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Potential Bills Free Agent: WR Ernest Wilford

Wilford could cash in big as a free agent (Rotoworld)

Biggest off-season need for the Buffalo Bills? Apparently, the restructured front office at One Bills Drive believes it's wide receiver. As user SP lets us know in this diary, Solomon Wilcotts of Sirius radio is reporting this evening that the Bills' front office personnel are "enamored" with free agent wideout Ernest Wilford, and that he will be their top target when free agency begins at midnight on February 29.

Big Cat Country's Take
Let's get right to it, then - who out there knows Ernest Wilford the player better than River City Rage, head blogger at SB Nation's Jaguars blog, Big Cat Country? Very few people, that's who. RCR is a long-time friend of this site, and he was kind enough to give us an incredibly in-depth look at Wilford as a player and his time in Jacksonville. With the Sirius report in mind, I believe you'll find what RCR has to say about Wilford particularly encouraging.

Rather than the usual question and answer format we've used on previous free agent interviews, RCR has provided us with a complete write-up of Wilford's strengths and weaknesses, his impending free agency, and his time in Jacksonville. It's incredibly revealing; please, enjoy this read:

So you'd like a look at Ernest Wilford? I'm pretty jealous, actually. The Jaguars' situation at wide receiver is complicated to say the least, and because of that we're going to let one of my favorite players walk away and become a free agent. The first question that comes to mind from your perspective would have to be, "If he's so good, why is he leaving?". It's easy - we've got two young receivers coming off of Injured Reserve, two first round pick wide receivers that showed signs of life, and last year's big free agent signing in Dennis Northcutt. That's five guys right there, and considering that the Jaguars probably go after another FA in the off-season, as well as one somewhere in the draft, we just can't reasonably sign Wilford if we plan on doing anything to fix our receivers.

But that's all Jaguars insider stuff and probably not relevant to the Buffalo perspective. So what would you be getting out of Wilford?

1. Consistency on third down. Wilford, like most of Jacksonville's wide receivers, gets an occasional case of the drops. Wilford, to his credit, is fantastic on third down. He makes the catch and finds a way to make sure he's far enough down the field to convert. While he's not fast, he can out muscle just about any defensive back. Remember, he's a big dude for a WR (6-4, 223 lbs). If you need six yards, send Ernest over the middle or to the corner and he can make a play. He's got very good body control for a receiver of his size. Ernest had 35 conversions for first downs in '05, 27 in '06, and 35 last season.

2. Injury Free and Mistake Free. For such a physical player, Ernest stays healthy and performs. He's only missed one game as a Jaguar, and that was all the way back in his rookie season. He's reliable, if not spectacular. He's only fumbled the ball once in his career, and he's typically good about batting a ball away from the defensive back if he can't catch it himself. I don't have the numbers to show this, but I don't recall ever seeing Wilford blow a play that led to an interception in the last two seasons.

3. A second or third option. Ernest is going to bring good hands and a powerful physical force to your offense, but he's not a speedy deep threat that's going to give offensive coordinators nightmares. Ernest is the sort of player that helps you keep drives alive, but if you're looking for an explosive scoring threat or yards machine, you should look elsewhere. Remember this with Wilford if the Bills open their checkbook for him: Ernest has never caught more than 45 balls or 600 yards in one season, and only averages 3.5 TDs per season. If you're looking to open up your offense, Ernest might not be the right guy.

So there you go, Ernest Wilford in a nutshell. I hate to see him go, I really do. He's a good guy, no off the field problems, keeps his nose clean and all that good stuff. If he does strap on the Blue and Red, I just hope to see him score lots of touchdowns against the Patriots for you.


Discussion Time
I'd once again like to publicly thank Chris (RCR) for providing such excellent insight into, apparently, Buffalo's top free agent target. At this stage, this information is invaluable.

Clearly, in this day and age of the NFL - when teams are so rich that they keep their favorites, thus diluting the free agent pool - no free agent prospect is going to be perfect. Wilford is as close to what the Bills need - an immediate-impact physical presence in their receiving corps - as you can probably find at this point. Sure, there are more enticing names. There are always more enticing names. But in terms of immediate value, Wilford might be the best wideout for the Bills to target.

I like how Wilford meshes with the current wideouts. It gives them a quartet of differently-skilled players: Lee Evans is the home run threat; Wilford would be the chain-moving red zone threat to take over the middle of the field; Josh Reed is the guy who makes you pay on underneath routes if you forget about him; and Roscoe Parrish is the gadget player who can turn any touch into a big play. Perhaps most importantly of all, Wilford is healthy, he's got great character, he works very hard as a down-field blocker, and he'd free up Lee Evans to do what he does best: run.

Feel free to leave your thoughts on Wilford, the Wilcotts report, or the RCR/Big Cat Country report in the comments section. This is an interesting way to cap off a Monday in early February, that's for sure.

Jaguars WR Ernest Wilford
Year G Rec Yds Avg TD FL
2004 15 19 271 14.3 2 0
2005 16 41 681 16.6 7 0
2006 16 36 524 14.6 2 1
2007 16 45 518 11.5 3 0
TOT 63 141 1994 14.1 14 1