We asked for more reader-submitted Buffalo Bills mailbag questions last week, and goodness, did y'all deliver. More than three dozen people submitted questions - some of them even contained multiple questions, you sly dogs - and our reservoir of inquiries is sufficiently well-stocked again. New questions are, however, always welcome - send them in to email@example.com - and given the coaching changes that have happened over the last few days, it's a safe bet that many of you have new topics on your mind anyway. Keep on sending them in!
Let's dive right into this week's quartet of questions, shall we?
If the Bills gave Jairus Byrd a Top 3 safety contract, would that kill our options elsewhere? I get the impression we spend a lot on Mario Williams, but overall do we have a lot of room or a little?
Short answer: the Bills have a lot of cap room to play with this spring.
Exact 2014 salary cap figures have not been made public yet, but projections from December indicated that next year's cap would be $126.3 million. Including money that teams can roll over from one year to another, the Bills are projected to have roughly $28 million in cap space when the new league year starts, according to a CBSSports.com report from mid-December. Even if that figure ends up being slightly off - I don't know that it includes the contract that Alan Branch signed, for instance - the Bills will still clearly have plenty of room to maneuver under the limit.
Eric Berry ($11.62 million), Troy Polamalu ($10.89 million) and Eric Weddle ($10.1 million) have the top three cap hits at the safety position in 2014. Only two more safeties have cap hits north of $9 million next year, so if the Bills are able to sign Byrd to a long-term deal by early March, one would expect somewhere between $9-11 million of their cap space to end up dedicated to Byrd. If they can't re-sign him, and the franchise tag is used on him again, it'll be $8.3 million off of that cap figure.
Oh, and yes, the Bills most definitely do spend a lot of money on Williams. Thanks for the question, Andy!
What do you suppose the deal is with Duke Williams? He appeared rarely on D this past year, and not at all after Byrd returned. Was he that bad on the 34 snaps that he did get?
It's tough to speak on his performance without going back and watching it - though that project certainly wouldn't take very long, would it? - but it seems mostly like Williams was just caught in a numbers game at safety.
Buffalo had four different safeties surpass 600 snaps last season. When Byrd was sidelined, Williams was still the fourth safety, working behind Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard. When Byrd returned to the lineup, Leonhard's playing time took a big hit for a spell, until injuries forced him back into the rotation. All of that is to say that the role of the fourth safety was not a big one in Mike Pettine's system (just as it isn't in most systems). Williams remains a skilled project player with special teams utility, and if he makes a jump between his first and second pro seasons, his versatility and athleticism will be valuable regardless of the scheme he's playing in.
Thanks to Mike A for submitting this question.
You mentioned in other articles about how the team needs more 'core specialists'. What exactly are the attributes that a 'core specialist' possesses, and who are some examples of what a team looks for in these 'core specialist' role?
Great special teams players come in all shapes and sizes. Steve Tasker (5'9", 185) and Mark Pike (6'4", 272) were standout special teams players during the Bills' glory days; their roles were obviously quite different, but roles are not the mark of what makes a player a "core" specialist.
There are six different units on special teams: kickoff coverage, kick return, punt coverage, punt return, kick block and kick protection. A "core" guy can typically play on four of those six - and usually, they're guys that can play on both coverage and return teams. "Core specialist," then, is akin to saying "three-down linebacker" - they're just guys that can play teams for you regardless of the situation, and the Bills evidently want six of that kind of player for special teams coordinator Danny Crossman to work with.
In theory, any NFL-caliber athlete should be able to play teams for you. Some don't because they're too important to risk injury; others don't because they're just not good at it. More than athletic traits, the Bills seem to believe they just need more guys that are very good at playing special teams.
Thanks to Nick for submitting this question!
Just looking down the road a bit, do you think they will use the franchise tag on C.J. Spiller in 2015 and 2016, assuming a deal can’t be reached?
The running back position is a bit like the safety position, in that if you franchise a player, you can get them at slightly less than market value than if you were to re-sign them long-term. It's entirely too early to speculate on whether or not the Bills may tag Spiller - they sort of need to resolve the Byrd situation first - but it's easy to envision that scenario coming down to a decision between keeping a productive player and special talent they love for the long haul, or tagging him for trade purposes. That running back tag figure is hardly crippling, and the Bills would be unwise to let a talent like Spiller walk away for nothing if they decide he's not part of their long-term plans.
Thanks for the question, Scott! Keep sending those questions in, Bills fans - and, per a request made in our comments section last week, we have now set up a mailbag archive if you're into looking at past postings for evidence that I'm an idiot.