BUFFALO, N.Y. [WKBW] — As the Buffalo Bills open training camp this week, there are dozens of questions surrounding the 2021 season. Expectations are as high as they've been in decades and the team looks poised to make a run at a Super Bowl.
So what are we watching as the Bills begin camp?
What happens with Cole Beasley?
Whether you agree with Beasley's stance on the COVID-19 vaccine or not, the tweets from the Bills All-Pro wide receiver have become a major story line as the team opens camp. Beasley insists he'll stop using social media once the season starts but the damage is already done. On multiple occasions, Beasley has been trending on Twitter because of his statements about the vaccine and the NFL.
At one point, Beasley even shared that a vaccinated teammate was sent home from the team facility because of an issue with COVID. For a team that preaches keeping things in-house, you have to wonder how that went over with head coach Sean McDermott and the front office.
Let's be clear -- I don't think the Bills will cut Beasley or the wide receiver will be forced into retirement as he suggested on Twitter. But I do think this is going to be a big topic as camp begins and until Beasley speaks, it's going to be something that lingers.
Vaccination threshold questions continue
As we get closer to the regular season, we are learning more and more about the vaccination rates of various teams around the NFL. Up to this point, we don't know how many members of the Bills are vaccinated but there are clear advantages for the teams with high rates of players who have been.
Here’s more from today’s memo, which also says the team responsible for a canceled game because of an outbreak among unvaccinated players/staff will be responsible for financial losses and subject to potential discipline from the commissioner. Wow. pic.twitter.com/Q86a2WcG1K— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 22, 2021
Last week, we learned of the potential penalties for teams that have COVID-19 outbreaks among players that aren't vaccinated. In a memo sent out from the league, Commissioner Roger Goodell outlined the possible scenario where a team would potentially need to forfeit a game if it couldn't be made up during the 18-week regular-season schedule. The team responsible for the forfeit would also be on the hook for their opponents' expenses.
There are a lot of moving parts and we don't know how the next month and a half will play out.
Will Josh get paid?
Both sides have made it clear -- they want a deal to get done. But when will that finally happen?
Josh Allen is coming off a historic season and is now considered by many to be a top-five quarterback in the NFL. He's in line for massive raise but the Bills could wait another season to pay their superstar QB if they so desire.
Personally, and this is just me speculating, I'd expect something to happen closer to the start of the season. Beane has shown in the past that he's comfortable giving out big deals a few weeks into camp. Dion Dawkins last year agreed to his new deal towards the end of camp. Tre'Davious White signed his deal in September.
For months, we've been talking about the potential battle for the starting cornerback job opposite the aforementioned White. As it currently stands, the two front-runners to secure the job are Levi Wallace, who is entering his fourth season, and 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson.
Despite veterans added to the roster the last few years, Wallace has earned starter reps for most of the last two seasons. In 2019, Wallace started all 16 games and in 2020, he started 12.
Unless Jackson has a huge camp, Wallace should once again be the favorite to win the starting job. But to completely count out Jackson would be foolish. Of all the position battles in 2021, this may be the most interesting.
RBs ready for a battle
"Let's say you're in a game and you just get a sense one guy's got it going a little bit more than the other guy. That's the guy you ride with a little bit." - Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll
Based on that quote from Brian Daboll in the offseason, it's safe to say the Bills are comfortable going with the hot hand at running back. But will either player emerge as the "starter" and keep the job for the majority of the season?
Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and Taiwan Jones are virtual locks to make the 53-man roster but history tells us one more back will likely make the team. The most intriguing names as camp begins are Antonio Williams and Matt Breida.
Williams shined in his limited action against the Dolphins in Week 17 but earned a look in camp. Breida has been a productive player in the league since he burst onto the scene in 2017. The speedster would provide the Bills with the home-run hitter they've been looking for and could be an asset in the passing game.
Can Knox make strides?
In a year where the Bills threw the ball way more often, Dawson Knox finished 2020 with four fewer catches than he had in 2019. To be fair, Knox missed time due to COVID-19 so he wasn't on the field as often as he would've liked.
After months of speculation about the potential addition of a veteran tight-end, the Bills elected to keep Knox as their top option heading into the 2021 season. Sorry Zach Ertz truthers, I don't think he's going to be a Bill.
Knox has a tremendous opportunity to prove that he's the long-term answer at tight end. If he disappoints, it could be a position the team addresses next offseason.
How will Sanders fit into the offense?
John Brown is out and Emmanuel Sanders is in.
An already stacked wide receiver room has become that much more interesting thanks to the addition of Sanders. But how much gas does he have left in the tank?
In 2020 with the Saints, the 34-year-old wideout caught 61 passes for 726 yards and five touchdowns. If Sanders can replicate those numbers this season, it would be a pretty substantial upgrade from what Brown brought to the table in 2020.
With All-Pros Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, second-year standout Gabriel Davis, the versatile Isaiah McKenzie, and Sanders, the Bills have one of the deepest groups of WRs in the NFL.