Remember when the Sabres were going to play meaningful games in March?
My pledge to you: That will be the only mention of that team in this week’s Bills Mailbag. With the NFL scouting combine wrapping up this weekend and free agency on the horizon, there is plenty of football to discuss. Let’s dive in …
Carrington Gaines asks: Chase Claypool … second round?!
Rockpile Pilgrim asks: Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool showed at the combine he could be a player the Bills would covet. He has not been in many first-round mock drafts, but certainly helped himself immensely. Do you think the Bills would take him at No. 22?
Jay: I don’t know about the first round, but the second round certainly seems like a possibility. The Notre Dame receiver stole the show Thursday night when he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash. The only two wideouts in the history of the combine to run the 40 in less than 4.45 seconds at at least 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds are Claypool and Calvin Johnson. That’s pretty good company.
Claypool had 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019, so he’s got production to go with his physical traits. If the Bills don’t go wide receiver in the first round, he would seemingly be under consideration on Day Two.
Lando Calrissian asks: In a trade-down scenario, what is too far of a skid and what position are you taking 1 and 2?
frayjay asks: What would it take for you to trade down seeing how deep the wide receiver talent actually is?
Jay: Obviously, the answer to that hinges on two things: Who is left on the board when the Bills’ turn comes up – and how far they are being asked to go down. Let’s say the Bills have 20 players with first-round grades and every one of them is gone. In that case, they might actively seek out trade-down options. Or, this scenario: The Bills have first-round grades on several players when their turn comes up. If a team calls then and the Bills feel good about their chances of moving down and still getting a player they have a high grade on, why not do so and pick up more picks?
If the opposite plays out, and there are only one or two players Beane has graded in the first round when No. 22 comes up, he’d be far more likely to stay put and get his guy.
As for what the return would be, a good starting reference point would be the traditional draft trade value chart developed by Jimmy Johnson. Since there are so many variables, it’s hard to provide a more-specific answer (if you have a question with a more-specific scenario, feel free to shoot it over next week). In general, though, I’m in favor of trading down if it means landing more top-100 draft picks.
To Lando’s question, I’d prefer not to trade out of the first round entirely. As for positions, my two biggest needs heading into free agency are wide receiver and edge rusher. We’ll see if that changes before the draft.
Dean Mandel asks: What do you think of Josh Norman possibly signing with the Bills? Also, would you draft D’Andre Swift if he fell to the second round?
Jay: I’m not of the opinion the Bills need to put much of a priority on signing Norman. If they do, fine. He knows the system and has a good relationship with coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane from their time together with Carolina. My concern is that Norman, 32, looked to be just about done last year. Outside cornerback depth is absolutely a need, so if it’s not Norman, I would expect he Bills to actively pursue another cornerback in free agency – perhaps by re-signing Kevin Johnson.
As for Swift, it would be a shock to see him fall out of the top 50 picks. If he did so, I’d worry about an injury or off-the-field concern that hasn’t come to light. If it did happen, though, the Bills would have to consider it. I’m all for giving Josh Allen as much help as possible. A big-time running back would provide that, and Swift is thought to be the best in his class.
Eli Padilla asks: Do you see Josh Allen taking another step forward and the Bills winning 10-plus games in the upcoming season?
Jay: I do think Allen will improve in his third year, for a couple different reasons. No. 1, he’ll be in the same system for a third year, which is a luxury not every young quarterback gets (just ask Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen about that). No. 2, the Bills will continue to try and improve the offense around Allen. That should come in the form of a new receiver (or two), new running back and potentially, a new starter or two along the offensive line.
As for their wins, I prefer to wait at least until the schedule comes out in April before making that projection. I’ll say this, though, the Bills could end up being a better team in 2020 and not make it to 10 wins. That’s how much more difficult their schedule projects to be.
Jake Wakely asks: Do you think the Bills go wide receiver or edge rusher at 22? Who are some realistic free-agent targets?
Jay: Here’s the truth, Jake. I have no idea what Brandon Beane is going to do in the draft. I also don’t think Beane has any idea what he’s going to do, since it’s impossible to predict who will be on the board at No. 22. Now, as for what I would do, my preference would be to take an edge rusher in the first round and wait on a wide receiver.
According to just about every analyst, this draft has the potential to be historically good at wide receiver. Several of them will be available on Day Two. Recent history suggests finding contributors at receiver in the second or third round can be done. The talent level takes a big dip at edge rusher outside the first round.
As for free agents, I’m going to give you a spoiler alert: My “GM for a Day” column comes out in the next couple weeks. I’ll lay out my entire approach to free agency in that column.
Rick McGuire asks: Concerning the predraft meetings Brandon Beane and Co. have with players, do they interview anyone they’re willing to trade up for (i.e. A.J. Epenesa, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, etc.) or do they just focus on those they’re figuring will be available to them at No. 22?
Jay: First, let me reiterate what my esteemed colleague Mark Gaughan wrote this week from the NFL Scouting Combine about reports of team interviews: The Bills, like every other team, will interview virtually every draft prospect at some point, either formally or informally. Reports of those meetings are not that newsworthy. With that out of the way, the Bills likely will use some of their allotted 45 formal, 15-minute interviews on some players who they may feel are unlikely to be available to them at No. 22. It would make sense to do that in the case an attractive trade-up scenario materializes or a player they didn’t expect to be available simply starts to slip.
I’d be surprised if the Bills wasted one of their interviews on certain players -- LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa come to mind – but most of the rest are fair game. It’s worth pointing out the team will be forced to be more selective with its interviews this year, because the NFL reduced the number of formal interviews from 60 to 45 – much to Beane’s chagrin.
“I’ve got to figure out how we can make up for losing these 15 guys,” he said. “We’ll still get out. I may find myself out on the road even more in March to try to get my hands on a many guys as I can, because I really want to get to meet as many as I can before I would turn the card in and say this guy is going to be a Buffalo Bill.”
bk asks: Does the “family” atmosphere the Bills always talk about really make a difference? As a fan, I’m not looking for choir boys, I’m looking for players!
Jay: It’s been a while since we had the “culture vs. talent” debate in the mailbag. I go back to what Beane said shortly after the 2018 season ended, right before he went on a shopping spree in free agency.
“We're not looking for all choir boys. I think that's a misnomer,” he said at the time. “We're looking for team guys. Selfless guys. Those come in all sizes and shapes, come from different backgrounds. At the end of the day, it's a people business, and you've got to find people that are willing to buy into what you're trying to do. If they don't, now they're pulling away from the rest of the group. That's what we're trying to weigh.”
The Bills have drafted Dion Dawkins, who has an arrest on his record from college. They’ve brought in wide receiver Duke Williams, who was booted from Auburn for punching an injured teammate (among others). The Bills stood by running back LeSean McCoy after ugly accusations of spousal, child and animal abuse were made against him. The team could have just cut linebacker Tyrel Dodson last offseason after the undrafted rookie was arrested, but instead stood by him as Dodson served an NFL suspension and eventually joined the team’s practice squad. So Beane is right when he says the Bills aren’t looking for all choir boys.
Don’t expect the Bills to simply rule out any player who may have the ambiguous “character” concerns. If the team does its research and thinks said player will fit in the locker room, Beane has shown he’s unafraid to make such a move.
@MacBuffalo asks: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Jay: This is another question that’s been answered before in the mailbag, but I’ll forgive Mac for missing it. The correct answer is of course not. A hot dog is its own entity. No person on earth would bring you a hot dog if you said “I could go for a sandwich right now.”
Jeff Kamien asks: Two-part question: How did Elliott play down in Florida? What is the steak of choice at St. Elmo?
Jay: He did great. A reminder for non-regular mailbag readers. Elliott’s my 5-year-old son who likes golf. He plays nine holes from about 1,100 yards (think 75 yards for a par 3, 125 yards for a par 4 and 200 yards for a par 5). His best nine-hole score on our recent trip to Florida was 38.
As for St. Elmo, it’s an absolute must if you’re visiting Indianapolis. My go-to is the bone-in filet, but there’s also excellent ribeyes and New York Strip options. Under no circumstances should anybody go to St. Elmo and not get the shrimp cocktail. The cocktail sauce will clear your sinuses – in the best way possible. Thanks for all the questions!