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Is Lee Evans Worth a Lucrative Contract Extension?

Evans looking to produce in contract year (Photo Source)

Note: The weekly "Sunday Football Vid" appears at the bottom of this post.

One of the hottest topics throughout the 2008 NFL off-season, at least in Buffalo, has been whether or not the Bills would attempt to re-sign their top wide receiver, Lee Evans, to a new contract extension.  Evans, about to enter his fifth NFL season, will opt out of the final year of his rookie deal to become a free agent next off-season should a new deal not be reached with Buffalo.

While there have been whispers that Evans' agent and the Bills have, indeed, been working on a contract extension as recently as late this past week, a deal has not yet been reached.  It's clear, however, that Evans is the most established and talented of Buffalo's receivers - and with no replacement in clear sight for the Bills, signing Evans long-term has been seen as imperative for the club's future success.

But one does wonder - especially when talking about potentially one of the most expensive contracts on the team - is Evans worth a deal that will likely make him one of the richest wideouts in the NFL?  Numbers crunching, with a dash of valuing, usually helps us out in that department.

Evans as a 1 vs. Evans as a 2
It's completely valid to point out that Evans has been more productive as the team's #1 receiver than he has as its #2.  Evans played second fiddle through his first two years in the league, catching 96 passes for 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns in those two seasons (48-843-9 as a rookie, 48-743-7 as a sophomore).  In the past two seasons, as the team's top target, Evans has amassed 137 receptions for 2,141 yards and 13 scores (82-1292-8 in '06, 55-849-5 last season).  Evans has caught more passes, but suffered a bit in the touchdown department, as the team's go-to receiver.

What is more valid to point out, however, is that Evans has been at his best when there has been consistency at quarterback.  Evans set a personal record with 9 receiving touchdowns in his rookie season, when Drew Bledsoe started all 16 games at quarterback.  Evans' best overall season came in '06 - where his 82-reception, 8-touchdown performance left him a serious consideration for the Pro Bowl - and J.P. Losman started all 16 games that season.  '05 saw the Losman vs. (Kelly) Holcomb debate, and this past year, of course, it was Losman vs. Edwards.

Evans is at his best when he's got consistency at quarterback.  If Trent Edwards can play for sixteen games this season (or at least miss less than three), it's a safe bet that Evans will improve on his lackluster 2008 productivity.

And now, we value
Evans takes some knocks from this fan base for not being an all-around receiver - for example, he'll never be a possession threat that dominates the middle of the field - but we can't really fault Evans for that; it's just his skill set.  Can he become more a more consistent all-around threat?  Certainly, he's still got room to improve.  But maybe we shouldn't expect Evans to become a receiver thoroughly dominant in every aspect of receiving - because that's not realistic.  He's already an excellent deep threat, and he's scored at a nice clip (29 career scores) despite having that label.  This guy, plain and simple, puts up points.

Where Evans' true value comes in is as a member of this team.  Answer this question: what would Buffalo's receiving corps be without Lee Evans?  The answer is ugly to think about; rookie James Hardy would be the team's top target, and there would be mediocre talent behind him.  Evans is still hands down Buffalo's best and most valuable receiver; the benefit of Hardy is that Evans won't need to be the sole producer from his position anymore.

We can't forget the fact that Evans, in four seasons, has established himself as a team leader, either.  He was a team captain throughout the '07 season, and it's highly likely he'll retain that role this season.  He's honest to a fault (see: defending Losman last season), he's loyal, and he works hard.  He's also just 27 years old - about to enter his prime as a receiver.  That's tough to find these days, especially considering by all indications Evans wants to be back.

My Verdict, and then Yours
If I'm Buffalo, I'm doing all I can to get Evans re-signed long-term before he reports to St. John Fisher College for training camp on July 25.  Do I think he's got a chance to be one of the best receivers in the league?  He might be a guy who hits the fringe of that title, but he's not there yet.  Do I think he's worth a contract that makes him one of the league's highest-paid receivers?  Definitely not.  But do I think the Bills need to sign him?  Absolutely.  Evans isn't a perfect receiver, but his value to Buffalo's offense is tremendous.  He's a good locker room guy and a good mentor to Buffalo's younger receivers as well.  This guy needs to be in Buffalo long-term - whatever the cost.  He's too valuable to simply let go.

Agree?  Disagree?  Something else relevant that you'd like to point out?  The comments section, as always, is wide open.

Evans in Sunday Football Vid
This week's "Sunday Football Vid" is as much about Evans as it is my desire to get yet another Gus Johnson on the front page of this blog.  Gus Johnson is the best announcer, ever, in the history of Planet Earth, and here he brings excitement to a relatively meaningless - but still fun to watch - Evans touchdown last season...