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How “The Process” led to the Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver unit

We take look at the 2017/2018 free agency, trade, and draft moves to see who was available to the Bills.

Chicago Bears v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

It’s no secret that quarterbacks Josh Allen, Derek Anderson, and Nathan Peterman have all struggled with sub-par wide receiver play. Fans have rightly pointed out that the Buffalo Bills’ talent at the position leaves more than a little to be desired. Having previously looked at how Buffalo got to where it is along the offensive line and at quarterback, it seems fitting to now review the opportunities Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have had acquiring talent along the receiving front. As was the case when we looked at quarterbacks, they will be referred to as “McBeane” given the fact that they function as a unit compared to the deep schism that existed between, say, Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone.


The Bills ended 2016 with Brandon Tate, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Sammy Watkins, and Greg Salas as the primary receivers. Woods was a free agent who got nearly $8 million per season from the Los Angeles Rams while Goodwin got about $6.5 million per season from the San Francisco 49ers. Tate re-signed with the Bills for 2017 and was primarily a return man. Buffalo shipped Watkins off to the Rams for E.J. Gaines and a draft pick. It’s fair to say that the Bills deconstructed the wide receiver unit by trading Watkins and not trying to retain Goodwin and Woods.

Free agents

Terrelle Pryor signed with the Washington Redskins who, at the time, were his sixth team in as many seasons. Alshon Jeffery could have helped the Bills, though he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles for $14 million a season. If the Bills weren’t going to sign Watkins to a new deal, they certainly weren’t going to pay Jeffery. Pierre Garcon, Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Cordarrelle Patterson, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn Jr., Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, and a load of other free agents were good non-moves. Buffalo got some mileage out of Deonte Thompson but didn’t think enough of him to keep him around for 2018, and Rod Streater seemed to always be hurt. Andre Holmes was the longest-lasting player of the bunch, though he hasn’t done a lot for Buffalo. There weren’t a lot of free agent options for McBeane.


The Chicago Bears traded for Dontrelle Inman, The Cleveland Browns traded for Sammie Coates, the Denver Broncos for Isaiah McKenzie, and Kansas City for Jehu Chesson. Meanwhile Buffalo traded for Kelvin Benjamin and Kaelin Clay. There wasn’t a lot there, though other wide receivers could have theoretically been targeted by McBeane.


Buffalo traded down in the first, letting Kansas City select quarterback Patrick Mahomes, while the Bills took Tre’Davious White at the back end of the first round. McBeane actually took the next wide receiver off the board in the form of Zay Jones, passing on Curtis Samuel and JuJu Smith-Schuster before taking Dion Dawkins. Taking Dawkins meant passing on Cooper Kupp, who has looked good with the Rams. It can be argued that very few of the other receivers drafted would have been of much help to Buffalo.


The Bills ended 2017 with Kelvin Benjamin, Andre Holmes, Zay Jones, Jordan Matthews, Brandon Tate, and Deonte Thompson as their receivers. Matthews, Tate, and Thompson all walked at the end of the year, leaving the Bills extremely short-handed at the position. This was clearly a unit that needed to be addressed by McBeane as the Bills’ receivers proved to be less-than-lethal in 2017 with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback.

Free agents

Jarvis Landry was franchised by the Miami Dolphins. Allen Robinson II signed with the Bears and hasn’t been outstanding. Former Bill Sammy Watkins signed a deal with the Chiefs for $16 million per season—more than McBeane was unwilling to pay in 2017. Michael Crabtree signed with the Baltimore Ravens, Marqise Lee with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Rishard Matthews with the New York Jets, Mike Wallace with the Eagles, Jordy Nelson with the Oakland Raiders, Eric Decker (retired) with the New England Patriots, and a lot of other guys with a lot of other teams. As with 2016, there wasn’t an instant upgrade to be had in free agency. The Bills eventually wound up with Terelle Pryor, who didn’t have an auspicious start to his Buffalo career after finding himself available mid-season.


The Eagles traded for Golden Tate (third-round pick), the Houston Texans for Demaryius Thomas (fourth- and seventh-round picks), the Dallas Cowboys for Tavon Austin (sixth-round pick) and Amari Cooper (first-round pick), the Pittsburgh Steelers for Ryan Switzer (fifth-round pick), the Rams for Brandin Cooks (first-round pick), Cleveland for Jarvis Landry (fourth- and seventh-round picks), and the Carolina Panthers for Torrey Smith. Meanwhile, Buffalo traded for Corey Coleman—a really stupid move that cost the team a lot of cap space for absolutely nothing. Buffalo could have gotten Tate for something like a combination of a third- and fifth-round pick or Thomas for a third-rounder. Either would have helped Buffalo’s less-than-stellar quarterbacks. As with 2017, other receivers could have been targeted for trade but those listed here were players who actually were traded.


After trading up for Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills next picked at the end of the third round. They took Harrison Phillips over Keke Coutee and Antonio Callaway. Given the hole created by the Marcell Dareus trade, it’s hard to second-guess them for that pick. McBeane took the next wide receiver you’ve heard of in the sixth round: Ray-Ray McCloud II.


McBeane’s trades for Benjamin and Clay look bad in hindsight. The decision to let Woods walk doesn’t look good either, though the time to sign him would have been before he got to free agency—which would have been Whaley instead of McBeane. Zay Jones seems to have shaken his tendency to drop the ball, so he’s not looking to be a total waste of an early draft pick. Not trading for Golden Tate is perhaps the biggest non-move that McBeane should have made. He’s been productive over his career and plays hard, which is more than can be said for some of Buffalo’s receivers.

Free agency wasn’t as loaded with good receiver options in 2017 or 2018 as it originally seemed, at least not in Buffalo’s salary cap position. Looking ahead to 2019 when the Bills will have a lot of cap space, Golden Tate can actually be considered one of the possible prize free agents. Barring a trade, McBeane will need to look to the draft for high-quality receiving help.