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Buffalo Bills mailbag, Week 16: off-season in focus

In this week's mailbag, we discuss the Bills' biggest surprises and disappointments, and dive into the team's situations at tight end, left guard and on the defensive line.

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My sincere thanks to the dozen or so Buffalo Rumblings readers that answered the call for an influx of questions for our weekly Buffalo Bills mailbag feature. Please, by all means, keep those rolling into our inbox; they're a tremendous help this late in another meaningless season, and what better things to discuss than what's already on your mind, right?

We had so many questions submitted this week that it was tough singling out just four for the sake of brevity. Let's dive right in!

Brian, of all the players on the Bills this season who has surprised you the most, let you down the most, and played to your expectations (in your mind)?

Jerry Hughes came out of nowhere. He stunk in Indianapolis. Buffalo snagged him in a trade for a thoroughly mediocre linebacker that has made no impact for his new team (Kelvin Sheppard). It's fair to question whether or not Hughes can ever be an every-down player in this league, but he has been outstanding as an edge rusher this season, carrying nine sacks into the final two games. I don't think anyone would have guessed that the Bills had picked up a potential double-digit sack guy back in May.

C.J. Spiller has been the most prominent letdown of the season, and it's not close. Expectations for him were astronomical entering the season, which doesn't help his cause. Neither did the high ankle sprain. He has regressed moving from the old coaching staff to the new one, to the point where he only plays 20-25 snaps per game. They've got to figure out exactly what he means to this offense.

Lee Smith is the type of player that some fans will want to see cut every year simply because he's not a do-everything guy with an exciting skill set. I think he has proven this year that what he brings to the table is a highly valued skill set. Working effectively as a third offensive tackle, Smith has carved himself a niche as a blocking specialist - and he plays special teams, as well. He brings an edge to an offense that doesn't have a lot of that to begin with. Smith is one of my very favorite players on this roster.

Thanks, PaullyP4Prez, for the question! That's a good inquiry for the masses to discuss below, as well. (Hint, hint.)

With a number of different prospects in the draft this year, what would you think is the best way for the Bills to upgrade the TE position to fit the offense Nathaniel Hackett is trying to scheme? In other words, should they try to get a blocking specialist who can catch and get open better than Smith? Should they get a burner who runs up the seam?

Having just finished writing about my love for Smith, clearly I don't believe that they need to upgrade on him in any way. He is, in my mind, exactly what you want to have in a No. 2 tight end. What the Bills need at that position is athleticism - they've clearly been targeting it since early last spring - and if they can marry that with as much size as possible, the better. Basically, they need a more dynamic version of the things that Scott Chandler already brings to the table: a guy who can hurt you up the seam, but who can do more with the ball in the air and after the catch.

DanRoc submitted this question - much obliged! You're going down in this week's Buffalo Rumblings Fantasy Football League championship game, my friend. Say my name.

Now that we've seen (again) that you can't just plug any random fat guy into the LG position and make it work, what's next? Do you see Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone valuing LG enough to target a specific player in the first 3 rounds? Are Whaley and Marrone, in your view, rigid in terms of physical type for the offensive line or more inclined to go with whomever can get the job done?

Marrone has already gone on record saying that he'd like to get a bit bigger, so I think that's the way they'll gravitate. People read that and think that the Bills will have a slower and more plodding line, but that obviously won't be the goal; they need a stud athlete inside, and I don't believe the Bills think they need to draft someone early to find that type of player. That's not to say they won't; it'll all depend on how they're able to address their other needs, and where the position falls in terms of priority. I happen to believe that the position ranks lower than many others on that list.

But more importantly, I think the team recognizes the need to get better, even if they can't achieve their ideals. Doug Legursky is under contract for the 2014 season, so he'll be back to compete for the job next year, but they need to do better than J.J. 'Unga, Mark Asper and Antoine McClain as far as competition goes.

The venerable Ron From NM submitted this question, as you might have ascertained by the theme of the question. Muchas gracias!

What will the Bills do with the defensive line this offseason? Do you expect Alex Carrington to be back, and if so in what role? Has Mario Williams' inconsistent play put him anywhere near a place where his job could be at risk? And will the Bills go DL in the first round of the draft?

I do believe the Bills will do everything they can to re-sign Carrington - he's still in the facility rehabbing, he traveled to Jacksonville with the team on Sunday, and given the way the coaches were talking him up early this fall, I think he's clearly in their plans. Buffalo has missed his range playing as a base end. He was playing a ton before his season-ending injury. And no, I don't think his agent, and his higher-profile Bills client, will affect negotiations between the Bills and Carrington.

Buffalo has a decision to make on Williams. I don't think it will be a difficult one; it'd be a PR nightmare for them if they backed out of a mega-deal after two years with a guy that, right now, ranks third in the NFL with 12 sacks. Mario is staying, but the Bills need to at least stop and think for a moment about that contract, given that they'll be paying him a $10.6 million bonus when the new league year begins.

No, I don't believe that the Bills will target a defensive linemen early. That foundation has already been laid; Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario are it. Fold in guys like Carrington and Alan Branch (both are free agents, and at least one will be back), competent edge defenders in Hughes and Manny Lawson, and nice-looking project reserves in Corbin Bryant and Stefan Charles, and I can't imagine why the Bills would prioritize that position in the draft. The only way that changes is if they can't retain Carrington; they really need a player with his level of athleticism at that four-technique end position.

Thanks to reader Travis for submitting this question!