Part of the reason that we're creating a community needs list for the Buffalo Bills is to bring up questions like this. As an off-shoot of the current skill position discussion we've been having, a question has popped up that Bills fans (not necessarily this community) are split on: is finding a big-time wide receiver or a big-time tight end more important to the future viability of Buffalo's offense?
My opinion changes on this every day - I can't convince myself either way. So this is what I'm going to do - I'm going to provide (hopefully) convincing arguments for why each position is more important to Buffalo's offense, and then y'all can let me know which argument was more persuasive to you. Additional comments/thoughts are, of course, welcome. Please note that this is a purely theoretical article; none of these arguments are being made based on available rookies and/or free agents this off-season.
Why Wideout is More Important
The one element to any explosive offense that the Buffalo Bills have been without since the days of Eric Moulds is yards after the catch (YAC). The Bills do not have a player at any offensive skill position (outside of their top two running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson) that can consistently create yardage in the open field. When I think of great YAC receivers, the first name that comes to mind is Cowboys WR Terrell Owens.
In whatever offense Owens has been in - a West Coast system (SF, Philadelphia to an extent) or a down-field system (Dallas) - Owens' after the catch ability brings a nearly unparalleled explosiveness to the system. Owens is an elite deep threat, but it's what he does underneath that makes the Cowboys' offense so dangerous - he is routinely motioned into the slot, allowing him to catch the ball in space over the middle against players (nickel backs, safeties, linebackers) who just aren't athletic enough to bring him down consistently. His size makes him tough to bring down, and his speed is good enough that he can take any throw the distance. This is an element that is vital to an offense (Detroit's Roy Williams, Arizona's Anquan Boldin, Carolina's Steve Smith and Houston's Andre Johnson are other off-the-top-of-my-head examples of great YAC receivers), and it's something that the Bills don't have.
Finding a big, athletic YAC receiver to create mismatches both outside and in the slot is a must-have.
Why Tight End is More Important
Then again, what would Dallas' offense be without the ultra-important contributions of TE Jason Witten? The former Tennessee star isn't close to being an elite athletic talent, but he just knows how to play football. Whether he's catching the ball in the flat, exploiting a seam or sitting down perfectly against a zone, Witten's sure hands and solid YAC ability (though not elite) is, in reality, the heartbeat of Dallas' passing attack.
The Bills have not had a Witten-like presence at tight end since the days of Pete Metzelaars (unless you want to count the short Bills career of Jay Riemersma). They do not have the type of player at this position that creates mismatches for his teammates, as Witten does for the likes of Owens and Patrick Crayton in Dallas. Owens and Witten are, in my opinion, the elite WR-TE combination in the league - and both players make the other better. Witten is more important to the overall makeup of the offense, however, because he's a constant presence in the middle of the field that can both make plays on his own and open up the field for the rest of the Cowboys' home-run hitters.
Finding a smart, football-savvy pass-catching tight end is a must-have, whether or not elite athleticism is part of the package. This is especially true because of young QB Trent Edwards' preference to throw to his tight ends in his controlled, conservative game.
Let's hear it, folks. You know what Edwards is capable of, and you know that offensive coordinator Turk Schonert will play to his strengths. We have a rough idea of what the offensive system is going to look like. So which is more important for the offense, and by extension the development of Edwards: a YAC receiver that can attack all parts of the field, or a pass-catching TE that moves the chains, creates mismatches and opens up the field for the rest of his teammates?