Welcome to the Super Bowl edition of the Bills Mailbag. Let's jump right into your questions ...
Rochester Bill asks: Three questions: I hear whispers of a “rift” between Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll. Any truth or is it just a distortion of workplace tensions? How come Quinton Spain couldn’t play for the Bills but is starting in the Super Bowl? Finally, why has the bloom on Eric Bieniemy faded so quickly? Seems like some teams in this hiring cycle needed help developing young quarterbacks. Just wondering …
Jay: Those whispers started with the Brian Flores discrimination lawsuit, which included a footnote that cited Tim McDonnell, the Giants’ co-director of player personnel, as suggesting Daboll was unhappy and could be looking for a change, even if he didn’t land a head coaching job. If you listened closely during the season, you got the sense there was some frustration at times from McDermott, particularly in regards to how the Bills were running the ball. Particularly after the Monday night loss to the Patriots, McDermott was blunt in his assessment of the offense. Asked specifically about Daboll, McDermott responded “I didn’t think we took advantage of our opportunities tonight.” For a coach who rarely calls out his coaching staff or players publicly, McDermott’s comments that night were noteworthy. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was at least some tension, but whether that raised to a level that the two would be unable to work together going forward seems like a stretch. My hunch is there are more of those disagreements than we ever hear about on coaching staffs throughout the league.
People are also reading…
I wrote about Spain in Thursday's News. His side of the story is basically the Bills wanted to play Cody Ford and Brian Winters, so if that were the case, he wanted to be released sooner than later so he could get another opportunity. To his credit, he’s made the most of it by landing a starting job with the Bengals. Of course, Spain isn’t without blame for what happened in Buffalo. There’s a reason the team wanted to try a different combination.
As for Bieniemy, it’s tough to know exactly why he’s been unable to land a head coaching job. His work with the Chiefs’ offense would suggest he’s ready, but without being privy to the inner workings of the interview process, it’s impossible to say why teams have so far failed to give him that chance.
Brenda Alesii asks: What was your take on current Bengal and former Bills guard Quinton Spain’s assertion that he was unfairly benched and that he and Sean McDermott did not see eye to eye?
Jay: As I mentioned above, it’s tough for me to have a strong opinion on whether Spain was performing at the level required to keep his job in the starting lineup. The coaches clearly decided that wasn’t the case, however, so to make that decision as quickly as they did just seven months after the player signed a three-year contract extension speaks to the idea that he wasn’t getting the job done. As for not seeing eye to eye with McDermott, if Spain felt his benching was unjustified, it’s understandable that he’d have an ax to grind. Instead of stewing about it, Spain chose to remove himself from the situation entirely. That was a pretty bold move, but it’s worked out for him. That doesn’t necessarily mean he handled the situation correctly.
Drew Shapiro asks: Although there seems to be a lack of minority head coaches in the NFL, which is certainly concerning, it is even more disturbing to learn that the head coach of the Patriots reached out to Brian Daboll to congratulate him for being named as head coach of the New York Giants even before the job interview had yet to take place – if that is found to be true. Do you think or believe the New England head coach should be required to explain the timing and reason for his text before the interview had even occurred with Daboll? What did he know and who was he in contact with in order for him to spill the beans prematurely?
Jay: Given the Flores lawsuit that highlighted that very text message, it’s a good bet Belichick will be asked to explain what he knew, along with when and how he knew it. That could come in the form of an investigation by the NFL or as a witness in a court case, should Flores’ lawsuit come to that. It’s worth mentioning that the Giants pushed back aggressively against Flores’ accusation that Belichick influenced the decision, saying in part in a statement that “Mr. Belichick does not speak for and has no affiliation with the Giants,” the team said. “Mr. Belichick’s text exchange provides no insight into what actually transpired during our head coaching search.” Flores’ lawsuit will be one of the more significant stories in the NFL heading into the 2022 season, and Belichick will play a big part in that.
P. Malnikof asks: How important is it in the grand scheme of things for the Buffalo Bills to look for another running back in the upcoming draft or free agency? Also, what do you think of the new hire as offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer? Do you think he’s an upgrade from Bobby Johnson? Do you think he can improve our running game?
Jay: The Bills have two running backs, Matt Breida and Taiwan Jones, who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month. That means the position will be a need unless one or both re-sign. Even if that’s the case, it’s entirely possible the Bills add a running back in the draft, to challenge any of the players on the roster. The production from the running backs in 2021 means no job is guaranteed going into 2022.
As for Kromer, it’s worth noting the Bills did lead the NFL in rushing in 2015 and 2016 when he previously served as the team’s offensive line coach. Is leading the NFL in rushing a realistic goal for the 2022 season? It’s certainly not how the current offense – which goes through quarterback Josh Allen – seems to be built. Former Bills center Eric Wood, who was with the team when Kromer coached the offensive line, gave him a big recommendation on the night he was hired. That goes a long way with me, since evaluating offensive line play without knowing the responsibility of players on a given play is tough to do.
Kromer must be good at his job, because the Bills felt he was worth keeping around after he was arrested before ever coaching in the regular season. Those charges were eventually dropped, at the request of the family of the alleged victim, but the details from the police report – that Kromer punched a teenager and threatened to kill his family over the use of some beach chairs – present a pretty unflattering picture.
Greg from WA asks: Do you think something happened recently for the Bills to replace Heath Farwell?
Jay: I can think of one thing. Farwell moving on feels like it’s in direct response to what happened at the end of the game against the Chiefs. Did he fail to communicate to kicker Tyler Bass that the plan was to kick short of the goal line? Did Bass simply fail to execute the right kick? That part is unknown, but if you watch the replay closely, you can see Bills players were expecting something other than a touchback. That’s a pretty big mistake, and offers a reasonable explanation Farwell was shown the door.
Robert Fitzgerald asks: No one seems to be talking about Leslie Frazier being a head coach anymore. Does that say anything about who’s to blame for those 13 seconds?
Jay: It certainly could. All the available head coaching jobs have now been filled, but Robert is right that Frazier’s name seemed to disappear from the conversation for any of those openings after the Bills’ loss to the Chiefs. McDermott made it a point during the season to mention how the Bills’ defense is Frazier’s system. That was meant to strengthen Frazier’s candidacy by pouring cold water on the idea the Bills simply run McDermott’s scheme. Of course, it goes the other way, too. When there’s as spectacular a failure as the Bills had on defense against the Chiefs, the defensive-minded head coach is going to have to own that, no matter who called the plays.
Kevin Hartnett asks: I realize most are tired of rehashing the Bills' final 13 seconds of the season, but settle a debate for me please. Reading between McDermott's lines and his repeated use of the word "execution," my guess is Bass was to kick off short of the end zone and force the Chiefs’ returner to use valuable seconds off the clock. However, had any returner signaled for a fair catch inside the 25-yard line, by NFL rules, KC would have gotten the ball at the 25-yard line anyway with no time run off the clock. So, what would McDermott have been planning for, an uneducated or impulsive Byron Pringle or Mecole Hardman in this situation, hoping they return the kick? By the way, I was not in favor of a squib kick; too many things could have gone wrong, such as being fielded cleanly at the 35- or 40-yard line.
Jay: You’re confusing the NCAA and NFL rules on fair catches, Kevin. In college football, a fair catch on a kickoff made inside the 25-yard line would move the ball to the 25, however, in the NFL, a fair catch made on a kickoff gives the receiving team possession at that spot. Therefore, if Bass executed a sky kick inside the 10-yard line and short of the goal line, forcing the Chiefs to field the ball, a fair catch would have been likely, because it would have given the Chiefs the ball close to their own end zone.
Christopher LaRusso asks: If Cincinnati goes on to win the Super Bowl, does that put any extra pressure on the Bills moving forward? I mean, they won four games last year! Also, how do you think the emergence of Joe Burrow and Co. could shift the balance of power in the AFC over the next couple of years? Thanks and keep up the good work!
Jay: It doesn’t put any more pressure on the Bills for next year. The 2022 season was already going to be “Super Bowl or bust.” That doesn’t change based on what the Bengals do. As for Burrow’s emergence, it just reinforces the idea that winning the AFC is going to be a big challenge. It’s clear the Bills can’t focus all of their energy on just getting past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Ed Helinski asks: For various reasons, several roster decisions and creative contract work will need to be made this offseason. If you’re the Bills’ general manager, which players stay? In your estimation, might there be several Bills heading to the Giants by trade or by free agency?
Jay: I’d prioritize bringing back defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. He emerged over the last half of the 2021 season, plus he’s a great presence in the community. He’s due a good raise from his rookie contract, but shouldn’t be out of the Bills’ price range. No. 2 on my list is Isaiah McKenzie. The Bills could potentially have a lot of turnover at wide receiver, with Emmanuel Sanders also being a pending unrestricted free agent, along with Jake Kumerow. McKenzie is another player who fit in well in the locker room and showed late in the season, particularly at New England, that he can be trusted with a larger role. As for players migrating to reunite with Brian Daboll in New York, I definitely think that will happen in some fashion. In fact, it already has. Running back Antonio Williams and quarterback Davis Webb have both signed reserve/future deals with the Giants, which provides them a spot on the team’s 90-man roster when the new league year starts next month. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if some of the Bills’ other impending UFAs head to New York.
Richard S. asks: What is Levi Wallace’s contract status? Given Tre White’s injury and Wallace’s performance, is Wallace now a “must sign?” Has Dane Jackson exceeded expectations as a starter, and if so, can the Bills prioritize other positions for high draft picks or expensive free-agent signings?
Jay: Wallace is also an impending unrestricted free agent. He might be the toughest decision for the Bills in free agency. By going wire to wire as a starter in 2021, Wallace set himself up for a nice raise. The Bills, though, don’t project to have a lot of salary cap space, so they might not be willing to pay up for Wallace’s services. I’ve long thought Wallace was underrated. That’s true at a salary of $1 million, but much less so at $9 million. It’s also really hard for me to shake the end of the game against the Chiefs. I truly have no idea what Wallace was doing on the play in which Travis Kelce made the catch to get Kansas City into field-goal range. Obviously, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane will take into account Wallace’s full body of work and not just that one play, but it’s a tough one to get over. As for Jackson, he seemed to do well after White’s injury. That looms over the entire offseason outlook at cornerback. Will White be 100% by the start of the season? If so, the team might be more confident in letting Wallace go and bringing back Jackson to at least compete for a starting job. If not, the Bills might have to put more resources into the position than they normally would.
Jack asks: Do you think Brian Daboll would be interested in Cole Beasley for a fourth- or fifth-round draft choice?
Jay: Possibly, but I’d consider that unlikely because the Giants have a mess on their hands with the salary cap. If traded before March 20, Beasley would count $6.1 million against the cap for the team acquiring him, while the Bills would have a $1.5 million “dead money” hit. That’s not a crazy amount on either end, but it might be more than a team with cap problems is willing to take on. It’s also worth mentioning Beane said he expects Beasley is back with the Bills. Perhaps that comes with a pay cut to make his salary more cap friendly.
Thanks for all the questions, as always. They can be submitted via email to email@example.com or via Twitter, @JaySkurski. Enjoy the big game!