Welcome to this week’s Bills Mailbag. I’m filling in for vacationing Jay Skurski. Here’s what you’re wondering about:
John Jarzynski asks: Mark, what other team in the AFC East poses the biggest threat to the Bills and why?
Ed Helinski asks: In your estimation, which AFC team(s) best restocked, reshaped and reloaded its roster to challenge the Bills for a run to the Super Bowl? And in your estimation, which AFC team is a sleeper this year?
Mark: I hate to count the number of times I have been burned picking against Bill Belichick, starting, I think, with my questioning his decision to let receiver Deion Branch go in 2006. Nevertheless, I like the Miami Dolphins as the No. 2 team in the AFC East. Miami (9-8) was just a game behind New England (10-7) last year, despite the fact the Dolphins were 25th on offense in yards gained.
People are also reading…
New coach Mike McDaniel brings the Kyle Shanahan offense to South Florida, which is a good thing. Miami shored up its offensive line by spending $15 million a year on Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead. They’re still counting on Austin Jackson at right tackle, no certain proposition. You have to love the weapons, with Tyreek Hill joining Jaylen Waddle at receiver, along with a good receiving tight end in Mike Gesicki. The Miami defense is solid overall and very good at cornerback. I’m not sure they have enough pass rush.
But I wouldn’t rank Miami or New England in the top eight as the Bills’ biggest threats for the conference title because the AFC is so loaded.
My ranking of the top Bills threats in the AFC: 1. Kansas City. 2. Cincinnati. 3. L.A. Chargers. 4. Indianapolis. 5. Denver. 6. Baltimore. 7. Tennessee. 8. Las Vegas. The AFC West is the best division in the NFL. The potential good news for Buffalo is those four are going to beat up on each other. I don’t think the winner of the AFC West will get home-field advantage.
Let’s call Indianapolis and Las Vegas mild “sleepers.” Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow give Las Vegas three stud weapons, and Josh McDaniels will get the best out of them. I think Matt Ryan is an upgrade over Carson Wentz in Indy, if he stays healthy. Think about this: Ryan and Jonathan Taylor coming to Buffalo for a divisional playoff. That’s a tough game (remember last Nov. 21?).
Bill from North Buffalo asks: Who are your over-under win total picks for this season?
Mark: I like Detroit over 6.5 and the Giants over 7. Dan Campbell will get the Lions to play hard. I love Brian Daboll, and the Giants have one of the easiest schedules in the league.
Seattle under 5.5. The Seahawks play in a tough division and have a tough crossover vs. the AFC West. Ditto for Arizona under 8.5. DeAndre Hopkins is suspended the first six games.
I like the Eagles over 9.5. Again, an easier schedule.
Luigi Mike Speranza asks: Why is Bills training camp scheduled for Rochester? Bills used to use this as a marketing tool to fill the stadium but obviously it’s no longer needed with the sellouts.
Mark: The Rochester market still is very important to the Bills and to selling seats. It’s good to cultivate it, especially looking ahead to filling a more expensive new stadium. But that’s the secondary reason it’s happening. If Sean McDermott did not want to go to camp away from home, the Bills would be staying in Orchard Park. He repeatedly said he likes the idea of building a team on a campus where the sole focus is football.
“I don't think anybody really loves sleeping in college dorms,” McDermott said at minicamp. “At 48 years old, I can tell you I don't, but I'm willing to do it. That's what we do and that's how a team comes together through those shared experiences and we look forward to that in a couple weeks here.”
WNY Watercooler asks: How concerned should we be that the overhyping of this team by the local media will seep into the locker room and complacency will set in?
Mark: I don’t think anyone needs to worry about complacency but pressure from heightened expectations is a worry. McDermott is good at managing complacency, and there’s veteran leadership to prevent it. However, the players obviously are well aware of the great expectations. Will the pressure be a burden if they get off to a slow start? There is no easing into this schedule. Four of the first six games are on the road (Rams, Dolphins, Ravens, Chiefs), and the seventh game is home against Green Bay. The Bills easily could play “decent football” and be 3-3 going into the bye week. If they’re 3-3 or 2-4, now the pressure gets amped up. How would they handle it?
Nintendo Play Station King asks: When Will Tre White return from injury?
Mark: It’s not out of the question that White starts Week 1 in Los Angeles. Former Broncos star cornerback Chris Harris tore an ACL in January 2014, recovered and played all 16 games of the 2014 season. And he made the Pro Bowl. Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had ACL surgery on Nov. 15, 2018, and played all 16 games in 2019. White’s surgery took place on Dec. 14, 2021. Even for world-class athletes, recovery from ACL surgery can be an up-and-down process, and it’s slightly different for everybody. You can find other examples of guys who took longer to come back. There are also guys whose knees healed but they tweaked a hamstring or a calf that first year back (Trent Murphy comes to mind). The Bills surely will be cautious not to rush him back. Conservatively, he’ll be playing within the first eight games of the regular season. We’ll know more in camp.
Brendan in Albany asks: Do you take it as a good sign that Jordan Poyer attended mandatory minicamp and didn’t hold out?
Mark: I think it was the smart, logical approach by Poyer’s smart, logical agent Drew Rosenhaus. Extensions like this almost never get done in May or early June. The overwhelming likelihood is it happens in the week or so leading up to training camp – or during preseason and just before the start of the regular season, at the latest.
So showing up for minicamp was a good way for Poyer to show “good faith” in negotiations because he wants the Bills to be accommodating when talks get the most serious – in July. If Rosenhaus and Poyer decide they need to apply more pressure to get the Bills to move closer to their contract numbers, then the time to hold out is at the start of training camp.
It makes a lot of sense for the Bills and Poyer to “meet in the middle” – whatever the middle is. Poyer is playing at a high level, is critical to the defense, and he has been a good soldier in McDermott’s locker room since the day he arrived in 2017. Meanwhile, Poyer is 31 years old. That limits his bargaining power. He has only a couple (two, three, four?) big earning years to go. It makes no sense for him to play extreme hardball and miss paychecks once the regular season starts. Spotrac’s Mike Ginnitti recently told The News a two-year add-on to his deal worth $25 million or so makes sense. That would run through 2024. Sounds good to me. Of course, how the guarantees are structured will be key details.
Steve in Rochester asks: Are you surprised Cole Beasley hasn’t been signed and do you think there was any scenario in which he could have returned to the Bills?
Mark: Beasley wanted out. The Bills needed cap space. Jamison Crowder ($1.9 million) and Beasley’s dead cap hit ($1.5 million) are taking up $3.4 million. If Beasley had been willing to take, say, a $3 million pay cut and been happy about it (unrealistic), I think the Bills would have kept him. I’m not surprised he's unsigned because he’s 33.
A quote from General Manager Brandon Beane from March: “I think the Covid thing, I mean we all know he had a strong stance, and I think it just, it was tough on him, it was tough on his family. You know not everyone agreed with some of his comments or his viewpoints – and I’m not talking about in the building. ... And he just felt that maybe a change for he and his family would be best if we could find the right spot.”
Terry from Welland, Ont., asks: Can we sneak a golf question in here since the NFL is on vacation? What do you think of the LIV Golf tour?
Mark: I’m mostly negative toward LIV Golf, but I have some conflicted feelings. It’s blatant sports-washing by the Saudis, which is bad. I don’t think they’re playing for anything meaningful (besides a pot of gold). I have zero interest in the team element. It’s dumb. I don’t like 54-hole events. If they switched to 72 holes and had a season-ending championship event, it would make it more attractive. As a golf fan, if Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau are tied for the lead on the final round, I’d watch. I don’t mind the shotgun start. I thought it was easy to keep track of where everyone stood, and there was more constant action. I think the golfers are being held to a higher moral standard than a lot of other rich Americans. Every U.S. administration since the 1950s has done business with the Saudis, as have many giant U.S. corporations, such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Dow Chemical, etc., etc. The Saudis are our strategic allies. We sell them billions in military equipment. One big difference, of course, is all those companies employ hundreds of thousands of American workers. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson’s desire to create some needed changes on the PGA Tour seems to be working. I think the best players still in their prime, such as Koepka and Johnson, are hurting their legacies.
Thank you! Katherine Fitzgerald will tackle next week’s mailbag! Send questions to email@example.com or on Twitter at @kfitz134.