Going into last season, the Buffalo Bills were in need of someone to take hold of the primary returner spot. A few players competed for the role during the preseason, but nobody could really nail the spot down.
Fortunately for the Bills, there was an experienced return man released during the final cutdown prior to the start of the 2016 regular season. He took the role about halfway through the first game of the year and performed well enough to earn a shot at keeping the job for another year.
Name: Brandon Tate
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 195 lbs
College: North Carolina
Draft: Round 3, Pick 83 by the New England Patriots (2009)
Financial Situation (per Spotrac): Tate is on a one-year deal that will pay him $980,000. There would be a $50,000 dead-cap hit if the Bills release him.
2016 Recap: After being released by the Bengals after the close of the preseason, Tate signed a one-year deal with the Bills. In 15 games last year (he missed one game with a concussion), Tate averaged 11.6 yards on 26 punt returns and 22.8 yards on 29 kick returns. The punt return total was good for fifth in the NFL, while he finished seventh in the league in kick returns.
In addition, Tate caught eight passes for 117 yards in limited action with the offense. he also ran three reverses for 48 yards, including a memorable 30-yard rush against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15.
Positional Outlook: Tate’s biggest competition for a roster spot is the recently-signed Rashad Ross, who spent the last few seasons as a return man for the Washington Redskins. Since returns don’t involve a huge amount of playbook knowledge, it would be easy to cut Tate loose if he struggles during the preseason. Receiving ability is probably going to be secondary for the winner of this battle.
2017 Offseason: Tate re-signed with the Bills back in March.
2017 Season Outlook: If I had to put money on it now, I’d bet that Tate is going to stick with the Bills next year. While there is a new coaching staff in place, Sean McDermott did retain special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, so there is some familiarity there. Tate turns 30 in October, so he should be able to keep up the pace for at least another season, especially if he isn’t forced to play a prominent role in the offense at any point this year.