The big question at tight end for the Buffalo Bills entering the off-season was whether or not the team would be able to re-sign impending free agent Scott Chandler, as GM Buddy Nix indicated in early January that Chandler's asking price may have been a bit too lofty. In the end, however, the Bills and Chandler agreed to a modest two-year deal that brings stability to the position.
Beyond that - as well as the signing of a high-upside tryout player - nothing has changed for the Bills at the position. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either.
Age: 26 (27 in July 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Signed a two-year, $5.45 million contract this past March.
When the Bills added Chandler to the roster late in 2010, fans took a look at his size and immediately thought "blocking specialist." We had it backwards: Chandler has proven himself a capable receiver and a dangerous red zone threat - and while he's a perfectly willing blocker, that's most definitely not his strong suit. (Aaron Maybin torched him for a sack last year, after all.) In a stable Chan Gailey offense, Chandler has the size and soft hands to be a really important possession and red zone receiver, and is capable of having huge games. He's a good player.
Age: 24 (25 in November 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2015. Bills took on a four-year, $2.29 million contract when they claimed him off waivers.
Added just prior to the start of the 2011 season, the rookie out of Marshall became the team's blocking specialist quickly. Smith is a pleasure to watch in the stadium, as he's the Bills player most adept at getting under the skin of his opponents. A gritty and dependable blocker with a nasty demeanor, Smith will return to his specialist role in 2012. He's a good reserve player to have on a healthy team, but likely won't ever be much of a receiving threat.
Contract: RFA in 2013. Scheduled to make $540,000 in base salary in 2012.
Caussin has been with the team for the past two seasons, but may struggle to make the team next season based purely on the fact that he's coming off of an ACL tear. In very limited playing time, the third-year pro out of James Madison has five career receptions for 41 yards.
Contract: RFA in 2014. Scheduled to make $945,000 in base salary over the last two years of his deal.
A late-season add after injuries decimated the position last year, Brock saw limited playing time and caught two passes for 27 yards in the two games in which he played. We consider him to have a slightly better chance at sticking around as a third tight end based purely on the three-year deal (two years plus two games, really) that he signed as a practice squad player last year. But we're not expecting the Bills to keep three tight ends, either.
Age: 25 (26 in November 2012)
Contract: Details undisclosed. Under contract through at least the 2012 season.
Known mostly for being one of the latest college basketball players to try his hand at playing football, Onobun is an excellent athlete, but hasn't done much on the gridiron. He'll get to compete for a spot this summer, and much like the player listed below him here, has the upside to make the team if he can perform well on special teams.
Contract: Details undisclosed. Signed after a May 2012 tryout in rookie camp.
The only new face in this group, Dickerson has only been with the organization for the last couple of weeks after landing a camp gig thanks to an impressive tryout. The former seventh-round pick is a highly athletic player that hasn't yet found a positional home in the pros. Though he's played receiver, and though the Bills list him as a fullback, the team will actually use him as an off-the-line tight end, similar to how New England uses Aaron Hernandez. If he performs in that role and plays well on special teams, he's got a shot at the 53-man roster.
POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: In Chandler and Smith, the Bills have two tight ends with specific roles. Chandler is the starter and the receiver; Smith is the blocker and the specialist. That may be all the team needs at the position, and if both players can stay healthy, they should be just fine. Not special - but good. If one of the younger guys with athleticism shines in camp, however, a third tight end is not out of the question.