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Bills Mailbag

Which of the five 2018 first-round quarterbacks will fare the best in 2019?

Jay Skurski

NFL teams usually dread the period between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp.

It’s a time when players return home, unwind, and sometimes find themselves in trouble. The Buffalo Bills didn’t have to wait for that period to start next month, though, as trouble found rookie linebacker Tyrel Dodson last weekend.

Dodson was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., on charges of misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, assault and property damage. The Bills said in a statement that they were “gathering more information,” but will need to answer more questions about the entire situation soon.

On to this week’s mailbag …

IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: The 2019 NFL season has an interesting twist in that all five first-round quarterbacks from 2018 will play head to head – assuming Josh Rosen starts for Miami and barring injury. The AFC East quarterbacks will play a total of six games and the AFC North quarterbacks a total of five. Who will fare the best?

When looking ahead to the Bills’ season schedule, do you see a particular game that could loom as being pivotal in their season or an indicative barometer of the team’s development?

Jay: Based on his rookie season, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield deserves to be considered the favorite in the battle of 2018 first-round quarterbacks. Mayfield was excellent after taking over for Tyrod Taylor, and has seen his team add a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. Given that Rosen is in a quarterback competition with Ryan Fitzpatrick, he should be looked at as No. 5 on the list. After that, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson are all in similar positions, with Bills, Jets and Ravens fans respectively holding out hope that they have their guy. Jackson’s team had a lot more success than the Bills or Jets last year, but that gap should close in 2019.

As for the second question, I look at the season opener as being a great early test. The Jets and Bills are remarkably similar in that both are building around second-year quarterbacks, had a ton of money to spend in free agency and are fighting for the second spot in the AFC East behind New England. The difference is, the Bills are entering Year 3 under Sean McDermott and Year 2 in Brian Daboll’s offensive system, while the Jets have a new coaching staff. Week 1 will be a statement game for both teams – one good and one bad.

Mark asks: Where do you think the most interesting roster competition is? Offensive line or wide receiver? And do you have any “too early” depth chart projections for either?

Jay: Those are decent choices, but I’ll go with starting tight end. I think it’s a stretch to expect injured Tyler Kroft to be ready in Week 1, so how do the Bills replace him? Lee Smith was signed primarily as a blocker, so to me it comes down to either holdover Jason Croom or rookie third-round draft pick Dawson Knox. At wide receiver, I really only see one job up for grabs – maybe. Roster locks to me are Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts for special teams. Can one of the remaining contenders convince the coaching staff the team needs to keep six?

Jim Rolek asks: How’s Stephen Hauschka doing after last year’s late-season injury?

Jay: He’s good to go physically, and has been for a while. He’s participating fully in the team’s offseason conditioning program and spring practices, so he’s the odds-on favorite to win the kicking job. The Bills did sign Chase McLaughlin as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois, so he will at least provide some competition in training camp.

Agame asks: How would the Bills’ record have been different had they hired Frank Reich instead?

Jay: That’s a really hard question to answer. Reich wouldn’t have had Andrew Luck here to work with when he took over. Sean McDermott was stuck with Tyrod Taylor. Perhaps the biggest criticism of McDermott early in his tenure is his handling of the quarterbacks. It’s easy to look back now and say the team should have drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2017. Instead, they were comfortable going with Taylor … until they benched him for Nathan Peterman. That proved to be a disaster – one that McDermott repeated by naming Peterman his starter to open 2018. That lasted all of one half, forcing Josh Allen into the lineup as a rookie. McDermott’s blind spot for Peterman remains tough to understand. With that said, McDermott should get credit for what has been a generally solid defense the last two seasons. I wouldn’t expect the Bills’ record to be drastically better over the last two years if Reich were the coach, but it is interesting to think about what might have happened at quarterback in 2017 if that was the case.

Pete Mlekuz asks: Season-ticket holder here: Is a wild-card berth out of the question this year? New offensive line, Josh Allen is in his second year and Ed Oliver was the perfect draft pick. Thoughts?

Jay: Let me answer this way: If a wild-card berth becomes out of the question any time before the very end of the regular season, something went drastically wrong. I’ve said all along the floor on expectations for this team has to be 8-8. That likely doesn’t get into the playoffs, but a two-win improvement from 2018 would represent progress. Anything less than that and Brandon Beane and McDermott would find themselves on the hottest of hot seats. When the schedule came out, I predicted the team would go 9-7. That would have them in the mix for a playoff spot. The reasons you mentioned all factor into that prediction, with Allen’s development very clearly being the most critical.

Joseph Spinelli asks: Are we underestimating Spencer Long’s chances of being a Week 1 starter?

Jay: I’ll assume you mean at guard, because Mitch Morse is going to start at center if he’s fully recovered from sports hernia surgery, which he should be. As for Long, he’s squarely in the competition for one of the two starting guard jobs, along with Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain and holdover Wyatt Teller. I believe those are both coin flips as to who will win those jobs right now, so I don’t think Long is being underestimated at all.

Tim Lowden asks: How do you feel TJ Yeldon will be best used, assuming LeSean McCoy is healthy and on the roster? I sense Beane/McDermott wanting to carve a role for Devin Singletary; does that make Yeldon strictly a pass-catching back?

Jay: In that scenario, McCoy would be the starter. It wouldn’t make sense to keep him on the roster at a $9 million salary-cap hit otherwise. The question then becomes, what happens with Frank Gore? It would surprise me if the Bills were to embarrass Gore by cutting him. Perhaps they give him the chance to “retire” if he’s not going to make the team, but he’ll get every chance to prove himself – or else why sign him at all? If those are your top two backs, we’re running out of carries in a hurry. We know Singletary is making the team as a third-round pick, which means the only role I could see for Yeldon is what Tim mentions, as a pass-catching, third-down back. The fact that Yeldon signed a two-year contract does lead me to believe he has a good shot at making the roster, but if McCoy and Gore are ahead of him, there won’t be many opportunities as a rusher. It’s possible the Bills keep five running backs (counting Patrick DiMarco) at the expense of another position, like wide receiver.

Rick McGuire asks: I wasn’t surprised to see the signing of Richie Incognito by the Raiders simply because, well, it’s the Raiders. How will that relationship go? Will he take advantage of another chance to play in the NFL or will we see someone who appears to be mentally unstable implode again?

Jay: Well, the relationship didn’t get off to a great start when it was revealed hours after his signing was announced that he had pleaded guilty in April to two misdemeanors following an incident that involved his 90-year-old grandmother.

An NFL suspension seems likely, which makes it all the more puzzling why the Raiders felt like this was necessary. As for what he’ll do with his latest second chance, the truth is, I have no idea. I also don’t think it’s right to speculate on a person’s mental health without truly knowing what they are going through. In Incognito’s case, I don’t, but like most others, the reported details of the incidents he’s been involved in since leaving the Bills have been troubling. For his sake, I hope he’s healthy mentally and physically. What he does for the Raiders is secondary in my mind.

Joe Zanghi asks: Is Rob Gronkowski still the Patriots’ property? What do you think about trading a pick in 2020 for our hometown star? A third or a fourth? We might need him.

Jay: Gronkowski retired with one year remaining on his contract, so if he changes his mind, the Patriots would maintain his rights. McDermott’s reaction to Gronk’s retirement announcement was “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I also wouldn’t be surprise if Gronkowski decided he was ready to come back after a summer of doing Gronk things. As for a trade to the Bills, that seems highly unlikely. Remember, Gronkowski threatened to retire last year if he was traded to the Detroit Lions, saying the only quarterback he would ever play with is Tom Brady. I don’t get the sense that playing in his hometown would carry any sort of great appeal. Gronkowski rightfully felt burned when the Bills passed on him in the draft in favor of defensive tackle Torell Troup (whoops!). Lastly, the Bills only have six draft picks next year, and I’d be surprised if they parted with any of them.

Luigi Mike Speranza asks: Your thoughts on the O.J. Simpson No. 32 jersey giveaway? I’m pretty ambivalent about it, and I’ll bet many Bills fans are, too. He was so popular in Buffalo and nationally for so many years and a Hall/Wall of Fame member, which makes it all surreal.

Jay: My thoughts are the number was never officially retired, so I don’t have any issue with a player wearing it. If the Bills want to distance themselves from Simpson – understandably so – that’s fine with me. I’ll admit it is a little weird to see Senorise Perry wearing it at practice, but I don’t have a problem with it. I find the idea of retiring numbers sort of silly, anyway. The Wall of Fame exists to honor players. Do we really need to take the number they wore out of circulation? It seems unnecessary to me.

Charlie W. asks: What is your least favorite sport?

Jay: UFC. I used to love big-time boxing matches, so I suppose it’s somewhat hypocritical, but I find the sport too brutal. I also think Dana White is a bozo. Thanks for all the questions this week!

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