This week’s Bills Mailbag leads off with a look at Brandon Beane’s draft-day maneuvering. It also hits on Josh Allen’s season and future, the risk involved with re-signing Shaq Lawson and a final take on the touchdown that wasn’t against the Texans. Let’s get to it …
Brett Carruthers asks: Will the Bills package some picks and try to move up for one of the stud wide receivers or go the free-agent route?
Jay: If we’ve learned one thing about Brandon Beane in his two years running drafts, it’s that he’s not afraid to move up to get his guy. He did it with Allen. He did it with Tremaine Edmunds. He did it with Cody Ford. He did it with Dawson Knox. With that being true, a move up the draft board can’t be ruled out. If the Bills see a player they absolutely love start to slide, Beane very well could make a move.
The depth of the receiver class, however, just as easily could mean he feels like he can wait on the position and still get a good player. That opens trade-down possibilities.
The bottom line is, Beane will be open to all possibilities on draft weekend.
Tom asks: Which quarterback will the Bills be looking at with their first-round or second-round draft pick?
Crusher 76 asks: If Josh Allen is still so-so next year, how long do you stick with him before you draft another quarterback, or look at what’s available on the market? Also, is there a conspiracy going on in the playoffs with State Farm to get an Aaron Rodgers/Patrick Mahomes matchup?
Jay: Not a Josh Allen fan, Tom? To answer your question, it’s never wise to speak in absolutes … but the Bills absolutely are not taking a quarterback in the first or second round. Nor should they. Allen showed a good deal of growth from year one to year two. Is he unquestionably the Bills’ franchise quarterback? Not yet. A 10-6 season and a playoff berth makes 2019 a successful season, but the bar will be raised next year, as it should. The Bills need to compete for the AFC East title, even if Tom Brady stays in New England. It’s not enough to simply get back to the playoffs. They need to win a game when they get there. Allen hasn’t done that, so until he does, it’s impossible to say for sure whether he can.
As to Crusher’s question, a so-so year for Allen likely means he’s back in 2021. Short of a complete collapse, that’s the most likely outcome. The Bills, though, will have a decision to make next year about Allen when it comes to the fifth-year option on his contract. If he takes a significant step back, perhaps the Bills decide not to pick it up. They would always have the ability to place the franchise tag on Allen after the 2021 season if needed.
As for the State Farm conspiracy … that’s a new one. Most conspiracies I’ve heard regarding a Packers-Chiefs championship game is a rematch of Super Bowl I as the cherry on top of the NFL’s yearlong celebration of its 100th season. I’m down for a good conspiracy theory right now, especially with what’s happening in Major League Baseball.
Justin #PanchoPower asks: Shaq Lawson played great this year. Should we be worried that once he receives the big contract, he’ll just phone it in, i.e., Marcell Dareus?
Jay: That’s absolutely something that Brandon Beane will have to answer. Lawson’s rookie season in 2016 was delayed by shoulder surgery, which kept him out of the first six games. Understandably, it took him a while to get up to speed after that, basically making his first year one to forget. After that, the team changed head coaches and installed a new defensive scheme. Lawson clearly didn’t sell himself to Sean McDermott and Co. in 2017, or the Bills wouldn’t have spent good money in free agency the following offseason to acquire Trent Murphy. That has relegated Lawson to rotational duty the past two seasons. Particularly in 2019, he did his job well.
If he gets paid like a starter, which is what it will cost the Bills to keep him, can his production continue to increase? Again, that’s for Beane to determine. Given how important edge rushers are, and where the Bills would be without Lawson, I expect the team to make a solid push to re-sign him.
Thomas Durlak asks: I understand some fans’ disgust of the play-calling, but to me it's a lack of execution. Would that be more the case? How can you coach the "hero ball" mentality out of Josh, when old habits rear their head in pressure situations?
Jay: I’m absolutely of the opinion that it was execution and not play-calling that was more responsible for where the Bills finished the season in the offensive rankings. That’s not to excuse offensive coordinator Brian Daboll of any fault. There were times I thought the Bills abandoned the run when they shouldn’t have, or made peculiar decisions like giving Frank Gore eight carries in the playoffs. Nevertheless, how much different would the offensive numbers look if Josh Allen was even an average deep-ball passer? How many points were missed because of that? It’s one play, but if Dawson Knox makes the right block in the quarterback sweep in overtime against Houston, the Bills are probably on the way to the divisional round. There are plenty more examples of that throughout the season.
As for how the “hero ball” can be coached out of Allen, quite frankly, I don’t know. That’s why Daboll and Sean McDermott make the money they do – to figure that out. It’s troubling that in the biggest moments, that appears to be his default setting. We won’t know until the Bills get back to a similar situation if the coaching staff has succeeded in rewiring him.
Alex M. asks: Would the common sense rule ever apply to a possible touchdown when the player celebrates a little too early and drops the ball before they break the plane?
Jay: I can’t say for sure, but probably not. I totally get the outrage among Bills fans about the play in question, which is the opening kickoff of the second half against the Texans. While I agree that Houston returner DeAndre Carter intended to take a knee for a touchback, the fact is he didn’t. It’s a slippery slope if we start making “spirit of the game” rulings in a league where it’s already hard enough to know just what the rules actually are (case in point: What’s a catch?). It’s a bad look for the league – what’s new? – and justifiably has left the Bills feeling like they got cheated. As the old saying goes, “rules are rules.” In this case, the NFL should have enforced them correctly. The league failed to do so.
Rich Ullman asks: McDermott talks a lot about “growth mindset.” Is it time for some constructive introspection on his part in the form of getting better at situational awareness, clock management, in-game tactical adjustments, challenges, etc.? He seems very average when the bullets are flying.
Jay: Absolutely, and he would be the first to tell you that. One of the things I like about McDermott is he always starts his press conferences after losses talking about how he needs to do a better job. I’ve been a frequent critic of wasted timeouts and/or poor clock management during the season. Rich is also right about his challenge record. Simply put, it needs to get better. It was good to see the Bills not have to burn a timeout in the second half against the Texans. That bought them another possession at the end of the game when they were able to stop the clock three times. Conversely, I thought the clock management at the end of the first half was poor, and contributed to settling for a field goal as opposed to getting a touchdown that might have put the game out of reach. It’s a work in progress in that regard, for sure.
Bob Rajczak asks: Based on recent events and observations, what positions do you think the Bills should address in the first couple rounds of the 2020 draft? Wide receiver, cornerback, edge rusher, running back (to replace an aging Frank Gore and be a change of pace from Devin Singletary), linebacker (to replace retiring Lorenzo Alexander) or quarterback (to compete with/replace Josh Allen if he does not get his act together)?
Jay: I think you’ve got a good list there, Bob. I’d add offensive tackle, especially if the Bills decide to move Cody Ford inside to guard. If not, that would be a secondary need. A lot of this list is subject to change based on what happens in free agency. In my mind, another wide receiver tops the list of needs this offseason. Of course, it would be great to land a true No. 1 receiver, but how many of them are really out there? Certainly not 32 of them. Edge rusher would be No. 2 on my list as of now. It might bump up to No. 1 if Shaq Lawson signs elsewhere, but even if he stays, a dynamic edge rusher would be important for the defense. Likewise, if Kevin Johnson departs in free agency, cornerback is a clear need. The Bills have a true No. 1 in Tre’Davious White, but still need depth and/or a player to compete with Levi Wallace on the opposite side. Bob is correct about replacements at running back and linebacker. Of course, one or both of them could be filled in free agency as well.
As for quarterback, you can forget about competition for Josh Allen. This is very clearly his team. If the Bills wanted to add a quarterback late in the draft with the idea of developing him on the practice squad, that would be fine. That player isn’t competing with Allen to be the starter, though.
Joseph Marks asks: Since there are more bad calls and no calls in the NFL now by on-field officials, and gambling on games has been legalized, are the officials given lie detector exams before and after games?
Jay: I can’t quite tell if this is a real question or not, so it’s a good time to wrap up this week’s mailbag (if it is, no, the officials aren’t given polygraphs before or after games). Thanks for all the questions!
Story topics: Bills Mailbag/ Brian Daboll/ cody ford/ Dawson Knox/ Devin Singletary/ Frank Gore/ Josh Allen/ Kevin Johnson/ Levi Wallace/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Marcell Dareus/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Tre'davious White/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy