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COMMENTARY

Bills Mailbag: How the Bills lucked out by missing out on Antonio Brown

Week 1 is here, and you brought the heat this week. The Bills Mailbag is stuffed full of questions, leading with former Bills receiver Antonio Brown (just kidding). Other topics addressed include how the backfield will look after the release of LeSean McCoy, as well as season and game predictions against the New York Jets and much, much more. Let's get right to it ...

Kevin Wilson asks: Zay Jones and two No. 1s for Antonio Brown? Just kidding. Seriously though, aren’t you glad he said “no” to the Bills? I feel like we dodged a bullet there.

Jay: Bills fans are breathing a collective sigh of relief that their team didn’t acquire Brown, who finally wore out his welcome with the Raiders and was released Saturday and reportedly signed with the New England Patriots. The Bills being in the market for Brown never made sense to me. General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have put a high priority on team unity. Brown is as divisive a player as there is in the NFL. Yes, he’s talented, but the Steelers and then the Raiders decided he simply wasn’t worth the trouble. If chemistry matters at all, and it seems to for the Bills, they should stay far away from Brown now that he's on the open market.

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IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: Do you think the release of LeSean McCoy was also intended to send a message to the team that no one is untouchable?

Jay: Not really. I think the writing was on the wall from the moment Devin Singletary was drafted. There is a good lesson in McCoy’s release: Trust your eyes, not your ears. The Bills talked up McCoy as “their guy” every chance they got – perhaps they felt it was necessary to stroke his ego – but a 31-year-old running back with a $6 million base salary coming off the worst season of his career simply does not have a lot of value in today’s NFL. It’s not like the Bills were going to keep McCoy around for his leadership – the team signed Frank Gore to handle that role in the running backs room. That doesn’t speak well for McCoy’s leadership, or lack thereof.

Once Singletary showed he was ready for an expanded role, it made sense to save the cap space that came with cutting McCoy. If that sends a message to the locker room, all the better, but I don’t believe that was a determining factor.

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RK Gold asks: Is T.J. Yeldon our attempt at Carolina's Christian McCaffrey? Is Yeldon going to be one of our leading receivers? Who has a better year: Zay Jones or Robert Foster?

Jay: Let’s pump the brakes a little. Yeldon has 1,872 rushing yards and 171 catches in four years in the NFL. McCaffrey has 1,533 rushing yards and 187 catches in his first two seasons. He’s a top-three fantasy pick, while Yeldon likely went undrafted in most every league. Yeldon isn’t in the same league as McCaffrey, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a solid contributor. I like him a lot in the third-down back role for the team. As the question alludes to, he has good hands and is a viable threat as a receiver. He runs hard. If needed, the Bills could get by for a time with Yeldon as their feature back, but that’s not a role he’s been able to consistently fill in his career.

The last question is a good one: I’ll go with Jones based off the depth chart right now. When the Bills use three-receiver sets, which they’ll do most of the time, he figures to get more playing time than Foster. A turf toe injury slowed Foster during the summer. Hopefully for the offense, he can get healthy soon, because he proved to be a playmaker over the second half of 2018.

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Bill Perry asks: Which practice squad player do you think earns a promotion first (not factoring in injury)? 

Jay: I’ll go with everyone’s preseason darling – Duke Williams. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Williams can bring a dynamic to the team’s receiving group that it currently does not have. While I thought the hype Williams got among the team’s fan base was a bit much during the summer – he did go unclaimed by 31 other teams on waivers, after all – it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he eventually gets a shot on the 53-man roster.

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Chris Mazella asks: 1. Will Devin Singletary have more or less yards than Frank Gore? 2. Can the Bills D-Line stop Le’Veon Bell this time around as opposed to when he ran over them for about 200 yards in 2016?

Jay: 1. More. I wrote in this week’s scouting report that I expect Gore to start – maybe all season – but Singletary to get more carries. That should naturally lead to more yards. 2. It will be more than 600 days between regular-season games for Bell, who did not play for the Jets in the preseason. McDermott said that time off could be a benefit, but I find it hard to believe rust won’t be a factor early in the season. Remember, too, Bell ran behind one of the best offensive lines in football in 2016. The Jets don’t have anything close to that. I’d be floored if he ran for 200 yards Sunday.

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Rick McGuire asks: You're predicting the Bills have a 10-6 record. How do you think they'll fare this year against New England? Be swept as usual? Split? Sweep them? Is this the year of the turnaround?

Jay: As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around, I’m not picking against them. I’ve had that rule in place for a long time, and I’m not wavering. Playing in the same division as the Patriots is a big part of the reason why the Bills had a 17-year playoff drought. That, along with the general ineptitude of previous front offices and coaching staffs.

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Mark Martin asks: The depth built across positions is encouraging. We have solid backups nearly everywhere, even at quarterback, which makes it perplexing that we can’t find one punter we’re confident in. Is there someone you would bring in as a hopeful answer to this potential field positioning dilemma?

In April, you said there’s no way 10 draft picks make the team. Those 10 picks turned into eight players selected and all, rather incredibly in my opinion, made the 53. Even the late-round picks have flashed in preseason. What’s your assessment of this draft class and Beane’s ability to bring in talent?

Jay: My feeling is Corey Bojorquez is on a week-to-week audition for his job. The Bills were reportedly going to bring former Browns punter Britton Colquitt, a Pro Bowl alternate last year, to Buffalo before he opted to sign with the Vikings. It’s not clear if Colquitt was coming for a workout or to sign, but either way, the interest shows that they are actively looking to see if there is someone better than Bojorquez out there.

The assessment of any draft class shouldn’t be made for at least a few seasons. Still, it is impressive that seven of the eight picks made the 53-man roster (linebacker Vosean Joseph went on injured reserve). As you mentioned, it’s particularly impressive that two seventh-round picks, tight end Tommy Sweeney and defensive end Darryl Johnson Jr., made the 53-man roster. So the early returns are good, but let’s revisit the class as a whole after this year – and the next couple of seasons to follow.

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Jimmy Zolnowski asks: Who gets the majority of snaps at tight end?

Jay: I’ll go with rookie Dawson Knox, who was able to get plenty of work with the starters in the third preseason game against Detroit. Depending on the personnel packages offensive coordinator Brian Daboll prefers, Lee Smith might also come close. I don’t expect Tyler Kroft to play this week, but his return isn’t far off. When he does get back, the Bills might have to work him in slowly, but if he can show he’s healthy, he should earn the starting job and the majority of the snaps that come with it.

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Jim Eimer asks: Will Josh Allen be the Bills’ leading rusher?

Jay: If he is, the Bills have problems. That will mean that none of the team’s running backs lived up to expectations. It will also mean that Allen was forced to run far more often than the Bills would prefer. That in turn would lead to questions about the offensive line’s performance, or Allen’s decision-making. All of that is obviously bad stuff. The good news is, I don’t see it happening. My money is on Singletary.

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Big Bo asks: Thoughts on the game this weekend? Who unexpectedly shines for Bills?

Mike Kickbush asks: How well do they match up versus the Jets?

Kevin Kresse asks: Sean McDermott is not on the hot seat yet, but he needs to go into New Jersey and come out with a win, because it’s Adam Gase he’s playing against. The Bills should win this game with strong defense and hold the Jets to less than 20 points. Bills win turnover battle and win game, 24-17. What say you?

Jay: To Bo’s question, I’ll go with Trent Murphy. After coming off a tough year dealing with injuries, he’s looked good this summer. With the attention the Jets will have to pay to Ed Oliver and Jerry Hughes, Murphy will have the chance to make some plays.

To Mike’s question, it’s not a bad matchup in my estimation. The Bills’ wide receivers have the edge over the Jets’ cornerbacks. I’d say both defensive lines have the edge over the offensive lines on the other side. The Bills have the edge in the kicking game, while the quarterback advantage is a toss-up.

To Kevin’s question, I picked the Bills to win, 24-20, so we’re on the same wavelength. It’s crucial for the Bills’ defense to bring its best Sunday. I asked defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier this week if he took away any lessons from why his defense started so slowly in 2018 – remember the blowout loss to the Ravens – and he said much of the team’s offseason program was structured to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

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JM asks: Realistic expectations for this season record-wise?

Jay: I was the optimist of The Buffalo News' sports staff, picking them to go 10-6. That’s a game better than I had them when the schedule came out in April. I bumped it up one based on the preseason connection between Josh Allen and Cole Beasley. The slot receiver can be a huge weapon for the second-year quarterback. To get to 10 wins, the Bills will need to get off to a great start to the season, including Sunday.

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Dave Universal asks: Will the Bills go 19-0 and win the Super Bowl?

Jay: No, Dave, they’ll go 10-6 – exactly as I predicted. Follow along!

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Southtowns asks: Have all New York/New Jersey-area Walmarts banned the selling of foldable tables to customers with a cellphone area code of 716?

Jay: I’m not sure if the Big Apple is totally clued in on the shenanigans of some Bills fans, so I’m guessing they have not.

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Michael Lenhard asks: Will the Bills versus the Jets be more exciting than Bears vs. Packers? I hope!!!

Jay: Cue the “purists” who love watching defense. I’m with you – the 10-3 opener was a snoozefest. I admit I fell asleep long before the end.

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Ken Criss asks: Who did the Jets settle on for a kicker?

Jay: His name is Kaare Vedvik. He went 1 of 4 on field goals in the preseason, so good luck with that, Adam Gase.

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Ed Helinski asks: In your estimation what are weak areas with the Bills?

TNFP69 asks: Now that the season is upon us, what do you feel we are missing going in? Thanks for having this mailbag and have a great season yourself.

Jay: As mentioned above, punter is an area of concern heading into the season. My biggest question is how the offensive line comes together. The lack of practice time this summer is a big concern in terms of establishing a cohesiveness. As far as what the roster is missing, a true No. 1 receiver would be at the top of the list. That’s not to say that the team can’t be successful with what they have at the position, though.

Finally, thank you for the kind words. I enjoy getting to answer your questions each week, so thank you for all of them. Enjoy Week 1!

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