The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 26
Location: Rochester, N.Y.
1. Is Sean McDermott the coach the Bills have been searching for since Marv Levy retired?
They certainly are acting like he might be – though let’s remember, they darn near had a parade to welcome Rex Ryan to town a couple of years ago. But no sooner did McDermott move into the head coach’s office at 1 Bills Drive did owners Terry and Kim Pegula make a major move: they fired general manager Doug Whaley and hired McDermott’s friend from the Carolina Panthers, Brandon Beane. It was a bold move considering McDermott has never been a head coach before.
McDermott and Beane are now in charge of getting Buffalo back to the playoffs for the first time in almost 20 years – the last time the Bills were in the postseason, Wade Phillips was head coach and Doug Flutie was quarterback. Unfortunately for them, Buffalo is still in the AFC East with the New England Patriots, and the Miami Dolphins are on the rise as well, so the road to a playoff berth isn’t easy.
2. Do the Bills believe in Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback?
The Bills have been playing games with Taylor for months. Terry Pegula and Whaley decided to sit Taylor for the 2016 finale over contract concerns: if Taylor had been injured in the meaningless game, his 2017 salary would have become guaranteed. The move was part of the early divorce from coach Rex Ryan, who brought Taylor to Buffalo.
Taylor underwent groin surgery in January, and agreed to a restructured contract in March. But McDermott has said Taylor must earn the starting job, which is great to say when you’re in front of cameras, but who is going to start instead? Inexperienced second-year pro Cardale Jones? Middling journeyman T.J. Yates? Rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman? That’s who else is on the roster, and none of them seem like a threat to unseat Taylor, who played through injury last season and dealt with a carousel of changing receivers due to injuries.
3. Will Sammy Watkins be healthy and available for Taylor – or whoever is at QB?
Watkins has missed 11 games over the past two seasons, due in large part to a foot injury he suffered during his rookie year in 2014. The fourth overall pick out of Clemson, Watkins has shown flashes of greatness; he was just shy of 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie and topped 1,000 – averaging 17.5 yards per catch – in 2015 despite not playing in three games.
Watkins underwent surgery again this offseason, and was able to take part in team drills during minicamp last month. Hopefully the issue is behind him, and he’s able to play a role in the Bills’ new offense.
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