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Bills Mailbag

Which 2018 starter most likely will not make the team this year?

Jay Skurski

Props to you, the readers, for providing some great questions this week in the Bills Mailbag. A programming note: If yours didn't make it this week, I've got it saved for next week.

Let's get to it ...

Viva Los Bills #PonchoPower asks: What returning starter from last season is the most likely not to make the team in 2019?

Jay: First of all, well done on the name. The outpouring of support and love shown for Ezra “Pancho Billa” Castro this week after he lost his battle with cancer was truly inspiring. He can rest easy knowing the impact he had on so many lives.

As for the question, I’m tempted to say running back LeSean McCoy. I could build a pretty strong case for it, too, starting with the fact the Bills would save more than $6 million in cap space by moving McCoy, either via his release or a trade. Simply put, McCoy isn’t worth the $9 million he’ll count against the cap. Few running backs are, especially those who are 31 at the start of the season and coming off the worst season of their career.

The Bills, though, seem committed to McCoy for 2019, so he’s not my answer. Instead, I’ll go with guard Wyatt Teller, who emerged as a starter the second half of 2018. By signing six offensive linemen in free agency and drafting Cody Ford in the first round, Teller is squarely on the roster bubble.

Chris Mazella asks: One: With the signing of Ziggy Ansah in Seattle, do the Bills make another move for a big-name defensive end? Two: How would you rank the roster safety of the following from 1 to 5 (1 being not safe, 5 being very safe)? A. LeSean McCoy. B. Shaq Lawson. C. Zay Jones.

Jay: We know General Manager Brandon Beane is always looking to upgrade the roster, but I don’t see a move for a big-name defensive end coming this year. With Ansah off the market, the free-agent pool is just about dried up. That would mean Beane would have to make a trade for such a player, and while we know he’s always looking in that regard, the Bills have just six draft picks next year. Beane says all the time he wants to build through the draft, so trading away even one of his 2020 picks would limit those chances.

The safe money at defensive end this year is to again roll with Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy. The hope has to be that Hughes and Lawson are motivated by entering the final year of their contracts, and Murphy takes a step forward a year removed from knee surgery. If rookie Ed Oliver lives up to the hype at defensive tackle, he could be a big help to the defensive ends in terms of rushing the passer.

As for the second part of the question, I’d put McCoy at a 3. As mentioned above, it wouldn’t shock me if the Bills took him to training camp, but decided they would be fine at the position with Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon and third-round draft pick Devin Singletary. Let’s say another team has a starting running back suffer an injury in camp – would they call the Bills about McCoy? I’d answer the phone in that case if I was Beane.

I’d put Lawson at a 4, mainly because of the reasoning above. There was no big-name acquisition at his position who would squeeze him out of a job. Instead, the Bills seem to be hoping that Lawson turns a corner in the final year of his rookie deal. By not picking up his fifth-year option, the message to Lawson has been sent: If you want a new deal here, go out and earn it.

As for Jones, I’d put him at a 4 as well. The offseason additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley added competition to the roster, but they fill different roles than Jones.

The top four receivers heading into spring practices, in my mind, are Jones, Robert Foster, Brown and Beasley. After that, Andre Roberts has the inside track on the No. 5 job, primarily for his contributions as a return man. If the team keeps six receivers, someone will have to emerge from a crowded group that includes Duke Williams, Ray-Ray McCloud, Victor Bolden, David Sills, Isaiah McKenzie, Da’Mari Scott, Cam Phillips and Nick Easley. I know many fans are excited about Williams’ potential, but he has a lot to prove this spring and summer before earning a roster spot. I’d put Jones safely ahead of the eight players listed above who might be competing for one spot.

Kevin Theel asks: What’s going on with the tight end position? Looks like now the competition is gone with Lee Smith, Tyler Kroft and Dawson Knox basically locks to make the roster.

Jay: You pretty much answered your own question, Kevin. The three players you mentioned are making the team. The only intrigue comes with whether the team wants to keep four on the 53-man roster. In that case, the competition likely will be between holdover Jason Croom and seventh-round draft pick Tommy Sweeney (with apologies to Moral Stephens, the undrafted rookie signed after a tryout at minicamp, who I don’t see being a realistic option for the 53-man roster).

It could come down to keeping four tight ends, six receivers or even five running backs. That sounds like overkill, but McCoy, Gore, Yeldon and Singletary are close to locks (with the possible exception of McCoy). After them, Senorise Perry has a strong case to make the team because of special teams. Remember last year that the Bills kept Taiwan Jones for that purpose.

Rick McGuire asks: What do you think the Bills’ 2019 absolute worst record can be and still the Pegulas, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott would deem the season a success? Are the playoffs an absolute must?

TNFP69 asks: I see the betting line for wins is at 6. I’m not a person who bets any of this, but feel the Bills’ wins easily surpass that number and reach at least eight games with what they say is the sixth-easiest schedule. What are your thoughts on this?

Jay: I grouped these questions together because they both focus on expectations for 2019. I think the over-six wins is a slam dunk. In fact, it better be, or else something will have gone drastically wrong.

After all the moves made this offseason, it’s time for the Bills to win. Barring the worst-case scenario of a long-term injury to Josh Allen, or a catastrophic run of injuries to key starters at other positions, a two-win improvement from last year’s 6-10 should be considered the minimum expectation.

To Rick’s question, anything less than eight wins – particularly if injuries are not involved – would be impossible to spin as a successful season. I don’t view the playoffs as being an absolute must. If, say, the team goes 9-7, but Allen makes significant progress, it’s reasonable to say one more offseason of free agency and the draft should turn them into a playoff team.

The better question might be what win total would get the current front office and coaching staff in trouble? Again, barring injury, this team can’t go 6-10 again or worse. I don’t think doing so would force the Pegulas to make a change, but it would put Beane and McDermott on the hottest of seats entering 2020.

Don Regensdorfer asks: What is your opinion on the NFL expansion of replay? I can happily live without it.

Jay: Same. I get the desire to get it right, but I don’t like the idea of penalties being reviewable. If it starts with pass interference, what happens when there is a critical holding call that costs a team a game? Will coaches demand that those get reviewed, too? Where does it end?

Replay is probably never going away, but the idea of every other play being looked at by officials is unappealing, to say the least. I’m not sure what the solution is. My preference would be to have replay limited to scoring plays, turnovers and whether a player was inbounds.

Adriaen van der Donck asks: What is the weakest position group? I figure the strongest is easy to identify even for us commonfolk.

Jay: Good question. There are a few groups I considered. The first was tight end. Kroft has to prove he can be an every-down player, while Smith is more of a blocker and Knox is an unknown. The next was guard. The additions Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain and Spencer Long in free agency improved the depth, but how much of an upgrade will they be to John Miller, Vlad Ducasse or Wyatt Teller?

The last group I considered, and it’s an answer Bills fans will hate, is quarterback. Allen has plenty to prove entering his second year. Behind him, Matt Barkley is a journeyman and Tyree Jackson is an undrafted free agent. In terms of previous NFL accomplishments, and not potential, quarterback could be viewed as the weakest position group on the roster. It’s up to Allen to change it.

Dave Universal asks: Is 19-0 a possibility for the Bills in 2019?

Jay: Sure, just like it’s possible that I hit the Powerball jackpot and somebody else is doing next week’s mailbag. I’m not counting on either.

B Chells asks: Robert Pattinson as Batman – yea or nea?

Jay: Nay. Christian Bale set a pretty high bar, and ever since Christopher Nolan left as director, I’ve been out on anything Batman. Thanks for all the questions this week!

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