Will Evans finally get his complement? (buffalobills.com)
During the 2008 off-season, the Buffalo Bills spent valuable time and... well, at least they made an attempt to spend valuable resources... on a wide receiver to complement top target Lee Evans. Their ultimate solution to that problem was rookie James Hardy. Nine receptions, two touchdowns and a serious knee injury later, Buffalo is back in the market for a wide receiver.
Their target? Unless you found a cozy rock to snuggle under for the past four days, you're well aware that it's Laveranues Coles. Despite a good visit with the team this past Saturday and a healthy contract offer from the Bills, Coles is visiting Cincinnati today, and with each passing moment, Buffalo's chances of landing the productive veteran grow slimmer.
As far as we can tell, adding a veteran receiver was never a major part of Buffalo's free agency plans this year until Coles hit the market. When that happened, the Bills altered their strategy slightly, bringing in Coles in an effort to finally add a true threat across the field from Evans. The idea of an Evans-Coles receiving duo has enticed Bills fans for over three full days now. While the Bills continue to work diligently (and keep their fingers crossed) that they can add Coles to the roster, let's take a look at the rest of the rapidly thinning receiver market to develop a contingency plan.
Oldies, maybe goodies
Coles caught the attention of the Bills because, even though he's a bit older than most free agents they consider at age 31, he's been productive and durable every season he's been in the league. He's a threat, and he's young enough and injury-free enough to consistently pull coverage away from Evans just by being on the field.
There are two veteran receivers whose name recognition might theoretically allow Buffalo the same convenience offensively - former Colts star Marvin Harrison, and former Buccaneers speedster Joey Galloway. Harrison will be 37 in August; Galloway turns 38 in November. Harrison has already reportedly received interest from the Dolphins, but neither is a likely target for Buffalo based on their age. It's too much of a risk to waste valuable dollars, even on a short-term deal, on receivers on their last legs. Moving on.
36-year-old Bobby Engram (formerly of Seattle) and former Giant Amani Toomer (35 in September) are two other aging veterans that, unlike Harrison and Galloway, won't command larger salaries and play a different style of football. Both are known as possession-type receivers that excel in the short areas of the field; neither is renowned athletically, but have sustained lengthy careers by making clutch plays. However, can either player be considered enough of a threat to consistently pull coverage away from Evans? That's certainly debatable. Making a trade for a player like Torry Holt is an option as well, but unlikely, considering the Bills are already entertaining a trade for Chiefs guard Brian Waters.
The Young and the Risky
There are younger, riskier options the Bills might consider as well. Devery Henderson has always had elite tools, and he'll only be 27 years old this May. But he's never caught more than 32 passes in a season, a feat that doesn't even match the career-best output of our very own Roscoe Parrish. Brandon Lloyd will be 28 in July, but he'll be moving on to his third team in four years, and he's another guy who's never fully tapped into his potential.
Sadly, names like Henderson and Lloyd represent the upper tier of the rest of the free agent receiving class. The notoriously weak group of available wide receivers has been severely depleted over the past few days. One might make the argument - and yeah, I'll go ahead and do it now - that Coles is the only receiver available that would give Buffalo the type of threat it needs opposite Evans. The rest of these receivers each have strengths, but ultimately, none is a smart investment. It's "Coles or bust" for the Bills.
Where to turn?
Chances are strong that if the Bills miss on Coles - and as of press time, that's far from a certainty - Buffalo won't seriously consider other veteran receiver options. They are far more likely to finish building their offensive line and search for depth/role players at other positions, including a third running back and possibly a defensive lineman. Cornerback remains a strong possibility as well, depending, of course, on what ultimately happens with free agent Jabari Greer.
That was their plan all along. We knew that the team had prioritized backup quarterback and center going into free agency, and those two areas were taken care of quickly. The team still has needs, but don't expect them to fill more than one or two of those holes with veterans. They've shown that they're comfortable leaving needs open for the draft over the past two seasons, and history seems likely to repeat itself.
So it's probably Coles or maintain the receiving status quo, and if that's the case, it's hard to blame the team. It's not good business to reach for impact when it's likely not there, particularly when your receiver depth chart is as muddled as Buffalo's. Agree or disagree, but beyond Coles, not much is likely to change for Lee Evans this off-season.