Buffalo Bills Roster: Still Seeking Impact At Tight End

Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler had ACL surgery in January, which could affect his training camp availability. He's the least of the team's problems at the position.

The Buffalo Bills were so bad for so long at the tight end position during their league-leading playoff drought (and even before that started, to be frank) that the "emergence" of Scott Chandler - who caught 81 passes for 960 yards and 12 touchdowns in 29 games between 2011 and 2012 - was considered a breath of fresh air to most Bills fans.

And, frankly, he was. Buffalo is now mediocre at tight end thanks to Chandler's last two seasons. What remains to be seen is whether or not the team will place more emphasis on ascending from that ranking under the new direction of head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who will implement a faster-paced offense. This position has been an offensive afterthought for the Bills for quite a while, and with the front office intact, that might not change.

Scott Chandler

  • Age: 27 (28 in July 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Owed a $300,000 roster bonus at the start of the new league year. Scheduled to make $2.05 million in base salary in 2013.

Chandler was excellent in 2011 when he was a role player for the offense, catching 38 passes on 46 targets - making him easily the most successful receiving target on the team from a production-per-target perspective. When the team made him a bigger part of the offense last season (his targets jumped to 71 in 15 games), his production was only negligibly better (43 receptions, six touchdowns), indicating that we've probably seen the ceiling of Chandler's contributions.

It's not a bad ceiling, though. He's hit or miss - he'll disappear for long stretches, then catch nine passes for 127 yards and three scores in two games against New England - but that could be indicative of a larger (read: quarterbacking) problem. Still, if this is the peak of Chandler's potential production, the team could do better here - and lingering questions about a late December ACL tear that was only recently surgically repaired don't help his stock much.

Chandler can play. That's not a question; the real question here is whether he should be a starter, or if he should be more of a role player.

Lee Smith

  • Age: 25 (26 in November 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $580,000 in base salary in 2013.

A blocking specialist by trade, Smith played his role well in 2012, bringing some tenacity to the playing field in two-tight end formations (and often one tight end formations on obvious run downs). He even caught two touchdowns on goal line plays for good measure. As an added bonus, Smith is a good special teams player. His upside is severely limited, but he's likely to stick around in the NFL for a while in the role he's already playing quite well.

Corey McIntyre

  • Age: 34
  • Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent

(Yeah, we're throwing a fullback into a tight end discussion, because as much as we love Corey, he's not getting his own fullback post.) An impending free agent, McIntyre is an infrequently used role player on offense; his true value lies in his impeccable special teams work. If he's retained, it'll be simply because he's still very good covering kicks, even as he nears the end of his playing career.

Dorin Dickerson

  • Age: 24 (25 in March 2013)
  • Contract: Exclusive Rights Free Agent

A project-type player that was essentially stashed on the roster last season despite a lack of use, Dickerson got an opportunity to play later in the season and didn't do much with it (nine catches, 117 yards and a fumble lost). An excellent athlete with positional versatility, Dickerson has yet to make good on his athletic potential at the NFL level, and the coaching staff that saw something in him last season is no longer around.

Mike Caussin

  • Age: 25 (26 in February 2013)
  • Contract: Exclusive Rights Free Agent

It's kind of amazing, really, that Caussin is still with Buffalo. He joined the Bills at roughly the same time as Chandler, but has appeared in just six games (with five catches) in that time frame. An exclusive rights free agent coming off a season spent on IR, it's no lock that Caussin will get an offer to stay.

Derek Buttles

  • Age: 23 (24 in September 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Buttles is a very cool story on a personal level; he hails from Letchworth high school in Wyoming County. My grandparents live just down the road from the school, and I've got two cousins that played (or still play) football there; they won a state championship in 2011 with something like 25 players on the roster (and some of those were JV call-ups). It's hilariously cool to me, then, to see a kid from a school so small make it to the pro level in any fashion. Placing my hat of objectivity back on, however, the undersized Buttles looks like a camp body heading into the summer months.

Joe Sawyer

  • Age: 26 (27 in July 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Signed to a reserve/future contract in January (alongside Buttles), the 6'3", 275-pound Sawyer has kicked around the league for a couple of years and looks like another camp body.

Free agency outlook: Tight end signings typically do not make off-season headlines, so we're not expecting anything splashy on this front. From a re-signing perspective, the only name to keep track of is a fullback (McIntyre), and that'll be for a bit role.

2013 NFL Draft outlook: There are a couple of athletic, receiver-first tight ends with Round 1 grades and significant upside available this year in Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) and Zach Ertz (Stanford). Neither is particularly likely to wind up with the Bills given Buffalo's much more pressing needs, and unless the team can stumble upon a project player worth exploring in the middle or late rounds, it seems more likely than not that the Bills will be rolling with the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Discussion topics: As always, we've got two discussion starters for you about this position.

  • How satisfied are you with Chandler as a starter, knowing that he's going into a contract year and coming off of an ACL injury?
  • In your opinion, how important is it that the Bills "get with the times" and find one of the athletic, versatile receiving tight ends that have taken the league by storm?
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