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State of the Bills Roster: Tight Ends

Royal provides little to offense (

The "State of the Bills Roster" series trucks on! If you're new around these parts within the past nine months or so, this series is an off-season progression of posts in which we'll break down Buffalo's roster in-depth. From these discussions, we'll put together a "Community Needs List" in priority order, then begin researching potential free agent and draft acquisitions that will satisfy all of the Bills' needs as we perceive them.

Hey - at least this way, we're doing the job right. Right? Unlike a certain front office we're forced to support.

And now, we continue our foray into heavy-duty off-season work at Buffalo Rumblings. It's our "State of the Roster" series, off-season mode, and we'll continue the discussions by breaking down the situation at Buffalo's tight end position.
  Previous installments: QB :: RB

Opening statement
How long has it been since the Buffalo Bills had a true impact player at the tight end position? If you're looking for relevance as the underlying means to impact, we'd have to venture back as far as 2001, when Jay Riemersma caught 53 passes and scored three touchdowns in a season in which Rob Johnson and Alex Van Pelt started eight games apiece at quarterback. Yes, it's been that bad at this position. This is one area offensively for Buffalo where making improvements this off-season should be the easiest.

#84 Robert Royal (starter)
  6'4", 255 pounds
  Age: 31 in May 2009
  Contract status: 1 year remaining (UFA after 2009); owed $1.44M in base salaries
- Yuck. There are a handful of players whose play and demeanor represents the trifecta of 7-9 records this regime has put up, and Robert Royal is one of them. The little that he does provide to the offense - slightly above average run blocking - is negated by his stone hands and utter inability to make a difference in the passing game. With only one year left on his contract and a modest salary, Royal is one of a handful of players that have "release" written all over them as the Bills enter an off-season in which impact is a must. Needless to say, upgrading over Royal at starting tight end would be a "fresh of breath air", indeed.

#80 Derek Schouman
  6'2", 233 pounds
  Age: 24 in March 2009
  Contract status: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
- I like Derek Schouman. Really, I do. He's one of those players that makes teams better simply because he's a role guy. He does whatever coaches ask of him, he's athletic enough to be passable in any phase of the game, and when he gets the ball in his hands, he's not completely inadequate. As an ERFA, Schouman will very likely be back at an extremely modest salary.

#86 Derek Fine
  6'3", 245 pounds
  Age: 26 in August 2009
  Contract status: Entering second year of undisclosed, multi-year contract.
- When Derek Fine is your most athletically gifted tight end, you know you've got issues. That's not a knock on Fine, however; he's proven himself to be a very polished blocker and an underrated short-area receiver as a rookie. He'll never be a starting tight end in this league, but as a role player in this offense, he actually has the ability to be outstanding.

#87 Jonathan Stupar
  6'3", 254 pounds
  Age: 25 in July 2009
  Contract status: Undisclosed.
- Pulled up to the active roster on November 29, Stupar's contributions were limited to special teams work. Still has practice squad eligibility, so he might be back for training camp next summer.

The Breakdown
Keepers: Fine, Schouman. Neither is an ideal tight end prospect, but ideally, they shouldn't have to be. Both can be contributors in subdued role situations, with Fine potentially being an elite second tight end option.

Extendables: None. Schouman should be re-signed, but he's not considered a guy who would get an extension instead of a tender.

Expendables: Stupar. He hasn't established himself with the team, so the team isn't going to hesitate in kicking him to the curb if a better option comes along.

Questionables: None.

Goners: Royal. If the Bills can cut Larry Tripplett, they can cut Robert Royal. Think happy thoughts!

What we need: How about a pass catcher? A young quarterback's best friend is his tight end. That's a cliche for a reason. Where would Tyler Thigpen be in Kansas City without Tony Gonzalez? Exactly. This Bills regime has to make the playoffs in 2009. In order to do this, Trent Edwards needs to improve by leaps and bounds. In order for him to do so, he needs an impact tight end. Did I mention that an impact tight end would free things up for players named Evans, Reed and Johnson? I don't want to sway your opinions - OK, maybe I do - but I'd place a receiving tight end amongst our top three biggest needs this off-season. Schouman and Fine take care of young, talented depth; let's go get impact.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. Got any more tough love for Robert Royal to spew? Want to talk more about what a pleasant surprise Fine has been? Have any names of potential additions you'd like to throw into the ring? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.