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Bills Mailbag: Is Matt Barkley's job safe as the No. 2 QB behind Josh Allen?

Jay Skurski

This week's Bills Mailbag starts with quarterback talk. Not about Josh Allen, though.

It also touches on what the team's draft plans should be, whether it would be wise to take a run at a premier pass rusher and plenty more. Let's dive right in ...

4th and 27 asks: The 2018 Eagles and '19 Titans proved the wisdom of having a quality, experienced backup quarterback to take a team built to win now deep into the postseason. The 2020 Bills should be at that stage with another good draft and free agency. Do you think they’ll attempt to upgrade? Who would they target?

Skurski: Free agency is loaded with intriguing quarterbacks. The list of those poised to hit the open market includes Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater. Don’t expect all, or even most, of them to switch teams, though. The Cowboys will likely use the franchise tag on Prescott, while Brees has said if he plays again, it will be for the Saints. While the others may play with new teams, it’s hard to see them wanting to come to Buffalo (for backup money) to sit behind Josh Allen.

There is a large second tier of quarterbacks that includes Case Keenum, Chase Daniel, Chad Henne, Drew Stanton, Colt McCoy, AJ McCarron, Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, among many others. If Bills General Manager Brandon Beane views one of them as a clear upgrade over Matt Barkley, that’s an easy move to make.

Barkley has one year left on his contract. If he were to be released, the Bills would save $1.825 million against the salary cap, leaving behind just $200,000 in “dead money.” Barkley struggled in limited playing time in 2019, going 27 of 51 for 359 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions – a passer rating of 51.0. He does have a good relationship with Allen, but that alone isn’t a reason to keep him around if Beane can find an upgrade.

Kyle Treats asks: John Brown over/under 1,000 receiving yards next season?

Skurski: I’ll take the under. Brown’s production tailed off over the final five games of the regular season (excluding the season finale, which he sat out). He was held to less than 55 yards in four of those games.

Earlier in the year, he was on a 1,300-yard pace, but couldn’t sustain that. Ideally, Brown is the Bills’ No. 2 receiver and Cole Beasley is the No. 3. Tight end Dawson Knox should also play a bigger part in the offense in his second season. Of course, that leaves a question mark at No. 1 receiver. About that …

@HAB_LIFER asks: Sign a wide receiver or draft one?

Bill Hogan asks: The offensive line improved last year, but still needs to be better in my opinion. It lacked athleticism on screens to be effective. If a lineman drops in the draft, would you pull the trigger in round one?

Skurski: Draft. It’s thought to be a great year for receivers in the draft. A rookie is going to be on a cost-controlled contract for at least four years, so he’ll be way cheaper than a free agent. While finding a true, No. 1 receiver in the draft might be a challenge, I don’t view that as an absolute must. My goal would be to find a legitimate third option at wide receiver to pair with Brown, Beasley and Knox as the primary targets. Depending on what happens on draft night, the Bills could find a wide receiver on Day Two of the draft that they had graded as a first-round talent.

Skurski: I’ll give the typical NFL GM answer: “We’re always looking to upgrade.” In this case, that fits. Depth at outside cornerback has to be addressed, with only White and Levi Wallace under contract for next year. Bringing back Kevin Johnson would be a start, but I’d go a step beyond and add at least one more outside cornerback to the mix. It’s hard to argue with much about what Sean McDermott has done with the Bills’ defense since he arrived in 2017, but one minor quibble I’ve had is depth at cornerback. Find a piece of wood to knock on, but if something were to happen to White, it would be a huge problem for this team. One name to keep an eye on is Josh Norman. The veteran cornerback was released in the past few days by Washington. Norman previously played under McDermott with the Carolina Panthers. He’s 32 now, but if the Bills feel like he has anything left, he would provide a reliable veteran who knows the system well.

fordbeckwith asks: If Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton falls out of the top 10 in the draft, what's your thoughts on the Bills moving up to pick him? That would solve a lot of problems with contracts of the veterans.

Skurski: Becton is a fascinating prospect. There aren’t many 6-foot-7, 369-pound athletes who can move like he can. I’m not sure moving up for an offensive tackle makes all that much sense for the Bills, though, unless the team is down on Dion Dawkins as the left tackle moving forward. There has been no indication that’s the case. The future of the line hinges largely on what the team decides to do with Cody Ford. If he stays at tackle, spending an early-round draft pick along the line would be a big surprise. If the Bills view Ford as a guard, however, it would leave Dawkins and veteran Ty Nsekhe as the penciled-in starters and could open up the possibility of an offensive lineman being selected early. Nsekhe is heading into the final year of his contract. While the line was improved in 2019, it’s not a finished product. Spending a first-round pick on an offensive lineman would be a surprise, but I wouldn’t be against it.

Jason Cwiklinski asks: Any chance the Bills could, or even would want to, take a run at Von Miller?

Skurski: Let’s establish first that the Broncos would have to make Miller available in a trade. Assuming they are open to such a move, the Bills absolutely could be in the market. They’re flush with cap space, and a future Hall of Fame pass rusher like Miller would be a logical target. It is a concern than Miller finished with just eight sacks in 15 games in 2019. It’s just the second time in his career he finished a season with less than 10 sacks, with the other coming when he had five sacks in nine games in 2013. So would the Bills be in the market? That depends on the asking price. Miller has two years remaining on his contract, with base salaries of $17.5 million in each season.

Jeff asks: If Tom Brady doesn’t return to New England, are the Bills favored to win the division?

Skurski: In my mind, absolutely. The Patriots have the toughest schedule in the league next year (granted, the Bills aren’t far behind at tied for fifth) based on strength of schedule. Brady isn’t the only important piece hitting free agency, either. Second-team All-Pro guard Joe Thuney is in line to make a ton of money. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and safety Devin McCourty are also pending unrestricted free agents. The Patriots are going to have a tough time duplicating their dominant defense of 2019.

Kevin Peterson asks: My team needs in free agency are: Right tackle, strong-side linebacker, tight end (Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry), cornerback. In the draft: Wide receiver, edge rusher, running back, cornerback, interior offensive line. What's yours?

Skurski: I’m looking for somewhere to disagree with you, Kevin, but I can’t really find one. Not sure if your needs are in order of priority, but if they are I’d swap edge rusher and wide receiver in the draft. I’m totally of the mindset that a wide receiver who can contribute right away can be found in the second or third round. I’d rather spend my first-round pick on an edge rusher. We’ll have to see what happens with tight end Greg Olsen. If he signs, it would check that position off the list. Even if he doesn’t, I’m not sure the Bills would be in the market for Hooper or Henry, both of whom figure to get big deals. I’m good with Knox being the starter next year. I could maybe see putting running back on the free-agent list instead of the draft list, but we’re splitting hairs at that point. All in all, it’s a good summary, Kevin.

Greg Bean asks: Could you see the Bills doing a massive upgrade to the Cap like Miami did? Thinking more covered seats -- this way it doesn't upset the tailgating and gets the league off their back.

Skurski: I don’t think anything can be ruled out at the moment when it comes to the future of New Era Field. Speaking during Super Bowl week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to soften his tone on a new stadium for the Bills being an absolute must. My opinion is a new stadium will happen, although I’m not sure that’s what fans want. I get the sense a majority of them are happy with the game-day experience in Orchard Park, and would rather see upgrades to that facility rather than a new stadium that will bring with it a hike in ticket prices that in all likelihood will dwarf the usual year-to-year increases. The stadium issue is going to be the biggest story in Buffalo sports very soon.

TNFP69 asks: Now that we have a strong locker room with all the veterans (maybe too many over 30), which ones do you see being challenged to stay on the roster while we move to improve our starters and depth?

Skurski: Spoiler alert: I’ve got an article coming up next week on five potential cap casualties for the Bills. I won’t give away the whole thing here, but one of the spots on the list goes to a player whose name rhymes with Kyler Loft.

Paul Catalano asks: What comes first, Elliott getting a hole-in-one or Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill fired this year?

Skurski: As soon as this mailbag is filed with my editors, Elliott and I are packing for a trip to Florida. Of course the golf clubs are coming, so he’s going to get a few chances at that hole-in-one next week. I’ll be sure to report back with any updates. Thank you for all the questions!

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