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Jay Skurski’s Bills Mailbag: What’s the team’s timeline for winning?

Welcome to the first celebrity Bills Mailbag.

Check out the first question to see what I mean. Topics this week include the possibility of adding Antonio Brown in a trade, what the team might do with all of its cap space and what’s in store for Duke Williams. Let’s get to it …

Luke Russert asks: Do you think there’s a mindset within One Bills Drive that the clock really doesn’t start on anything until Tom Brady retires?

Jay: I don’t think so. No. 1, that’s just not the way professional athletes are wired. They never go into a game expecting to lose – even if everyone outside the locker room predicts that (which is the case when they face the Patriots). There’s also an uncertainty as to how long that will take. If Brady plays another two or three years, the Bills can’t just sit on their hands for those seasons. They need to show improvement.

I will say, however, that I think the current front office and coaching staff fully expected this rebuild would take at least three, and probably four, years. If that coincides with the end of Brady’s career, then all the better. The tough part of that is fans lived through the 17-year playoff drought, and therefore don’t love having patience preached to them. A big reason for the drought was facing Brady twice a year, so there’s no doubt the outlook for every team in the AFC East gets brighter when he’s gone.

Don Regensdorfer asks: The Bills have a ton of cap space available heading into the 2019 season, but there doesn’t seem to be many quality free agents. Can they carry over any unused cap dollars into 2020?

Greg Tompsett asks: Do you think we’ll see multiple short-term contracts for veteran free agents to fill spots, but under terms that expire before Tre’Davious White, Matt Milano, Zay Jones and Dion Dawkins class of extensions come due?

Jay: They can carry over every unused dollar, and I would expect they’ll do just that. The long-term goal is to draft, develop and then re-sign players before their rookie contracts expire. A player eligible to sign a contract extension can be signed after he finishes his third season. For the Bills, as Greg references, that group will includes the 2017 draft class, which is highlighted by cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano, wide receiver Zay Jones and left tackle Dion Dawkins.

The Bills hold a fifth-year option on White as a first-round draft pick, so they could afford to wait a year to offer him an extension. Milano, though, is a good example of a player the team might want to lock up early. I thought he deserved consideration for the Pro Bowl before getting hurt.

So I do think that the Bills will want to maintain a good deal of flexibility under the salary cap, knowing that they may need to eventually pay quarterback Josh Allen. I wouldn’t worry too much about how long the contracts are, though, since what really matters is the guaranteed money. Take Star Lotulelei’s contract, for example. While it’s for five years and up to $50 million, it’s easy for the Bills to make it a three- or four-year commitment and then walk away with minimal damage to the salary cap. General Manager Brandon Beane knows he needs to manage his cap situation closely – with an eye on eventually re-signing his own.

David Arizzi asks: Would Buffalo trade down or up in the draft?

Jay: With Beane in charge, either is a possibility. Of the two, I’d say it’s more likely that they would move down, particularly if a quarterback-needy team wants to get inside the top 10. The other reason is there does not seem to be an obvious player who would fill a need and be worth the cost to move up. In general, my philosophy on trading at the draft is to move down more than up. The more picks a team has, the more chances those players amount to something.

David Arizzi asks: Do the Bills go after Le’Veon Bell or Kareem Hunt?

TNFP69 asks: If the Bills signed Kareem Hunt to a futures contract, would they have to pay anything if he never is reinstated?

Jay: As long as the Bills are committed to bringing LeSean McCoy back – and they’ve been steadfast in that – I don’t see any way Bell or Hunt would fit here. For starters, Bell would command the type of contract it would be hard to imagine Beane being comfortable handing out. Regarding Hunt, the Bills – like any team who signs him – would face a public-relations nightmare. For an organization that has placed an emphasis on finding the right “character,” signing a player caught on video kicking a woman would not be a good look.

To answer the second question, if it happened, the Bills would owe Hunt whatever they gave him in a signing bonus and possibly a workout bonus. The commissioner’s exempt list prevents a player from practicing, playing or even attending games. That player can, with his team’s permission, be present at the facility on a “reasonable” basis for meetings, individual workouts, therapy and rehabilitation.

Nick Veronica asks: What’s the vibe on how Sean McDermott feels about David Culley’s work with Josh Allen? Any shot they move him to wide receivers coach now that Terry Robiskie’s gone?

Jay: I’ve seen that mentioned a few times. I understand the thinking behind it, and until a new wide receivers coach is named, it can’t be ruled out. However, I don’t expect it. I think the Bills are excited that Allen will get a full offseason in the same scheme. Included as part of that is having the same voice leading the quarterback room. I agree with that approach.

Greg Tompsett asks: Do you think Duke Williams works exclusively at wide receiver, or potentially as move tight end/H-back with his size and willingness to block?

Rick McGuire asks: New Bills wide receiver Duke Williams is listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Former Raiders tight end Todd Christensen was also 6-3 and weighed 229 pounds. Former Colts tight end Dallas Clark, also 6-3, weighed more at 252. Do you think the Bills may be looking to convert Duke to tight end? He has the hands and can block.

Jay: I asked Beane about Williams this week at the Shrine Game, and he did not bring up the possibility of a position switch. In fact, Beane said Williams would have a “great opportunity” at wide receiver. The hope has to be that he can bring the size that you mention to the wide receiver group, since it’s currently lacking it. Maybe things change when the team gets to training camp, but for now I see Williams working exclusively at wide receiver.

Greg Tompsett asks: With Lorenzo Alexander and Jeremiah Sirles being re-signed, is that any indication on the negotiations with Jordan Phillips, or am I reading too much into it?

Jay: I definitely think you’re reading too much into it. It’s mid January. It’s a little less than two months to the start of free agency. That’s more than enough time to negotiate deals with any of the six remaining unrestricted free agents the front office is interested in bringing back.

The Alexander and Sirles deals got done because they were easy. Alexander made it known he wanted to be here. Sirles’ price tag likely wasn’t much more than the veteran minimum. It will probably be trickier with Phillips, who played well after coming over from Miami. He’s young enough that he could have other suitors, so I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to at least see what is his value on the open market. If he’s comfortable with what the Bills offer, though, maybe it doesn’t get that far. Either way, the negotiations with Alexander and Sirles don’t have any impact on the rest of the team’s unrestricted free agents in my mind.

Donald asks: With the trend being win now while your quarterback is on a rookie contract in the NFL, do the Bills push for Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell to make a run in the very near future?

Brendan Sweet asks: Any chance Antonio Brown ends up a Buffalo Bill? If not, where is he headed?

Jake Wakely asks: Will the Bills go after Antonio Brown?

Jay: Not surprisingly, there’s a ton of interest among Bills fans about what happens with Brown. Here’s my take on the situation: The Bills will investigate the possibility. They’d be negligent in their responsibilities if they didn’t.

However, I think it’s unlikely that they end up acquiring Brown. No. 1, my guess is Pittsburgh wants to send him to the NFC if they do trade him.

No. 2, check out Beane’s response when I asked him about investigating players who could be potential trouble in the locker room. It’s in this week’s Inside the Bills.

Gangs asks: The NFL average for touchdown passes was 26 this year. The Bills had 13. Do they double their output next year to be at least average?

Jay: No. Do you realize it’s been 20 years since the team had at least 26 touchdown passes in a season? You have to go back to the combination of Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson in 1998 to get to that number. That’s bananas. I’ll say 20 from Josh Allen should be the target in 2019. That would be progress. If he gets to 26, there should be a parade down Delaware Avenue.

IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: As expected with the league rules changes favoring offense, the top four teams in points per game are in the conference championships. How likely is it that the Bills can acquire the necessary talent to go from near the bottom to the top in one offseason.

Jay: I feel like this sets me up for one of those situations where I say I’ll do something like eat my laptop if the Bills lead the NFL in offense next year, then they end up doing it. I’m open to your suggestions on what I should do if that happens. As you can probably surmise, I feel like that has no chance at happening. Now, that’s not to say the offense can’t or won’t get better. I think it will, but pulling off a worst-to-first improvement? That’s hard to see.

Anthony Marohn asks: Are you a pullover or zip-up hoodie guy?

Jay: Let’s start here: No hoodie is a bad hoodie. That said, I’m more of a pullover guy.

Louis Stromberg asks: Back from my offseason workouts. Did you miss me? Question: Is Adam Gase, A. A host (shout out Westworld), B. An alien in a human skin suit, C. Nicolas Cage, or D. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall when he’s in Mars? We’re back Jay!

Jay: Yes to the first question. As for the second one, I've never seen Westworld. Does that make me lame? For that reason, I'm going with Nicolas Cage. Thanks for all the questions this week!

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