Welcome to another edition of the Bills Mailbag.
This week, we’re tackling what Josh Allen needs to do statistically in 2020, what expectations should be for a team coming off a 10-6 season and a trip to the playoffs and what might happen if games are played with no fans in the stands. Let’s get to it …
John Jarzynski asks: Since most of the pressure is on Josh Allen to improve, what would a good season look like to you, statistically speaking?
Cody Phinney asks: What kind of stat line would you like to see for Josh Allen to be considered a noticeable and successful season/step forward? And, how many catches/yards/touchdowns does Stefon Diggs get this year?
“Primetime” Michael J. Fischer II asks: Statistically speaking, what kind of season do you think Josh Allen will put together in 2020?
Jay: Let’s start with completion percentage. Allen improved that number from 52.8 as a rookie to 58.8 last year. Another 6-point jump might be asking a lot, but that’s a good goal to set. His touchdown passes went from 10 to 20. Another increase of 10 should again be the goal. His passing yards jumped from 2,074 to 3,089. Let’s stick with the theme and add another 1,000. If Allen hits those three marks, based on last year’s numbers, he would finish in the top 15 in completion percentage, the top 10 in yards and the top five in touchdowns. In other words, he’d resemble the franchise quarterback the Bills hoped they were getting when they traded up twice in the first round of the 2018 draft to get him. Allen’s interceptions dropped from 12 to 9 from his rookie year to sophomore season, which was impressive after he started five more games in 2019. I’m good if he keeps that number to 10 or less.
As for Stefon Diggs, I’ll go with 70 catches, 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns as a good place to start for his numbers. If he reaches those, it means the offense is doing good things.
Ed Helinski asks: Regarding the defensive line, who makes the roster to start the season? Lots of competition and versatility with his group.
Jay: I agree. Here’s who I have making it today: Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Trent Murphy, Mario Addison, Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, A.J. Epenesa, Quinton Jefferson. That leaves out defensive ends Mike Love and Darryl Johnson Jr. The obvious big question is Murphy. The team could save more than $7.5 million by cutting him, but I wouldn’t do it for a couple of reasons. Murphy is entering the final year of his contract, so it’s not a long-term marriage. Knowing that Sean McDermott likes to play eight defensive linemen, all it takes is one injury up front for the depth chart to sort itself out. For a team in win-now mode (more on that to come), I’m all about keeping quality veteran depth. At the very least, Murphy can provide that.
Cory Priestley asks: With the hype surrounding Buffalo’s offseason, what legitimate expectations follow a 10-6 playoff season to make it a success? Is it just winning a playoff game?
Jay: It’s two-fold. Winning the AFC East and winning a playoff game. The last time either of those things happened was 1995 – which absolutely boggles the mind. The AFC East is there for the taking with Tom Brady no longer in New England. While it’s true the Bills’ schedule is more difficult, the same can be said for the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets. New England, in fact, has the toughest strength of schedule entering the 2020 season, while New York and Miami are No. 2 and No. 3 (the Bills are tied for fifth). The trade for Diggs drove home the idea that the Bills feel like their window to win is right now. I agree with that. Allen is entering his third year, he has a good supporting cast and the team has one of the best defenses in the NFL. There are no excuses.
Paulyg asks: Does drafting Jake Fromm and Tyler Bass make it so Brandon Beane can save money by cutting Matt Barkley and Stephen Hauschka and using that money to re-sign Dion Dawkins, Tre'Davious White and Matt Milano?
Jay: That’s not the primary reason either of them was selected. Cutting Hauschka and Barkley would only save the Bills about $4 million in cap space. That’s not going to go very far when it comes to re-signing Dawkins, White and Milano, all of whom figure to get seven figures in annual value on their next contract. So why draft Fromm and Bass? Brandon Beane would tell you it comes down to one word: Competition. Hauschka’s leg strength was a major concern by the end of last season. It’s reasonable to push him. Fromm fell a lot farther in the draft than most thought he would. His ceiling in the NFL might only be a quality backup, but there is still value in that. Barkley is a free agent after this season, so perhaps Fromm develops as a rookie and shows enough to go into 2021 as the No. 2 quarterback.
Marc Gump asks: Are the Bills a good destination for Cam Newton? It seems he wants to go to a place where there is leadership he trusts. He could rehab his body and image here while offering a high-level backup if anything were to happen to Josh Allen.
Jay: I don’t see the Bills being a fit for Newton. No. 1, he has to know that, barring an injury to Allen, his chances of playing are slim. This is Allen’s team. It would make sense for Newton to sign with a team that would give him a better chance of actually playing (New England and Jacksonville come to mind). No. 2, the Bills don’t want to willingly start a quarterback controversy, which is what would inevitably happen if Allen, who is already a polarizing player, struggles. No. 3, Newton would have to learn a new offense without the benefit of any spring practices. A big part of the job for a backup quarterback is having a strong grasp on the offensive system. While Barkley isn’t close to Newton as a physical talent, he’s far ahead of him in that regard right now.
John Jarzynski asks: Given the loss of revenue from ticket buyers, do you see player salaries coming back to reality?
@ScottMcC44 asks: The Bills want to continue charging for season tickets next month (paused), but I am hearing no fans in stands in 2020. What are their plans about tickets and games? Will the NFL pack stadiums in 2020?
Jay: Here is what co-owner Kim Pegula told The Buffalo News in an exclusive interview earlier this month when asked about the possibility of games being held, at least at the start of the season, without fans: “We're all competitive and we're competing with other clubs across the whole country. So I think that's reasonable if we say, ‘What are the guidelines? How do we keep our fans safe? How do we keep our players safe? And then how do we maintain a competitive equality across all the clubs?’ It’s safe to say that's one of the options that we certainly are looking at. And if that's the way we have to go, we'll be ready.”
As for how the Bills are handling the sale of tickets, the team sent out a letter last week saying that “every effort is being made to accommodate our current season ticket members who are navigating through this difficult pandemic. We have and will continue to encourage them to reach out to their account representative with any questions or concerns.”
As far as player salaries, it’s too soon to know for sure what might happen. While there could be adjustments this year based on the possibility of a schedule with less than 16 games, I would not expect any long-term ramifications for the most popular sport in the country.
Rick McGuire asks: Assuming the NFL goes forward with plans to play this season, if games are played in the stadiums where they’re currently scheduled, do you think playing without fans in the stands will affect the Vegas point spreads at all, and if so, how?
Jay: I do think it would impact the point spreads. The rule of thumb is that home field is worth three points. Without fans, I’d say it’s less than that, maybe just a point. Certain teams enjoy a greater home-field advantage. Buffalo is traditionally listed among the tougher places in the NFL to play, as is Seattle. Without those fans in attendance, it’s fair to think that the road team is at less of a disadvantage. If games happen without fans, it’s going to make for a truly bizarre atmosphere.
James Griffin asks: Who is the better golfer: Stephen Hauschka or Brandon Beane? Hauschka was featured in a Golf magazine article.
Jay: According to Golf Digest, Hauschka is a 5 handicap, although I’m not sure how current that is. I’m not sure of Beane’s handicap, but I’d bet it’s in that range. I know Beane shot under par at Country Club of Buffalo. That’s really, really good. Humble brag alert: I I teamed up with him to win the Bills Media Golf Tournament last year, a two-man scramble, so of course my teammate is the better golfer.
Michael Lenhard asks: Did you have the pool heater on before your family jumped in?
Jay: Michael, frankly I’m disappointed that you would question in my integrity in such a way. Of course the pool wasn’t heated – you think I’m paying that gas bill right now? It was all of 45 degrees. I’ve never felt so alive.
We’ve finally warmed up! By doing this silly thing, we raised $2000 to feed WNY hospital workers!
It’s still not too late to donate on our GoFundMe page. But the overall lesson is do anything you can to help, because one person, or one family, can make a difference. @JaySkurski pic.twitter.com/FhrpT5hRCz
— Melissa Holmes (@2MelissaHolmes) April 10, 2020
Louis Stromberg asks: Great article on Jake Fromm. Really enjoyed it. Let’s dig in there – in honor of the Fromm signing, please rank the following mm’s: Be well Jay!
Jay: I’m going to include the honorable mentions also submitted, as well as add my own “mm” to the list. Unprecedented stuff in the mailbag. 9. Hammocks – Quite simply, they’re overrated. They’re impossible to get in and out of without looking foolish. Then, if you do manage to get in one, it’s not that comfortable. The whole idea of taking a relaxing nap in the sweet summer breeze is nonsense. 8. MC Hammer – Those pants! 7. Jimmer Fredette – “Jimmer Range” was awesome in college, not so much in the NBA. Who is your favorite star college player who busted in the pros? Mine is Cherokee Parks. 6. Gummy bears/worms – The bears at the movie theater are good. My son would have these No. 1 on his power rankings. 5. Kelsey Grammer – I have fond memories of watching “Cheers” on the couch with my dad. 4. "Mmmbop." This song came out in 1997, which makes me feel very old. I was 15 then, and probably pretended like it was bad. The truth is, it’s pretty catchy. I bet it gets a big pop when it comes on at bars – or at least it used to when people were still allowed to go to bars. 3. Ammonia. You’re asking yourself right now – a household cleaning product? But did you know that 90% of ammonia produced is used in fertilizer to help sustain food production for billions of people? You didn’t know that. 2. "Tommy Boy." I watched this recently. It still holds up. 1. Peanut M&Ms. Disappointed that the GOAT of all candy wasn’t included in the original list. An easy choice at No. 1. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: A.J. Epenesa/ Bills Mailbag/ Brandon Beane/ Darryl Johnson Jr./ Dion Dawkins/ Ed Oliver/ Harrison Phillips/ Jerry Hughes/ Josh Allen/ Kim Pegula/ Mario Addison/ Matt Barkley/ Matt Milano/ Mike Love/ Quinton Jefferson/ Sean McDermott/ Star Lotulelei/ stefon diggs/ Stephen Haushcka/ Tre'davious White/ Trent Murphy/ Tyler Bass/ Vernon Butler