1. Pay Marcell Dareus
I had to lead off with this since it has easily been the most popular topic on Bills Twitter and otherwise since Dareus made some not-so-subtle comments last week regarding his displeasure with the offers the Bills’ front office has submitted thus far. He has since walked back a bit on those comments, but they nonetheless ignited debates all over blogs and social media about what Marcell Dareus is really worth.
I’ve been pretty clear on Twitter about my stance on Dareus: Offer him an extension that exceeds the $100 million mark. Now, does it have to match up exactly with Ndamukong Suh’s deal? I don’t know, and it seems like Dareus made a point to walk back on that specific comment late last week. That said, he does deserve to get paid like Suh. Dareus, in my eyes, is step-for-step with Suh in terms of being the best defensive tackle in the game. He plays at 6’3, 330 lbs and is equally effective against the run and the pass. Playing against the run was always a strength, but Dareus has also dominated in terms of pass rush the last two seasons, accumulating 17.5 sacks over 31 starts.
Oh, by the way, he just turned 25 in November and is a full 2.5 years younger than Suh. So you’re getting a couple more seasons of prime Dareus for the same or a slightly less asking price of Suh. Dareus is, bar none, the best football player the Bills have. Just ask Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who Dareus embarrassed multiple times last Thursday. He is just now entering the prime of his career and is being vastly underpaid. Now that the Pegula regime is here, I believe the Bills will do the right thing and give Dareus the massive raise that he deserves. I hope I’m right.
2. Dodging a bullet
Over the past few weeks, Buffalo Bills running backs have been dropping like flies out at St. John Fisher College. Fred Jackson was out for a solid two weeks, Boobie Dixon remains out, and LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams both suffered injuries of their own recently. Even Bryce Brown suffered a slight hamstring injury. That left the team with to Bronson Hill, Ricky Seale and newly-signed Cierre Wood as the only healthy backs for Thursday’s game in Cleveland.
The Bills running backs have certainly been bit by the injury bug more than any other position on the team thus far in camp. However, it looks like the team dodged a bullet as it is becoming clear that none of the injuries should threaten the start of the regular season for any of the backs. McCoy has a strained hamstring, but it apparently isn’t torn, and many are saying he’ll be fine for the opener. He doesn’t really need any more camp or pre-season work, anyways. Freddy Jackson returned to practice this week and looks very good by all accounts. Karlos Williams had an undisclosed injury, but all signs point to him being ready to roll on September 13 and Boobie Dixon should finally be returning soon, as well.
So, although each of our four backs have suffered injuries during camp, it appears that all four of them will be ready to go when it counts. This means McCoy, Jackson and Williams will all be getting regular work once the season starts. We know what McCoy and Jackson can do, and have seen Williams flash his considerable downhill, north-south running abilities time and time again during camp and in the first pre-season game against Carolina. If there is a better running back group in the league right now, I’m not sure where it is.
3. Sammy Watkins is really, really good – And will be even better this year
Perhaps the only thing that got as much attention as the Marcell Dareus contract situation lately was the one-handed catch that Sammy Watkins made look like a walk in the park during a wide receiver drill on Saturday. It’s something we’re getting pretty accustomed to seeing at this point. Watkins runs his route, the throw isn’t exactly where it needs to be, and he nonchalantly throws up one of his big mitts and grabs the ball like it’s one of those vortex footballs or something. Watkins definitely has some Odell Beckham-like flare to his game.
On the field when it actually counts, Sammy Watkins was excellent as a rookie in 2014. Though he was constantly hampered by a slew of injuries, and playing at less than 100 percent most of the year, he still went out there every Sunday and fought through the injuries to post a 65-982-6 line. Not too shabby at all considering he had to fight through all the injuries and the fact that he had arguably the worst quarterback situation in football last year. This year, the quarterback situation almost has to get better, right? So, Sammy will have that going for him.
The biggest thing that Watkins has going for him this year is Greg Roman. Roman and Rex want to run the football. Everyone knows that. But, Roman also has a history of doing an excellent job of creating one-on-one matchups for his wide receivers. The Bills should be a good running football team, and will do a lot of it, so teams will be forced to commit more defenders to the box and leave defensive backs out on islands much more often than last year. The Bills also have a year-older Robert Woods, a dynamic (when healthy) slot guy in Percy Harvin and, finally, a legitimate pass catcher at tight end that teams must respect in Charles Clay.
Sammy Watkins saw a ton of double teams as a rookie last season. Teams figured out how good he was pretty quickly, and decided that he was the guy they weren’t going to let beat them. Rex sure did after he torched the Jets in the Meadowlands then had at least two guys following him at all times in the re-match up in Detroit. The combination of better health, Roman’s offense, better quarterback play and much more talent around him in the passing game is going to give Watkins far more one-on-one opportunities than he had in his debut campaign. That should be a scary thought for any defensive coordinator and Watkins’ numbers should really take off in his second season.
4. Speaking of Watkins, a quick story
Since we were just talking a lot about Sammy Watkins, I thought I’d share something about my life that is sort of connected to him.
I spent the vast majority of the first 27 years of my life living in Western New York. This is where my family is from, this is where my friends are from, it’s where I’ve made every memory of my entire life. This past January, my girlfriend and I moved to Fort Myers, Florida due to some work opportunities. South Fort Myers, Florida, to be exact. Now, what does this have to do with the Bills or Sammy Watkins? Watkins just happened to live about five minutes from where we live now in South Fort Myers and is, quite literally, a living legend at South Fort Myers High School, his alma mater.
We, of course, wear Bills gear wherever we go down here in Dolphins/Bucs country. But we soon realized that this specific little area of Florida is quietly becoming a Bills hotbed and it’s all because of Watkins. When people see us with a Bills hat on, or a Bills towel at the beach, they come up to us and start talking about Sammy, not necessarily the team in general. They talk about how good he was growing up and in high school and about how nice his family is. They talk about how much they loved him and ask what we think about him up there. They talk about how he has made them Bills fans, too. And you can tell that goes for a lot of people around here, because conversations like this happen on an almost daily basis when people see the red, white and blue. Sammy Watkins landing in Buffalo has created hundreds of new Bills fans all the way down here in Fort Myers, Florida and I think that’s kind of cool.
5. What to watch for on Saturday vs Pittsburgh
The 3rd pre-season game is generally the one the starters play in the most for both teams, so it is always the most interesting of the four. Rex Ryan has not said who will be the starting quarterback for the game yet, but regardless, Tyrod Taylor has the most riding on it once again. I believe he has all but locked up the starting job, and that the Bills’ coaches are simply being very quiet about it publicly. Another good performance should really bring that closer to reality.
This team, almost unarguably, has the most talent top-to-bottom of any that we’ve seen in Buffalo in over a decade. Therefore, there are bound to be some very good players that are on the outside looking in come cut-time. A few guys that I feel are squarely on the bubble right now and need to show well on Thursday, in no particular order, include Marquise Goodwin, Chris Gragg, Alex Carrington, Ron Brooks, Ross Cockrell, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a good football team. They are absolutely loaded offensively and I believe they will win the AFC North this year. They’ll be playing many of their starters the entire 1st half and this provides a great opportunity for the Bills to see how they match up with a team like Pittsburgh. It is an especially great test for the defense. It should be a fun one out at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Hope whoever is attending enjoys it – I’ll see you out there on September 13.