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Bills Mailbag: How many prime-time games should we expect in 2020?

Jay Skurski

We might have set a record for questions submitted for this week’s Bills Mailbag. More than 40 were sent to me via Twitter.

In a week unlike any other for our country, it’s my hope that some football talk can serve as a brief respite from what’s going on all around us with the coronavirus pandemic. If your question isn’t below, check back next week.

Let’s get to it …

SixOfOneSevenOfNine asks: The Bills should be an attractive team to showcase on national TV this year. What is your over/under for Bills games on prime time in 2020?

Jay: I’ll set the over/under at 1.5. If that’s the Vegas line, I’m taking the over. I’ll say they get two prime-time games – a Thursday (probably against the Jets) and a Sunday night spot. How about Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs?

Adam asks: Should they cut Trent Murphy and use his $8 million salary cap hit to upgrade another position?

Jay: Not right now. The Bills are going for it in 2020, as their moves in the first week of free agency have shown. I don’t see how the team gets better by cutting Murphy. He played the most snaps of any Bills' defensive end last season. He’s a walking, talking embodiment of “The Process” that Sean McDermott always talks about. That doesn’t mean I think he’s a star, but he’s a capable NFL player. Cutting him for the sake of adding cap space doesn’t make the team any better. Cutting him with the hopes of adding an upgrade at another position is a reasonable idea, but I don’t see a huge hole in the projected starting lineup that needs to be filled – or a player still on the open market who would drastically provide an upgrade. A case could be made for Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney, but even with an extra $8 million that would come with cutting Murphy, he might be out of the Bills’ price range. The most reasonable option as I see it is to bring Murphy to training camp to compete. If he gets beat for a job, the Bills could try to trade him or release him. He’s heading into the final year of his contract, so the financial commitment for another team would not be prohibitive.

Wilson asks: Do you think Jordan Poyer should have been extended longer and/or paid more?

Jay: I’m fine with both the length and terms of Poyer’s extension. Poyer turns 29 next month, which means he’s signed through his age-31 season. His extension makes him the 12th-highest paid safety in the league in terms of average annual value. That seems like a fair deal for both sides.

Ed Helinski asks: With a few needs taken care of during the early days of free agency, in your estimation, will the Bills draft seven players or get creative and bundle some picks to move up in some rounds and end up with maybe four or five players?

Jay: By now, it’s clear that Brandon Beane isn’t afraid to get aggressive if there is a player he likes. I’m not sure he’d want just a five-player draft class, though. The best way to build a roster is to hit on draft picks, who come into the NFL with cost-controlled contracts for four years. Doing so means less of a reliance on free agency. Beane has said one of his goals is getting the roster to a point that the Bills will be in line for compensatory draft picks. It’s not there yet. Building sufficient depth to withstand eventual free-agent departures might take more than four or five draft picks.

John Jarzynski asks: I was disappointed that Brandon Beane did not take your advice and sign Bryan Bulaga. Is the offensive line set?

Jay: In my mind, it shouldn’t be. The offensive line last year was better, but that was because it had nowhere to go but up after the atrocity that was the 2018 season. With the changes to the CBA that will allow for 48 players active on game day and eight needing to be offensive linemen, depth at offensive line is a necessity. The Bills will return their top seven offensive linemen in terms of playing time, but that doesn’t mean the team should be set up front. Improving on the offensive line should still be a priority. Free agency has been fairly picked through, but some players who can help remain. The first one on my list might make you roll your eyes, but Carolina’s Daryl Williams has experience playing tackle and guard. That would be especially valuable for an eighth offensive lineman. Depending on how the draft shakes out, I’d consider offensive tackle as early as the second round, too. More on that later.

Andy Chadwell asks: I feel like the Bills have improved a No. 3 defense from a year ago. I like the new additions, but I’m still on the fence about the linebacker opposite Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. What’s your take on the linebacker room?

Jay: A.J. Klein will fit right into the defense. He knows the scheme and had one of the best mentors in the game early in his career at Carolina with Luke Kuechly. He’s not going to be asked to play as much as he did in New Orleans, which should help him. The third linebacker spot is the one that gets replaced when the Bills go to their nickel defense. That happens more than half the time. It’s the spot I’m least worried about on the defense. A bigger concern in the linebacker room is depth behind Edmunds and Milano. If something happens to them, the Bills are in a good deal of trouble. They are very difficult players to replace.

BBN asks: Should the Bills go after Melvin Gordon, or wait until the draft to get a running back with Devin Singletary? Aran Heaney asks: Gurley or Gordon? Coop asks: What up! Lived on Fowler and 56th so I know your old stomping ground well. I hear different reports about Melvin Gordon's interest in the Bills. What are you hearing?

Jay: I included all these for a reason, which is to point out neither Gurley nor Gordon seemingly made a lot of sense for the Bills. At best, they would be part of a time share with Devin Singletary. That’s not ideal for either side. Singletary showed last year he should be the feature back moving forward. Now, he’ll get that without having to worry about a high-profile, former first-round draft pick behind him. Shout out to the Tampa reference, too. Go USF Bulls.

Sullivan B asks: Do we even touch the free agent running backs right now or focus on the draft for that?

Jay: With Gordon and Gurley off the board, those are the last big-ticket items on the open market. If the Bills still want to add someone behind Singletary, the cost will be much more reasonable. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Beane brought in a veteran. Houston’s Carlos Hyde is coming off a 1,000-yard season and shouldn’t cost much. Hyde replaced Lamar Miller in the Texans’ backfield after the latter suffered a torn ACL. Miller is also a free agent, and shouldn’t cost much on a prove-it deal. The Bills could easily add to the position in the draft. That depends on if the team wants a veteran in the room, which Frank Gore filled so admirably last season. If so, is T.J. Yeldon that guy? If the Bills don’t think he is, then a veteran free agent is a needed addition.

Dave Universal asks: Will fans be allowed to attend NFL games this season? I’ll guess no.

Jay: It’s trending in that direction, but real games are still a long way off. It’s still far too early to guess what’s going to happen months from now. I certainly hope that they are, which would be a sign life is getting back to normal.

Jureller asks: Do you have a new target for the second-round selection after the free agency moves?

Thomas Larsen asks: We seem to have answered all our "needs" in free agency, so where do we go with our first pick?

MJ asks: Will they target a running back at No. 54? If so, who do you think will be there?

Jay: I wouldn’t target a running back that early. As mentioned above, I believe in Singletary as a feature back. If you draft a running back in the second round, that player would be expected to take over that role. That being said, if the Bills’ opinion on the matter is different than mine, there should be plenty of options at No. 54. My guess is Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor will be off the board at that point. That leaves Utah’s Zack Moss, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Florida State’s Cam Akers as options.

Beane has successfully put himself in a position to draft the best player available with his moves in free agency. As for who that might be, I ran the mock draft simulator at the Draft Network to see who was still on the board at No. 54 (a fun exercise, if you’re looking for something to do at home). The best player on the board when my turn came up was Edwards-Helaire, the website’s 44th-ranked player. Since I said I would pass on a running back that early, my pick based on the draft board is Southern California offensive tackle Austin Jackson, the 48th-ranked prospect. That’s an idea I can totally get behind, because I’m not sold on the Bills simply bringing back last year’s offensive line. Offensive tackle is one of my top targets in the second round, as is cornerback and edge rusher.

Joe asks: With the offseason going to be challenged this year due to the virus, do you think teams who made many changes will have a difficult time when the season starts?

Jay: Absolutely. There is no question in my mind that teams with minimal turnover on their coaching staff will be at an advantage. The Bills are entering the fourth year in the same defensive system. That’s huge. While they will be incorporating some new pieces, the players they signed have a familiarity of the defense from their time in Carolina. Unlike last year, when the offense had nine new starters, this year’s team might have only one (Stefon Diggs). That’s an advantage.

Michael Lenhard asks: Now that the golf dome is closed, where’s Eliott practicing with all his time off?

Jay: Airport Driving Range was open as of Friday, but it looks like that’s no longer going to be an option. Looks like we’ll have to find the nearest empty field.

Louis Stromberg asks: Jay, hope you’re doing well. Start of free agency, so let’s talk about the big story in the NFL and have you power rank the most popular “Toms”-- "Tommy Boy," tomato soup, Tom Cruise, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "The Phantom of the Opera." Be well, stay safe!

Jay: 5. Tom Cruise. I just learned he was born in Syracuse. Is that commonly known? Still, not enough to move him up my list. A bit peculiar for my tastes. 4. "The Phantom of the Opera." I saw it once with my wife, who is very much the cultured one in our relationship. It was cool. 3. Tomato soup. Underrated, as far as soups go. 2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. More my dad’s style, but I like "Free Fallin’." 1. "Tommy Boy." Not Tom Brady. The movie. Watch it today while you’re holed up at home. It holds up.

As always, thanks to everyone who has submitted questions to the mailbag. It’s my sincere hope you and yours stay healthy during these most uncertain of times.

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