Scott Chandler is a Buffalo Bills record holder at the tight end position.
Well, he's tied for one, anyway. The six touchdown receptions he hauled in during the 2011 season match the single-season high for Pete Metzelaars as the most in one year in team history. For his career - he's been the Bills' starting tight end for four seasons now - Chandler ranks third in team history among tight ends in receptions (182), third in yards (2,120), and third in touchdowns (17).
Chandler is, then, the third-best tight end in Bills history, falling in behind Metzelaars (302 receptions, 2,921 yards, 25 touchdowns) and Jay Riemersma (204 receptions, 2,304 yards, 20 touchdowns) in team annals. He is also a player that Bills fans have, to varying degrees, yearned to see replaced in the starting lineup for four straight offseasons now.
Which isn't necessarily his fault. Before Chandler's arrival in Buffalo, the Bills' tight end position had been a wasteland of below-average play and wasted potential; his four seasons with the Bills have brought more consistency from that position, and a modicum of professional respectability, as well. Bills fans don't want the tight end position addressed because Chandler is bad; they want it addressed because he's average, and the team remains well behind the eight ball when it comes to the modernization of the position and its place in today's pro offenses.
It's well past time for the Bills to catch up. But will they want to?
- Age: 29 (30 on July 23)
- 2015 cap #: $2.85M ($2.25M savings if cut)
- 2014 snaps: 749 (70.5%)
A point of curiosity for Chandler this offseason will be how well he fits into the plans of new offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Buffalo will be a power-oriented, run-first offense, and it's worth pointing out that when the Bills tried to be that team under the previous coaching staff, Chandler was on the sideline far more often than not, with two reserve blocking specialists taking his place. He is below average as a run blocker, which clearly could hurt his chances of remaining a prominent fixture in the offense. There is a point of diminishing returns for paying nearly $3 million for a part-time receiving specialist, especially when that player could fairly easily be further marginalized if the right replacement can be found. Chandler enters the 2015 offseason as a darkhorse candidate to be released. Or, alternately, he could remain the team's starter in 2015. Time will tell.
- Age: 27 (28 on November 21)
- 2015 cap #: unrestricted free agent
- 2014 snaps: 335 (31.5%)
The Bills' least popular tight end thanks to his being utterly one-dimensional, Smith has spent the last four seasons as Buffalo's blocking specialist at the position. He offers zero value as anything more than a "hey, maybe they'll forget to cover that guy?" red zone receiver. Smith is, however, an above-average blocker, which bodes well for his chances of remaining a Bill given the direction that the team's offense is heading. Still, Smith's presence on the field often telegraphs the team's intentions.
- Age: 25 (26 on November 7)
- 2015 cap #: $175K ($175K savings if cut)
- 2014 snaps: 121 (11.4%)
A two-catch, 71-yard performance in his first game as a Bill last season inflated his worth in the eyes of fans, but Gray is a worthwhile project to keep an eye on. The former college quarterback offers some athleticism to the position, and his ability to play special teams for coordinator Danny Crossman elevates him well beyond the next name on our list in terms of potential value next season.
- Age: 24 (25 on June 30)
- 2015 cap #: $600K ($570K savings if cut)
- 2014 snaps: 213 (20.1%)
For a time in 2014, Gragg - a highly athletic, 2013 seventh-round pick out of Arkansas - was emerging as a bona fide role player in departed coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's offense. Then he got hurt, paving the way for Gray to not only steal his reps for the remainder of the season, but assert himself as a special teams option, as well - which Gragg isn't. He'll get another look from Roman and Tony Sparano Jr., the new tight ends coach, but he'll have an uphill climb to making the team this summer.
Chris Manhertz was signed to a reserve/future deal in December. The Bills are hoping that they can coach up the 6'6", 255-pound former power forward.
Quite frankly, looking at the Bills' personnel situation entering the offseason, they don't necessarily have any one player that absolutely has to stick around next season. Smith is a free agent; Chandler is a player that could be released if the team can find a new, viable starter; and the other players are projects. Those projects are worth looking at in training camp, but the position is sort of a crapshoot. More than any other skill position on offense, the tight end position in Buffalo could stand to be revamped, and don't be surprised if Roman, Rex Ryan, and Doug Whaley seize that opportunity and try to get with the times at a perennially underrated (and undervalued) spot in their offense.