Going into this Sunday’s Jets-Bills contest for first place in the AFC East, Jeff Hunter from Buffalo Rumblings was able to answer a few questions from me on the Bills.
Q: Based on their actions throughout the offseason, what would you say is the current state and direction of the Bills franchise?
The Bills are clearly in a rebuilding mode, but to what degree is a matter of debate. The trades of Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby pretty much sum up the state of the franchise right now: they shipped out good, young starters in exchange for decent but less-talented guys while also accumulating a few relatively high draft picks. Whether that's indicative of a tank or a sign that they truly intend to be competitive is up for debate (and has been debated plenty), but the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Q: What has the vision of Sean McDermott and the new regime looked like, and how has their reception from the fanbase been?
The regime of Sean McDermott and new GM Brandon Beane (hereforth referred to as McBeane) is clearly putting their stamp on the franchise. To that end, they've made plenty of trades (such as the Watkins/Darby deals) while shedding just about anybody drafted by former GM Doug Whaley. Since McDermott has shown up, the Bills have cut ties with Watkins, Darby, Kevon Seymour, Jonathan Williams, Cyrus Kouandjio, Reggie Ragland, Cardale Jones, Kolby Listenbee, and Dezmin Lewis.
As for the second part, it depends on who you ask. Some fans want the Bills to tank and would probably be happy to see the Bills lose on Sunday. Others buy in to the McBeane strategy and are "trusting the process," as McDermott loves to say. Personally, I'm willing to wait a few weeks to come down on either side of the fence. The Bills seem more competitive than they're getting credit for, but I didn't have them as a playoff team in May and I don't think they're any better now.
Q: How is the quarterback situation? Can Tyrod Taylor be the long term answer, or will he be supplanted by Nathan Peterman mid-season? Is the team ultimately looking at making a quarterback move in next year's draft?
It depends on how the season goes, but at this point there aren't many people who expect Taylor to stick around for the long haul. If the season goes south early on, we could be talking about Peterman's first start when the Bills and Jets face off on Thursday Night Football later in the year. If they win a few games, Taylor will probably get the chance to play out the year before we head into another offseason of "will he stay or will he go?" (The Bills can save about $10 million in cap space by cutting him next offseason)
The assumption is that the Bills are going to draft a QB high, either with their own pick if they have a bad-enough record or by trading up with an assortment of the picks they've accumulated (two in each of the first three rounds). Peterman is a very intriguing prospect, but unless he takes the team over midseason and plays out of his mind it's not going to stop the Bills from taking a quarterback early in 2018. I'm dead-set against trading up for a number of reasons, but ask me again next time we have this chat and I'll have a better answer.
Q: Where would you say the Bills strengths lie on offense? Defense? Special Teams?
Offensively, the Bills are going to live and die with Shady McCoy. There's room for a receiver like Zay Jones or Jordan Matthews to make some noise, especially if Tyrod is on his game (or Peterman takes over and balls out), but McCoy is the best football player on the Bills, bar none. His presence alone is evidence that the Bills are actually going to try and win some game in 2017.
Defensively, the switch to a 4-3 defense could reap huge benefits for the defensive ends. Jerry Hughes had 11 sacks in two years under Rex Ryan after recording 10 sacks in each of the two years before that, while Shaq Lawson never looked entirely comfortable as a 3-4 outside pass rusher (missing training camp and the first six weeks of the season didn't help matters). Returning to a base defense with four down linemen, allowing both Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to occupy the middle, should give those two room to wreak havoc. Should, of course, is the key word there.
On special teams, the big shift from 2016 is at kicker. Dan Carpenter was let go after missing six extra points last year, and in his place the Bills signed Stephen Hauschka from the Seahawks, who only missed five extra points last year (/sarcasm). Hauschka was much better on field goals than Carpenter was, and he's significantly better on kickoffs, so all in all it's an upgrade.
Q: Looking at the Jets roster, where do you think the Bills are most at a disadvantage head-to-head?
Over the last few years, the most glaring weakness on the roster has consistently been at right tackle. Seantrel Henderson struggled as a rookie seventh-round pick two years ago, and Jordan Mills struggled as a veteran last year. Second-round pick Dion Dawkins wasn't able to assert himself at the position, so Mills will continue in the role for 2017 after surprisingly being brought back on a two-year deal this offseason. Mo Wilkerson had seven tackles and a sack in two games against the Bills last year; he might top those numbers this year.