Welcome to this week’s Bills Mailbag. Let’s get right to it …
Justin White asks: Is the plan to give Stefon Diggs a bump in pay? Love the contract, but is that part of the reason why he wanted out? I’m down with a bump after a year to prove it.
Jay: I asked Bills General Manager Brandon Beane a version of this question Thursday. Predictably, he largely avoided it. Beane isn’t one to discuss contracts publicly.
Diggs’ contract is one of the more interesting aspects of the trade with the Minnesota Vikings. It’s exceedingly team friendly, to the point that it plays into how the trade should be graded. Getting Diggs for the next four seasons with cap hits of no greater than $12 million per season is a good price for a No. 1 wide receiver.
It’s such a good deal for the Bills, though, that you have to wonder how long Diggs will be fine playing on it. There were times in Minnesota that he wasn’t shy about making his unhappiness well-known. If part of his unhappiness was based on his contract, well, that’s on him. He signed the deal less than two years ago. He should be mad at himself if he doesn’t like it.
The Bills are in a good spot with the salary cap even after their activity in free agency.
The Bills have carefully selected which players to bring into their locker room. They believe their culture is a big reason for their success. As Beane says, that doesn’t mean they are looking for all “choir boys.” They are looking for team-first guys, though, and publicly complaining about your contract isn’t a team-first move. Diggs hasn’t done that, so maybe it never becomes a concern. It’s worth wondering if it could get to that point, though.
Doug Pagano asks: Who are the Bills’ free agents for next year? It seems to me that there are very few critical/important players from what I see and the Bills might instead concentrate on contract extensions for others.
Jay: Here are the Bills scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2021: Trent Murphy, Matt Milano, Dion Dawkins, Tyler Kroft, Josh Norman, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano, Andre Roberts, Patrick DiMarco, Matt Barkley, Taiwan Jones, T.J. Yeldon, E.J. Gaines, Daryl Williams and Vincent Taylor.
The team has club options for Tre’Davious White and Spencer Long. If declined, they would join that list of free agents. In White’s case, there is no chance that’s happening.
As the list shows, some key contributors are headed toward free agency. For me, that list starts with Milano and Dawkins. I would not be surprised to see Beane try to get a long-term contract extension done with one or both of them before the 2020 season starts.
"In my perfect world, guys like Matt and Dion, I would love to get them extended here long term on what I call is a win-win," Beane said. "It's a win for the Bills and a win for those guys’ personally."
cannoncbs asks: I still have a concern for depth behind Tremaine Edmunds and Milano. A.J. Klein is basically for Lorenzo Alexander. Do you see a vet coming in at low price after the draft?
D Rob asks: Does Vosean Joseph factor in at all this year?
Jay: It’s possible the team re-signs Julian Stanford. He served as Edmunds’ backup last year at middle linebacker and remains a free agent. Short of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team did shop for a veteran linebacker for depth. Tyler Matakevich was signed primarily for special teams. He projects as Klein’s backup.
Joseph definitely is a factor. He’s been out of sight, out of mind for me this offseason after spending his rookie year on injured reserve, but given the jobs open at his position, he has a very good chance to make the final roster. Don’t forget about Tyrel Dodson, either. The Bills stuck with him through a suspension last year, and even though they cut him when he returned from that, he was put on the practice squad shortly thereafter. He’ll also be given a good opportunity to make the final roster in training camp (assuming there is a training camp).
MikeyG asks: I think anything is possible for this draft, but I just don't see seven lower-round picks making this team. What other positions do we need to strengthen?
Cierra Livecchi asks: What is the Bills’ biggest need?
Jimmyalltheway asks: How do you see the offensive line progressing?
Jay: I’d like to see the team improve the offensive line. That, in my mind, isn’t mentioned frequently enough when discussing areas that need improvement. The line was better last year, but that’s a low bar to clear from the 2018 season. Beane talked up the fact that all five starters – and his key reserves – are back from last season. That’s great, but it shouldn’t deter him from looking for an upgrade on any of them.
As for how the line will progress, at the moment it looks like the team is going to leave Cody Ford at right tackle. The only way I could see that potentially changing is if they added a tackle in the second round of the draft (I’d be all for it).
@I_mABilliever asks: The NFL and Bills have not been transparent or realistic with the fans regarding the upcoming 2020 season. Simply deferring payments for club seats/season tickets is absurd. If there is a season it will be different. There will likely be some distancing needed. Season thoughts?
Jay: Let’s be honest. After the draft, the NFL calendar gets pretty light. Spring practices are all but guaranteed to be canceled, but those draw minimal interest from fans, as they should. After that, there is six weeks of downtime before training camp. It’s another five or six weeks from that point until real games are played. My point is, that’s a lot of time. I have no problem with the Bills delaying payments for season tickets right now and seeing what happens in a month or two. If conditions worsen and the season is going to be delayed or canceled, they can adjust. Of all the things to be outraged by right now, this just doesn’t rank very high on my list. (Full disclosure: I don’t pay for tickets, so my opinion on the matter might not hold much value to you.)
Ed Helinski asks: In his two drafts, Brandon Beane has split 16 picks evenly between offense and defense. With a possible seven picks this year, what direction and positions does Beane address?
Jay: Based on the Bills’ approach to free agency, I wouldn’t be surprised if the draft leaned slightly toward the offense. You can build a case that every position on offense could use some type of addition. As I mentioned above, my biggest goal left this offseason is to add to the offensive line. A running back behind Devin Singletary is a possibility. The team shouldn’t be done at wide receiver (more on that next). Even a developmental quarterback to compete with Davis Webb for either the No. 3 job or a spot on the practice squad could be a consideration late in the draft.
William Fox asks: With the large number of wide receivers and cornerbacks on the roster now, do you think that double-dipping at either position in the draft would be unlikely, or do you think having young talent battle for a roster spot over veterans would be worth the investment?
Jay: I’d absolutely double down on both positions in the draft. Starting with wide receiver, this class has been hyped as one of the best in history. Analysts predict players who would usually be second- or third-round draft picks will be available late into the third day of the draft. There is absolutely no reason for the Bills not to take advantage of that depth in hopes of getting a player they can bring along slowly. As for cornerback, one of the few things former General Manager Doug Whaley did that I agreed with was drafting a cornerback every year. Depth at that position is always a need – see last year’s playoff against Houston for an example. I’m all for the Bills drafting a wide receiver and cornerback later this month.
Louis Paone asks: Do you feel the need to shore up competition at place kicker after the struggles Stephen Hauschka had last season?
Jay: That might have already happened. Shortly after the 2019 season ended, the team signed Kaare Vedvik. He’s a punter and placekicker, so it remains to be seen where the Bills plan to use him. If they view Vedvik as more of a kicker, it’s unlikely they would bring in another player at the position. However, if he’s used as a punter, then adding a college kicker as an undrafted free agent would be a logical move.
Renaissance Man asks: Would love Buffalo to sign Everson Griffen. If we do, he, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are 32. We could save cap money by releasing Trent Murphy, who's 29, and then draft the best defensive end available with the first pick, which will add much-needed youth at the position. Could that scenario play out?
Jay: Never say never, but that’s a lot of moving parts. It seems more likely to me that replacing Shaq Lawson with Addison will end up being the big move at defensive end this offseason. I understand fans wondering about Murphy’s status with the team, given his production and salary, but it’s not like he’s an overwhelming anchor on the salary cap. He fits well in the locker room; he knows the defense; and he’s entering the final year of his contract. I agree that getting younger at the position should be a priority. At 32, Griffen doesn’t do that.
Mike Adams asks: Brandon Beane’s remarks about Devin Singletary were not very reassuring. Just normal GM talk or something to be concerned about?
Jay: There isn’t anything to be concerned about when it comes to Singletary. On Thursday, Beane said “Devin’s our No. 1 as it stands, and if something happened to him, T.J. (Yeldon) has carried the load in Jacksonville and he’s proven it, and so we look forward to bringing him back.”
Mike might be referring to the “as it stands” part of that quote. Here’s how I interpret that: Beane always talks about adding competition to the roster. He’s fond of saying jobs won’t just be handed out. I do wonder, based on how Singletary was used at times as a rookie, if there is 100% confidence among the coaching staff that he can be a true featured back. That’s why I would put running back on my list of needs. In particular, the need for a physical presence who can convert short-yardage situations would be a logical additions, either through free agency or on the third day of the draft.
GD in IL asks: With the West Coast/Vegas games this year, would Beane prefer them spread out or some bunched together?
Jay: I haven’t asked him specifically, but getting to know him the past few years, my guess is Beane would say he doesn’t particularly care. On Thursday, he said he’d draft from his car if need be. My guess, and it’s only that, is the Bills will maintain a normal travel schedule even if they have back-to-back West Coast games. In 2017, they flew to Los Angeles the day before playing the Chargers, as opposed to going out a day early to adjust to the time change. McDermott seems to prefer to keep as much of a normal routine as possible.
Jim Campbell asks: Do you think they are happy with the quarterback room?
Sam Ruggiero asks: Back up just a bit, Jay. Gimme my 6 feet! Are you satisfied with our backup quarterback situation? With the big-name quarterbacks out there in free agency, should the Bills make a push for an upgrade?
Jay: I asked Beane about the possibility of adding to the quarterback room at the NFL Scouting Combine. He didn’t rule it out, but I got the impression it wasn’t high on his to-do list. The Bills are in a tricky spot here. They might want an upgrade to what Matt Barkley provides on the field, but there is so much more that goes into the backup quarterback position. A big part of that job is supporting Josh Allen in the film room, on the practice field and from the sideline during games. By all accounts, Barkley does that exceptionally well. Clearly, Jameis Winston or Cam Newton – if they would even consider signing in a place they would be a backup – would be a talent upgrade, but the Bills have to be concerned about what kind of message that would send to Allen. If he struggles, a segment of the fan base would undoubtedly start calling for a quarterback change. The possibility of a divided locker room would increase. The dynamics of backup quarterback are fascinating. For that reason, I think the Bills are happy to stick with Barkley for another year.
Bill Hunter asks: Any rumors on a change in the uniform?
Jay: I haven’t heard of any. I also wouldn’t recommend it. If I could offer some unsolicited advice to the Pegulas – not that they’re interested in taking it from me – it would be to avoid anything resembling a cash grab at this point. New Bills uniforms, which absolutely no one is asking for, would be exactly that. I can’t think of two people locally who have done more to damage their reputations lately than Terry and Kim Pegula.
John Brown asks: Do you think Carole Baskin killed her husband?
Jay: I have no clue. Social media explains this is a reference to Tiger King, but I haven’t watched it. I remain the absolute worst person to ask about any new movie or TV show. Without live sports, my TV consumption has been a rerun of Seinfeld a night before bed. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: A.J. Klein/ Bills Mailbag/ Brandon Beane/ cody ford/ Devin Singletary/ Jerry Hughes/ Josh Allen/ Kaare Vedvik/ Kim Pegula/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Mario Addison/ Matt Barkley/ Matt Milano/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ stefon diggs/ Stephen Hauschka/ T.J. Yeldon/ Terry Pegula/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy/ Tyler Matakevich/ Tyrel Dodson/ Vosean Joseph