We don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen, with multiple reports surfacing it could commence in as little as two to four weeks. We also don’t know what the rule will be in regards to seasons accrued, whether it’s fourth, fifth of sixth year players meeting minimum requirements. But even with the NFLPA decertifying and the owners locking the players out, there is going to be NFL free agency.
Without heavily delving into the legal aspects of how free agency will work (we’ll save that for someone more in the know) we’re going to focus on the Buffalo Bills and what approach they make take in the open market.
It’ s no secret the Bills could use a number of roster upgrades. When you’re coming off a 4-12 season and haven’t sniffed the playoffs in over a decade, finding quality veterans to blend in with incoming rookies is a necessity to improve your football team– especially in a division stacked with New York, New England and Miami.
Last year’s free agency period brought mediocre results for first-year general manager Buddy Nix. He hit on Dwan Edwards before the defensive end injured his hamstring, but the rest of Nix’s signings were blanks fired from the talent pool gun. Cornell Green was a disaster at right tackle before injuring his knee and guys like Andra Davis, Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele did little to help cure Buffalo’s losing ways.
But that was then. Monday we embarked on series of 2011 free agency breakdowns by position and so far we’ve gotten through quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
Today we continue at a position that unlike the ones we’ve covered so far, the Bills could use plenty of help at… tight end.
For the past few days we’ve profiled three positions one could make a reasonable argument that the Bills need little, if any free agent help at. That’s certainly not the case when it comes to tight ends. To say the Buffalo Bills are mediocre there is about as revolutionary as citing Charlie Sheen for having a few brain cells gone awry.
I’ve written this before and will again for the millionth time when it comes to Buffalo tight ends. Since 2001, no Bills tight end has caught more than 34 passes in a season. In the last 53 regular season games, Bills tight ends have combined for a total five touchdowns. Collectively, the Bills have failed to have a tight end group go over 600 yards receiving for the season since the turn of the century.
Those stats are remarkably appalling. Jonathan Stupar led the Bills with all of 12 receptions last year. David Martin managed seven. Scott Chandler had one. Shawn Nelson, who many think has the potential to turn into a good tight end, battled migraines most of the season following his four-game suspension to start the year. He played in give game and had three catches. One of those, a fumble in overtime, directly led to Buffalo losing at Baltimore.
It’s been several years since the Bills had a tight end even worthy of being labeled serviceable; all the way back to Jay Reimersma at the turn of the century. That positively has to change, even if Chan Gailey isn’t known for utilizing the tight end much in the passing game. Sure, the Bills can and may use a draft choice on a tight end, but remember folks, there’s only so many quality players you can get in a draft and I suspect the defensive line, linebackers and possibly a quarterback will take precedence.
For the first time in our series, that leaves tight end as a strong option to address via free agency. By no means is this an elite free agent class, but compared to what resides on the roster now, almost anything would be considered an upgrade. And for the record, Martin and Stupar are scheduled to become free agents for the Bills as well.
The two prime candidates:
Zach Miller: It remains to be seen if Miller (four years of service) will be eligible to become unrestricted. If he does, he’s clearly the best of the bunch. Miller has been in the league four years and has never had less than 44 receptions. By Buffalo’s standards, those are Hall of Fame numbers. He’s picked up 2,268 receiving yards over the past three years and the numbers would be higher if Oakland had a better passing game. If I’m Buddy Nix, I’d be making a major push for his services, assuming he’s available. Oakland will have problems re-signing him.
Kevin Boss: He could be even more of a Gailey fit. First and foremost, Boss is an excellent blocker. Gailey likes to run the ball in double tight end sets and Boss brings tremendous value in blocking ability alone. He’s also a legit threat in the red zone. Boss has caught 16 touchdown passes over the past three seasons; which is exactly 11 more than all Bills tight ends combined during the same time.
With Marcades Lewis (Jacksonville) being franchised and Owen Daniels (Houston) re-signed before the lockout, there’s a severe drop off in talent after Miller and Boss.
Still, there are some guys that can help improve the offense. David Thomas (New Orleans) had 30 receptions for 219 yards with Drew Brees throwing him the ball last year. Matt Spaeth (Pittsburgh) was a backup and only had nine receptions in 2010, but has upside in the passing game.
There’s also a crop of grizzled vets available, though it’s doubtful the Bills would pursue that route. That lists includes Robert Royal (seriously), Randy McMichael, Chris Baker, Bo Scaife, Desmond Clark, Daniel Graham and Reggie Kelly.
One last guy to consider is Green Bay’s Donald Lee. From 2007-09 Lee was an effective pass catcher, bringing in 124 passes over those three years. But Lee became an afterthought for the Packers last year; catching just 11 passes in 15 games as he lost his starting job. Lee is 31-years old but still may have something left in the tank.
Summary & Prediction: If there’s money to be spent on the offensive side of the ball, Buffalo would be well served trying to spend it on Miller or Boss. A tight end that’s more than just competent could bring an entirely new element to an offense that’s lacked it for years. If there’s any team in the league that should know firsthand the power of having effective tight ends, it’s Buffalo. The Bills defense was routinely torched by tight ends last year; giving up six touchdown passes in a span of just three games in 2010.
There’s a chance, a good one that the Bills may choose to address tight end in the draft. Kyle Rudolph could be a sexy second round pick. I just can’t fathom using a pick that high on a tight end as teams like Buffalo don’t, or at least shouldn’t have that type of luxury. Signing a dual threat like Boss and combining him with Nelson, provided he’s right for 2011 could give the Bills a nice advantage offensively. I anticipate them doing something before the draft.
Coming Next: Offensive Line.
Previously: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers
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