Welcome to the mailbag. This week, we're tackling the future of Thomas Davis, comparing the two Duke Williams, debating Shaq Lawson's future and projecting the number of trades the Bills will swing. Let's get to it ...
Rick McGuire asks: Any chance the Bills sign former Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis? Seems to me he could be a great teacher/mentor for the younger guys such as Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, much like Derek Anderson is with Josh Allen.
Jay: He’s a former Panther, so of course there’s a chance! All kidding aside, I’d be more willing to agree with you if the Bills and Lorenzo Alexander can’t work out a contract for next year. Then, that leadership role that you refer to would take on added importance. Coach Sean McDermott has said he prefers to have at least one veteran leader in each position group. If Alexander re-signs, he’s that guy for the linebackers. In general, signing a 35-year-old linebacker in free agency isn’t something I’d usually be that interested in, but Davis still played at a high level last year in his 14th season. He finished 18th in Pro Football Focus’ rankings of 57 linebackers who played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps, making 79 tackles and six passes defensed. He would provide the Bills veteran depth, but if he’s looking for a starting role, he likely won’t find it in Buffalo, unless Alexander leaves.
Brendan Sweet asks: Will the new Duke Williams be better than the original Duke Williams?
Jay: Probably not. There's a reason the new Duke Williams went undrafted and was playing in the CFL. Some of that had to do with off-the-field issues, certainly, but his 40 time (4.72 seconds) is not impressive for an NFL wide receiver. I know people are pumped up about his signing, mostly because the highlight of him trucking a cornerback is one of the all-time greats, but let's see him in training camp first. Maybe he amounts to something, but the odds are against him. The old Duke Williams, in case you forgot, started 10 games in four years with the Bills. He's been out of the NFL since the 2016 season.
TNFP69 asks: Do you agree or disagree that by the time the draft is here, the experts’ boards will not look near the same as the ones they post today because of all the players declaring now?
Jay: Agree. As you mentioned, the decisions of underclassmen, which have to be made by Monday, will impact the draft board. The other guarantee is that quarterbacks will rise through the process. Even if the 2019 class isn’t as celebrated as the 2018 group, quarterback-needy teams will find a way to talk themselves into prospects. That’s good news for the Bills, because it will either push talented players down the draft board, or make teams interested in moving up to their ninth pick in the draft. Performances at pro days and the NFL Scouting Combine also will move prospects up or down the draft board.
Luigi Mike Speranza asks: Enjoyed your story on Shaq Lawson. To me, he’s a late-blooming, up-and-comer that the Bills need to keep. I’m unclear as to whether negotiating a new, long-term contract is an option in lieu of the $9 million, fifth-year payout. Thanks.
Jay: That is an option. Players are eligible to sign contract extensions after their third accrued season, which Lawson just completed. It’s not something I would expect the Bills to do, though, for a number of reasons.
For starters, I’m not 100 percent convinced Lawson is going to be a franchise cornerstone – the kind of player a team can’t live without. While he did take a step forward in 2018, he’s not the kind of game-changing edge rusher who offensive coordinators dread facing. Maybe Lawson becomes that in 2019, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If Brandon Beane disagrees with me, a long-term extension could be an option. That’s because the Bills would have all the negotiating power in that scenario. By simply picking up his fifth-year contract option, Lawson is tied to the team for two more years. That cuts into his bargaining power.
I’m not even sure picking up the fifth-year option is something the Bills feel is necessary. It is a big jump in salary, since the number will come in higher than $9 million. The team also has the option of declining the option and using the franchise tag if Lawson has a monster 2019. That would cost more, but it would eliminate the risk of picking up the option – which is immediately guaranteed for injury. If Lawson were to suffer a serious injury in 2019, the Bills would be on the hook for his salary in 2020. While the franchise has plenty of cap space to work with in the coming years, ideally that will be used on extensions for players like Tre’Davious White and Josh Allen. So I’d lean toward declining the fifth-year option and making Lawson prove it in 2019.
Sam Ruggiero asks: The list of the top 50 free agents just came out and no offense to Shady, but with names like Le’Veon Bell and Mark Ingram near the top of the list, why would they keep McCoy?
Jay: They believe he’s a talented player who was hurt by his supporting cast – mainly the offensive line. It’s up for debate whether that is truly the case. There are a couple stats that don’t work in McCoy’s favor. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats tracks a running back’s efficiency, which is calculated by taking the total distance a player traveled on rushing plays as a ball carrier per rushing yards gained. The lower the number, the more of a north/south runner. Among 55 qualified running backs, the best in the league was Baltimore’s Gus Edwards, at 2.78. McCoy was 53rd, at 5.07. In time spent behind the line of scrimmage, McCoy ranked 50th, at 2.98 seconds. Those numbers show McCoy was looking to break the big play too often, and wasn’t decisive enough once he got the ball.
The Bills believe with better blocking, McCoy will improve in those areas. It’s fair to question whether that will indeed be the case. As for Bell, I would be surprised if the Bills got into a bidding war for his services – and that’s what it will take. Indianapolis and the New York Jets look like two prime landing spots for him.
Ingram would be an interesting addition. Ideally, he’s paired with another back, the way he is in New Orleans with Alvin Kamara. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ingram pushed for a feature-back role. He wouldn’t get that in Buffalo if McCoy returns.
Billers asks: Over/under 1.5 trades leading up to and during the draft?
Jay: Over. Brandon Beane made that many moves in the first round alone last year, and that doesn’t count the trades of Tyrod Taylor and Cordy Glenn. Beane has shown in two seasons on the job he’s not afraid to make a move.
IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: 2019 is shaping up as huge season for the Bills. “The Process” should unfold with a favorable schedule, and if they nail the draft and free agency, result in a deep playoff run. Assuming no major injuries, are you a “Billiever?” Or will Sean McDermott be on a very hot seat?
Jay: The only way McDermott’s seat gets “very” hot is if the team wins fewer games than it did in 2018. That can’t happen. As long as his win total improves, my guess is he’s back for a fourth year. I don’t think that missing out on the playoffs, say with an 8-8 or 9-7 record, would put his job in jeopardy. In that scenario, the 2020 season would very much have a “playoffs or bust” feel to it. The offseason hasn’t even started, so it’s clearly too soon to make any kind of accurate projections, but here’s something to think about: How many teams would you say the Bills are “ahead of” going into 2019. I’ll leave the definition of that subjective for you to decide. My list includes four definites (Miami, Oakland, Denver and Cincinnati), four maybes (New York Jets, Cleveland, Tennessee and Jacksonville) and seven “no” votes (New England, Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, Houston, Indianapolis). Given that only six teams make the playoffs, I’m not predicting the Bills are a playoff team in 2019 right now.
Robert Goodwin asks: Frank Reich has been successful, but are there any other ex-Bills that the Bills would consider for coaching spots (Andre Reed, Steve Tasker, etc.)?
Jay: Reed has dipped his toes into the coaching water, including time in 2015 with the Bills as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh minority coaching internship program. He has not, however, worked as a full-time coach since his playing career ended in 2001. It’s hard to see the Bills hiring him to be the wide receivers coach. It’s also fair to wonder if he’s even interested in a coaching career anymore. As for Tasker, I don’t see him leaving his broadcast jobs as part of the Bills’ official radio program and as a sideline analyst for CBS.
Gman asks: Not a Bills question, but why wouldn’t the NFL adopt the college rule of one foot down on sideline catches? Seems the second foot causes the most controversy.
Jay: I’ll disagree here. There are enough rules designed to get more offense into the game. I don’t have a problem with one that helps out the defense. I also don’t think it’s the feet that cause the confusion. For the most part, it’s fairly easy to see whether both touch inbounds. The confusion to me comes in the “did he have control? Did he make a ‘football move?’ ” questions. Those never seem to have a clear answer.
Michelle asks: No. 1, any thoughts who they’ll hire for the offensive line and special teams coach? No. 2, musical punters this season – why wasn’t Colton Schmidt carried for the rest of the season?
Jay: Regarding the coaches, the Bills are likely flooded with resumes. There are quite frankly too many qualified candidates to try and narrow it down. As for why Colton Schmidt wasn’t retained, sometimes the obvious answer is the right one – he didn’t perform well enough to warrant sticking around. Schmidt’s hang time was consistently poor. His net average of 33.2 yards per punt was atrocious. The Bills need to add some legitimate competition for Corey Bojorquez in 2019.
Jim Eimer asks: Do you agree the Bills’ owners need to invest in a big, beautiful wall? How many new starting offensive linemen will the team have in 2019?
Jay: I’ll go with three, starting at center and then moving over to the right side. Ryan Groy, John Miller and Jordan Mills will all become unrestricted free agents in March, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if any or all of them left. I’m not even convinced the left side of the line – tackle Dion Dawkins and guard Wyatt Teller – will be back as is. Dawkins is a candidate for a position switch if the Bills find someone they like better at left tackle. Teller, meanwhile, will likely be pushed for a starting job. It certainly won’t be handed to him. If you count a position switch for Dawkins, there could be five new starters along the line next year. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: Andre Reed/ Brandon Beane/ Colton Schmidt/ Cordy Glenn/ Dion Dawkins/ Duke Williams/ Frank Reich/ John Miller/ Jordan Mills/ Josh Allen/ LeSean McCoy/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Ryan Groy/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Steve Tasker/ Tre'davious White/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Tyrod Taylor/ Wyatt Teller