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The case for Buffalo Bills to keep Robert Woods

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Should Buffalo retain its former second-round pick?

Robert Woods is the Buffalo Bills’ most difficult free-agent decision of the 2017 offseason. (Tyrod Taylor, who’s technically not an impending free-agent, doesn’t count.)

Why?

He’s a young, homegrown talent Buffalo knows well, and general manager Doug Whaley — like most GMs — has preached the importance of the Bills retaining their own. And without Woods, Buffalo’s wide-receiver group would consist only of Sammy Watkins, Walt Powell, Marcus Easley, and Kolby Listenbee heading into free agency and the draft.

Is he a No. 2? A No. 3? Can the Bills replace his top-level run blocking? How much is he really worth? Let’s examine the (more logical than I originally thought) case for Buffalo to re-sign Mr. Woods.

A few weeks ago, Bills Wire Editor Rob Quinn, pieced together a nice chart comparing Woods’ first four NFL seasons to five wideouts who’ve recently struck sizable deals in free agency:

Comparing those contracts to the present day is easy but flawed to a certain degree. The NFL salary cap has increased from $123M in 2013 to $167M. Therefore, considering inflation, here’s what those free-agent receiver contracts would look like today:

  • Golden Tate (5 years): Total Value - $39M, Guaranteed - $16.6M
  • Torrey Smith (5 years): Total Value - $45.3M, Guaranteed - $25.6M
  • Mohamed Sanu (5 years): Total Value $35M, Guaranteed - $15.1M
  • Marvin Jones (5 years): Total Value - $43M, Guaranteed - $21.5M
  • Travis Benjamin (4 years): Total Value - $25.75M, Guaranteed - $13.9M
  • Average: 4.8 Years, Total Value - $37.61M, Guaranteed - $18.54M

That comes to $7.83M average per year, nearly identical to Spotrac’s Market Value of $8M per year for Woods. Yes, an average salary of $8 million for a secondary (or tertiary) target may seem like a lot, but it’s easy for our brains to trail behind the rate of salary-cap inflation in the NFL over the past five years. The increase of somewhere between 36 and 37 percent in that short time frame is nutso.

The question is, does Woods deserve to be given a contract in the five-year, $8 million per year, $38 million total, $19 million guaranteed range?

Of those six receivers listed in Quinn’s chart, Smith was clearly the most productive. Woods was about equally as productive as Tate — more receptions and yards, but fewer yards per catch and touchdowns. He was more productive than Jones on a catch and yards basis. Woods was clearly more impactful than Sanu and more consistent albeit less explosive than Benjamin. There’s nothing that screams Woods should be paid more than the other receivers were, and nothing that points to him deserving much less.

Notice Woods’ age compared to his contemporaries. Three 25-year olds and two 26-year olds, which equates to an average age of nearly 25.5 at the time of their second contracts. Even with similar production to all four of the five receivers — Tate, Sanu, Jones, and Benjamin, Woods will hit free agency as a 24-year-old wideout with four years of NFL experience.

If you’ve followed me on a Twitter for a while, you’re well aware of my keen interest in player age and how it should factor into draft-prospect analysis. Strong evidence suggests that younger players who perform at a high level in college almost always outperform older, high-performing collegiate players once they reach the NFL, especially at wide receiver. (Credit Jon Moore for this breakthrough, which he calls Phenom Index.)

It’s not crazy to realize that a 22 or 23-year-old player should and likely would have a physical advantage playing against many players younger than him. The opposite is true of how impressive it is for a 20 or 21-year-old player to be highly productive against many players his age and older.

Woods played his final season at USC as a 20-year old and turned 21 two weeks before he was selected by the Bills in the second round of the 2013 draft. He could have stayed at USC one more year and played in the Pac-12 as a 21-year old. Instead, he faced NFL cornerbacks that season.

Strangely, Woods is 4.5 months younger than former college teammate and 2014 draftee Marqise Lee. Allen Hurns, a 2014 UDFA, is five days older than Lee. (Heck, Woods is only eight months older than 2015 pick Dez Lewis.)

It certainly can be argued that Woods’ youth should carry heavy weight as the Bills decide how hard they’ll push to re-sign him. His age could even serve as a counter to the thought that he’s already reached his potential.

Beyond that, the numbers indicate he’s on the same level as majority of those five receivers who averaged getting $8 million in average salary when the NFL salary cap was lower than it will be in 2017 (and 2018, 2019 and 2020.)

As for where he fits into an offense — ideally, he’s your stud No. 3 wideout, and as a No. 2, he teeters back and forth between average and slightly above average.

In the end, I think the Bills will offer Woods a respectable contract in the neighborhood of $8 million per season. But there’s simply a gargantuan amount of money available this offseason. That, coupled with Buffalo’s desperate need for depth at receiver, makes me believe Woods will ultimately sign elsewhere at closer to $10 million per year.

However, there’s a sensible case for the Bills to retain him.