This past week, The Times sat down with ESPN’s Buffalo Bills beat reporter and hated New England native, Mike Rodak, to get his thoughts on the 2017 season.
For as hated as Rodak is by Bills fans, other than his roots, there really is no reason to hate the guy. He’s one of the best Bills reporters and has broken several stories in his four seasons covering this awful team.
So, knowing full well he has no Bills bias, he’s the perfect guy to ask Five Bills Questions as far as what to expect in 2017, and maybe beyond.
1. How far away is this team from actually breaking this drought and why?
“I’d say at least two or three years. As long as the Patriots are playing at a high level, the Bills don’t have a shot at winning the division, which means they must compete against the entire AFC field for two wild-card spots. I don’t think they will have a complete enough team to do that for several years. Perhaps when Brady retires – whenever that is, probably at least three years from now – then the Bills can win the division with a mediocre team. But not before then.”
Dan’s Take: Everything Mike says is completely right, but there’s a sense Brady and Belichick may break-up after ’17 and it could be the McDaniels and Garropolo Show in 2018.
That said, unless the Bills find a quarterback, it doesn’t really matter.
2. Are the Bills legitimately tanking this year?
“No, I don’t think they are. I think their approach is more of a blend of trying to win now and win later. That sounds good on paper, but I’m not sure it’s easy to attain in practice. The risk is that you lose out on the top quarterbacks each year because you don’t have access to the top of the draft. Right now, I would say the Jets, Jaguars, 49ers, Bears and Browns all have a better shot at getting a top-three pick in 2018. Of those teams, the Jets, Jaguars and 49ers all need quarterbacks and won’t trade down with the Bills. Maybe the Browns will consider it if Kizer is their starter. Otherwise, you need a team such as the Bears to get a high pick and have them trade down with you, knowing they already have Mitch Trubisky.”
Dan’s Take: Bills fans will WISH they tanked in January. If they wanted to tank, GM Brandon Beane would have grabbed more picks for Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby than WR Jordan Matthews and CB EJ Gaines. They’d also cut bait with Tyrod Taylor and ship Shady McCoy.
3. Barring an injury to Tyrod Taylor, when, if ever, will we see Nathan Peterman start at quarterback simply for performance reasons?
“Mid-season. I am becoming more convinced we’ll see Peterman start this season, and if the Bills are, let’s say, 2-6 by the midway point of the season, it doesn’t make much sense to continue to start Taylor. Find out what you have in Peterman. The Bills seem to be high on him and they also haven’t shown much reluctance in moving on from players they don’t see in their future, which would be Taylor in this case.”
Dan’s Take: Unless you want Peterman to end-up like David Carr (shellshocked into NFL Bolovia), let him sit as long as he can. He’s not ready yet, even for a team to see IF he’s ready.
That being said, he’ll be playing by November.
4. Can this defense return to pre-Rex form in 2017, given a weakened secondary, Marcell Dareus’ casual hiccups, and the fact its best players are two years older?
“Not this season. I don’t think they have what it takes at linebacker and at cornerback to make it happen. I like their defensive line this season, but it could look totally different in 2018 if they move on from Kyle Williams (free agent), Jerry Hughes ($10.4 million cap number) and Marcell Dareus ($16.575 million).”
Dan’s Take: Remember our golden NFL rule? “Unless you have a quarterback, it doesn’t really matter”?
When it comes to defenses, you can insert “cornerback” and it also applies for two or three reasons, because you need two or three of them. At this point, the Bills may not have any.
5. Will Sammy Watkins’ performance this year impact feelings about the Brandon Beane-led front office throughout local media and fans?
“Yes. If Watkins has a great year, there will absolutely be questions about Beane’s move. Those will only be exacerbated if the second-round pick in 2018 doesn’t make an immediate impact. I think Beane will be given several years to do what he wants to do with this team, but the clock will start ticking earlier if the Watkins trade starts looking bad.”
Dan’s Take: Disagree. Nobody misses Marshawn Lynch. That, and if Sammy wants to come back to Buffalo, he can. But he won’t. It’ll be a moot point.
BONUS: Will this team find a rising star fans get excited about beyond 2017?
“Maybe Shaq Lawson. Maybe Zay Jones. Otherwise, no.”
Dan’s Take: If it’s NOT one or both of these two, it’ll be an even LONGER season. 5-11. Book it.