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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Should Brandon Beane take UB's Anthony Johnson in draft?

April is one of the best sports months of the year.

The start of baseball, the Masters, the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs (remember those, Sabres fans?) and, of course, the NFL draft. Naturally at this time of year, that topic dominates this week's mailbag. Let's get right to it ...

I’Don’tTrustTheProcess asks: What is the likelihood the Bills take a flier in the draft on either of these University at Buffalo players – wide receiver Anthony Johnson or linebacker Khalil Hodge?

If the Bills stay at No. 9 in the draft with Ed Oliver gone and have their pick of the top offensive tackle, tight end or cornerback in the draft, where do you believe they go?

Jay: The UB players can’t be ruled out. Johnson is likely a third- or fourth-round draft pick. Will he still be on the board when the Bills pick at No. 112 overall in the fourth round? If so, he would make plenty of sense – particularly if the team does not draft a wide receiver on the first two days.

Draft projections for Hodge are all over the map. Some have him as a possible third-round pick, while others see him going as late as the sixth or seventh round. Linebacker is an area in which the Bills could use some depth. Their interest in Hodge might depend on how they view his chances of becoming a special-teams contributor, because any linebacker chosen on the third day of the draft is likely to fill that role at the start of his professional career.

General Manager Brandon Beane talked about the UB prospects at the NFL scouting combine, saying that although it’s great for the UB program – and would undoubtedly be a cool story if they stayed in Buffalo – the Bills have to rank them accordingly. If the value matches up, though, both players could make sense for the Bills.

As for the second question, in that scenario I would take an offensive tackle such as Florida’s Jawaan Taylor. Yes, the Bills have signed six offensive linemen in free agency. But I’m far from sold on Dion Dawkins being the long-term answer at left tackle, and expected right tackle Ty Nsekhe is 33 years old. I’m all about adding as much talent as possible around Josh Allen. That could include a tight end, but if you’re taking one of them ninth overall, doesn’t he need to be Rob Gronkowski? In my mind, there’s only one Gronk.

As for cornerback, no thanks. Among Levi Wallace, E.J. Gaines and Kevin Johnson, the Bills should have a strong competition for the starting job opposite Tre’Davious White.

TNFP69 asks: I’m excited about the upcoming draft because the Bills have opened the door to do a lot of things in either who they pick or the position they pick. Do you think they will stay active in free agency come that June 1 date when teams sometimes make cuts?

Jay: First, let’s explain the importance of the June 1 date. When a player is cut before June 1, any remaining guaranteed money on his contract has to be accounted for that year. For example, when the Bills released Charles Clay earlier this offseason, they saved $4.5 million in salary cap space – the amount of his base salary, which is earned during the regular season. However, the team’s cap does carry a $4.5 million “dead money” charge for Clay this year. That accounts for the remaining guaranteed money.

When a player is cut after June 1, the “dead money” on his contract is then split over two seasons. So releasing a player after June 1 is a way for teams to kick the can down the road when it comes to saving cap space.

June 1 is not as significant of a date as it used to be, because NFL rules allow teams to release players before that date with a “June 1” designation. That benefits the player – because he can hit the open market sooner in hopes of finding a new team – as Clay did with the Arizona Cardinals. When a player is designated a June 1 cut, teams must carry his entire salary-cap figure on their books until that date. At that time, the “dead money” is split between what was scheduled for that season, with the remainder going on the following year’s cap. This applies to players released with more than one year left on their deal.

The short answer to the question is that Beane is always going to be looking at ways to improve the roster. He frequently talks about how that’s a never-ending process. I wouldn’t focus so much on June 1, though, and would suggest closer attention to what teams do after the draft. Depending on the players they land, there could be some attractive players who become free agents.

Mark Martin asks: Recent mocks have the Bills moving up. Given the talent in rounds two through four and the Bills’ need for better starters and depth at a number of positions, is there a player you deem worthy of giving up No. 9 and one or more picks in rounds two through four to move up?

Jay: Certainly there are players worth moving up for. For example, if Quinnen Williams of Alabama somehow slips out of the top five picks, should Beane investigate what it would cost to move up a few spots? Absolutely. Doing so would give the Bills a perfect replacement for Kyle Williams.

The question, though, is what’s the cost? If it involves giving up my second-round draft pick, No. 40 overall, I’m not interested. To Mark’s point, there are still several areas the Bills need to address. They’re not one player away from becoming a Super Bowl contender. For that reason, I’d even be hesitant to give up my third-round pick, but I’d do it in the right scenario. After that, trade away. I don’t believe 10 rookies will make the Bills’ roster, so if they want to package some of their six picks on the third day of the draft to move up, go for it. As always, it’s the quality of those selected that matters in the draft, not the quantity.

If I were running the Bills’ draft, my preference would be to move down a few slots, not up. If I can gain an extra second- or third-round pick – maybe from a quarterback-needy team – that becomes a way of filling another hole with a top-100 pick.

Rick McGuire asks: Do you see any former Alliance of American Football players who the Bills may be interested in? Would Trent Richardson be worth a one-year, “prove it” deal?

Jay: We’ve seen quite a few AAF players signing with NFL teams following the league’s demise. Among them are cornerback Keith Richards (Kansas City), receiver Rashad Ross (Carolina), quarterback Garrett Gilbert (Cleveland), safety Derron Smith (Minnesota) and cornerback Duke Thomas (Minnesota). Pro Football Talk reported Friday afternoon that 12 former AAF players have signed NFL deals.

That shows there are players who are at least worthy of a shot in an NFL training camp. It’s tough to say who exactly the Bills might be interested in because the player pool is so large, but Jayrone Elliott, for example, would make sense. Elliott led the AAF with 7.5 sacks. A former draft pick of the Green Bay Packers, he might be am option to consider for a team that needs to beef up its pass rush, such as the Bills do.

As for Richardson, I’d take a pass. The Bills have their top two running backs in LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore. They need to add a young player to the mix behind them, preferably with a mid-round draft pick.

Jimmyalltheway asks: Do you think Brandon Beane will bring more drama to the draft again this year?

Jay: If by “drama” you mean be active in the trade market, then yes, I do think he will. As mentioned above, a compelling case can be made for the Bills to trade up or trade back in the first round. The ninth overall pick could be targeted by a quarterback-needy team wanting to get ahead of Denver at No. 10, because the Broncos might also be looking for a QB. We all know by now that Beane isn’t afraid to make trades.

Mike Canfield asks: Are the Bills finally done signing free agents?

Jay: As hard as it might be to believe, probably not. At this point, any signing would likely be geared toward special teams, given what a disaster that unit was last season. So much for the idea that free agents aren't interested in coming to Buffalo.

Brendan Sweet asks: What is going on with Ziggy Ansah? Are the Bills still in the mix? Also, who wins the Masters?

Jay: Teams are awaiting more medical testing on Ansah’s surgically repaired shoulder. That’s expected to take place in the middle of this month. The Bills have not given any indication they have lost interest in Ansah after hosting him on a free-agent visit. If Ansah checks out medically, it will be interesting to see if he signs with a new team before the draft, given that teams can change their plans after the selection process.

As for the Masters, I hate to take the chalk, but my pick is Dustin Johnson. At his best, DJ is the top player in the world. Sign me up for a Rory-DJ showdown on Sunday. McIlroy is playing great golf, and will be chasing the career grand slam at Augusta. If you’re looking for a sleeper pick, I like Si Woo Kim. He led after the first round of this week’s Valero Texas Open and has a big win on his resume at the 2017 Players. Man, I can’t wait for next week. As for this week, thanks for all the questions!

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