The Buffalo Bills entered the NFL offseason with one major goal: upgrade everything that will be surrounding Josh Allen in 2019. Along with the fact that the Bills’ offensive line and receiving corp were below average last season, and both needed better weapons this year, that seems reasonable to do one year after finding a potential franchise quarterback.
Buffalo averaged just 16.8 points per game in 2018, the third lowest in the NFL. This surely has something to do with the team’s receivers. After all, Zay Jones led the franchise in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns with just 56, 652, and seven, respectively. Besides him, no other player contributed with more than 35 catches or three TD receptions for the Bills.
Jones now will play along with veterans Cole Beasley and John Brown, both signed in the free agency. Additionally, he will share targets with the Bills’ new tight ends; however, Jones doesn’t know yet how and which TEs will be the targets of Allen’s throws.
That’s because an already-uncertain position in Buffalo just received bad news in the first day of OTAs.
Tyler Kroft, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Bills this offseason and was expected to be the team’s number 1 tight end in 2019, broke his foot and will be out for at least three months. This is the same foot injury that limited Kroft to just five games (and zero touchdowns) in 2018 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Kroft is expected to return right on time for the regular season.
While having the tight end for week one against the New York Jets is what the Bills are looking forward to at this point, the injury means that Kroft will probably miss all the Training Camp activities with his new teammates. That’s a big deal considering that Buffalo may have seven different starters on offence and a second-year quarterback under center this season.
Who will step up as a tight end for the Bills, especially after Kroft’s injury, is uncertain at this point, and becomes a big storyline for the 2019 Training Camp.
Besides Kroft, Buffalo signed Lee Smith (3-yr./$9 MM) in free agency and drafted Dawson Knox (96th overall pick) and Tommy Sweeney (228th).
From a blocking stand point, the Bills might have all they need in these players, but the offensive production is a concern once again.
Smith is known for his blocking ability. Despite scoring a career-high three TDs in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders, he has yet to surpass 80 receiving yards in a season.
The draft class may not have the answer either, though.
Knox went through his entire college career at Ole Miss without scoring a touchdown and Sweeney, who showed great receiving skills in Boston College, is a long-term project coming out of the seventh round.
The fact that a seventh-round TE appears to be the most talented receiving tight end on the roster right now (with Kroft injured) shows that the Bills aren’t ready for a plan B. Even the plan A may be in jeopardy considering Kroft’s history in the NFL.
Of course, all of this has to do with an awful production last season.
Buffalo had one of the league’s worst tight end corps in Charles Clay, Jason Croom, and Logan Thomas in 2018. They had 55 catches, 520 yards, and one touchdown. Combined.
Individually speaking, neither one of them surpassed 22 total receptions (Croom led the team with 22). Their highest reception-per-game average was 1.6 (Clay), and the Bills’ longest play by a tight end was a 26-yard reception by Croom.
Croom, by the way, can be a candidate for solid answers from the Bills’ tight end corp. While both Clay and Thomas left the organization in the free agency, the 25-year-old is still on the roster after he signed with the team as an un-drafted free agent in 2017.
The Bills’ recent uncertainties at TE are a result of a failed process that started in 2015.
Between 2010 and 2014, Buffalo had Scott Chandler as its number one tight end and he became one of the franchise’s most productive TEs ever. After his departure, Charles Clay received a 5-year, $38 million contract in 2015.
The former sixth-round pick had one great season with the Miami Dolphins in which he totalled 69 receptions, 759 yards, and six touchdowns in 2013. One year later, while still in Miami, Clay regressed to 58-605-3 — and that was his last season in Florida before moving to Buffalo.
Paying so much for Clay has been proven to be a mistake, but the Bills should be questioned especially about not drafting a single tight end between 2016 and 2018. In that span, names such as George Kittle, Austin Hooper, Chris Herndon, were all called in the third round or later. Any one of them would surely be the main starter for Buffalo in the position today.
The fact that the Bills signed two tight ends in the free agency, and drafted two other names for the position, shows how desperately they need a TE. Specifically, it’s the number one tight end who should be one of Allen’s major targets during the 2019 season.
In an offseason with with plenty of great decisions, Buffalo may have to pay the price for the past year’s mistakes with the tight end position.
By Caio Miari | @caiomiari1