders. Each roster has massive holes. The Bills have a coaching staff in place, while the Jets are expected to make a change after this season. For offensive players like wide receivers, it could come down to which quarterback they believe in more, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold.

I would never rule out the possibility of a free agent choosing the Jets over the Bills if all other things were equal simply to live in New York City. If I were a young millionaire athlete with no ties to Buffalo, I might do the same. I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a free agent deciding they want a more small-town atmosphere, which would lead them to the Bills.

I’ll say this for recent free agents who have signed with the Bills – they seem to genuinely love playing here. Maybe that’s just something they say in the media, but when I hear players like Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer gush about playing in Buffalo, they strike me as genuine. The same goes for drafted players. Just look at the comments from Josh Allen and Tre’Davious White, to name a couple.

Owners Terry and Kim Pegula have made significant upgrades to the Bills’ facility in areas that would matter to free agents (the new weight room and upgraded cafeteria are examples). Players have friends all over the league, so impending free agents are getting scouting reports well in advance.

TNFP69 asks: I always have believed that the officials can influence the outcome of a game (every game). Do you think this will happen even more now with last week’s event with Jerry Hughes?

Jay: It’s certainly possible that officials are looking a little more closely at certain players for infractions. In the case of Hughes, just look at the statement put out by the executive director of the NFL Referees’ Association. In it, Scott Green wrote that Hughes has a “well-documented history of abusive language and inappropriate actions toward our officials.” Hughes' history suggests that officials will keep a closer eye on those behaviors and might be quicker to throw a flag on Hughes than they would players without his background. Last week’s verbal confrontation won’t help Hughes’ reputation as a hot head.

Another example of officials being extra aware came last week. Several times, Jordan Phillips emphatically clapped at the Dolphins’ bench after the Bills’ defense made a big play. While that act alone didn’t rise to the level of unsportsmanlike conduct, it certainly appeared to be a case of a player trying to show up his former team. Late in the game, after Phillips made a big tackle for loss, officials tossed a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. That certainly influenced the game.

It’s on the Bills (and every team) to be disciplined and avoid those penalties that occur before or after the whistle. Coaches can usually deal with what takes place while the play is happening.

Paul Catalano asks: What took so long to release Kelvin Benjamin? It was obvious he wasn’t giving 100 percent for weeks.

Jay: I’m sure General Manager Brandon Beane wasn’t eager to admit the Benjamin trade was a bad one, which releasing him does. Beane gave up third- and seventh-round draft choices for a player who made two big catches for the Bills – both of which came in the blizzard game against the Colts last year. (That game helped the Bills end a 17-year playoff drought, so Benjamin at least had something to do with that.)

As for his effort, I wonder if the breaking point came against Miami. Benjamin was the intended target on a ball that was intercepted. He did not appear to run a crisp route on the play.

Whether the Bills released Benjamin now or let him play out the string really isn’t all that important to me. It was beyond obvious he was done with the team after this year. I’ve seen some people suggest the Bills should have kept him so that he factors into the compensatory draft pick formula by signing somewhere else after the season, but there is no way the Bills will be in line for a compensatory pick. Those are based on a net gain or loss of free agents, and with more than $90 million in projected cap space, the Bills will certainly be bringing in more free agents than they could possibly lose.

So why release Benjamin now? The Bills have clearly shifted to getting their young players more time on the field. With Benjamin gone, it means more opportunity for Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie.

IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: KB13 is traded for two draft picks, bombs and is released. Andre Holmes is a red-zone target and special-teams contributor and gets released. AJ McCarron is acquired as the veteran quarterback for Josh Allen and gets released. Are these personnel evaluation problems, coaching issues or both?

Jay: In the case of Benjamin, it’s a personnel evaluation problem. Plain and simple, Beane should have known what he was getting. I have a hard time believing that the torn meniscus suffered last season led to Benjamin’s drastic drop in production. As far as injuries to professional athletes go, that’s about as minor of a procedure as one can have, unless there were complications that have not been reported. Perhaps lingering knee trouble from his time in Carolina was more of the concern, but again, that’s something Beane should have known.

I don’t know what the coaching staff could have done differently. They gave him every opportunity to make plays. Far too often, when Benjamin was asked to make a contested catch – which is supposed to be his specialty – he couldn’t do it. That’s not on the coaches.

As for Holmes, I’m not going to get all that worked up about a No. 5 wide receiver. He signed a cheap contract and gave the Bills some decent leadership on special teams. He’s replaceable in every sense, so I don’t view releasing him as some grand indictment of the coaches or front office.

It’s important to note that McCarron was traded, not released. The Bills thought a fifth-round draft pick was more valuable than his serving as the third quarterback. I’ve said several times before that was an error in judgment, particularly with the carousel of quarterbacks that came after Josh Allen got hurt. Let’s see what the team does with that draft pick, though.

Matthew Dwyer asks: Do you think McDermott needs to change his replay challenge system?

Jay: In a word, yes. He’s 0 for 6 this year and 1 for 10 in his time with the Bills, so clearly something isn’t right. I believe McDermott got caught up in the emotion last week that a potential safety would have provided. The replay we saw in the stadium made it clear that Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had gotten the ball out of the end zone. Whether it’s better communication with the coaches upstairs or something else, that’s an area in which McDermott needs to get better. The first half against Miami might have looked different with two timeouts instead of one.

Tim Sauda asks: It’s pretty obvious wide receiver will be addressed in free agency. Who is here Week 1? I’m not impressed with Devin Funchess, and that is the obvious one with the Carolina connection.

Jay: On the current roster, Zay Jones is definitely here. Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie can play themselves into “definite” status over this final month, but I wouldn’t quite say they are there yet. After that, who knows. Deonte Thompson won’t cost a lot to re-sign if they want him back, while sixth-round draft pick Ray-Ray McCloud needs to show something in this final month.

Looking ahead to free agency, I agree that Funchess isn’t all that exciting, but we know the history here with Carolina players. After that, the most attractive names are probably Golden Tate, Randall Cobb and Quincy Enunwa. Not a thrilling group, at all. Of those, Cobb is probably the most attractive. He’s had an injury-plagued year, so his price tag might come down some.

Stephen asks: Your best idea on where the Bills draft and who they select?

Jay: I see a couple more wins on the schedule, which will move their draft position down some. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bills won three of their final four games, sweeping the home games against the Jets, Detroit and Miami and losing in New England. That would leave them 7-9. Last year, 7-9 teams picked 12-13-14. This year, the 20 current non-playoff teams range in record from 2-10 to 7-6. If the Bills do get to 7-9, I expect they fall out of the top 15.

As for who they select, my only prediction right now is that it will be on the offensive side of the ball. Given the need at most positions there, they should have plenty to choose from. I’ll dig more into the draft after this season wraps up.

Devin Farley asks: Will Jeremiah Sirles lead to the eventual death of Josh Allen?

Jay: Not this week, knock on wood. John Miller is scheduled to return to the starting lineup, meaning Sirles will head back to the bench. He is Ryan Groy’s backup at center, however, so he’s a play away from coming into the game.

Louis Stromberg asks: Jay, I’m back. What do you think of my Jay power rankings? 1. Bagel Jay’s. 2. Jay-Z. 3. Jay Skurski. 4. Toronto Blue Jays. 5. Jay Cutler. I think you’re in a good spot. Stay humble.

Jay: I’ll take it, but I object to Bagel Jay’s being No. 1. They make a fine chicken salad on an everything bagel, which is my go-to order, but unlike Manhattan Bagel, they don’t offer a side of potato salad. That’s a big letdown. I’ve got no qualms with being ranked behind Jay-Z. Fun fact about me: My actual name is Jay, not Jason. Many people take it upon themselves to lengthen my name. Please don’t do that. … Thanks for all the questions this week!

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