As the Buffalo Bills head into the offseason, they are looking at places where they could save money or improve over incumbents at several positions. We continue our look delving into the tight end position and starter Charles Clay.
Clay’s tenure in Buffalo has been marked with a few concerns that all revolve around consistency. Playing in 41 of 49 possible games (starting all games played), Clay hasn’t precisely missed a ton of time. But it’s enough to notice. Additionally, lingering knee issues put him on limited or “rest day” lists often enough that his name might be mistaken for part of the letterhead. This has led to accusations that he hasn’t built sufficient rapport with his team and QB to realize his potential.
The low-volume passing offense makes it hard to hold Charles Clay accountable using volume stats. If you’re interested, he had 558 yards on 49 catches which isn’t awful, but also not the numbers of a star player. His 11.4 yards per reception can be more fairly assessed across the league and is definitely respectable beating out some big names like Jarvis Landry and Jimmy Graham. His 66% catch rate is nothing to write home about, but I’m sure there’s a “quality of QB” argument to be had here.
Clay’s injury concerns are valid. While he’s managed to tough it out and play the majority of games in a Bills uniform, the decreased practice time could be a contributing factor in his inconsistency.
Buffalo may not have a ton of salary cap space, but whether Clay remains on the roster or not, his cap hit is incredibly likely to stay the same. His contract was renegotiated a year after he initially signed and his $9 million cap hit for 2018 is equal to his $9 million dead cap hit.
Releasing Clay straight-up would create a hole without providing any cap relief. If they designate him as a post-June 1 cut, they could spread $4.5 million of that cap hit into the 2019 cap year instead.
2018 cap hit: $9 million
Salary due: $4.5 million
Dead money: $9 million
Cap savings if released: $0 ($4.5 million post-June 1)
With Clay sidelined for three and a half games in 2017, Nick O’Leary had the opportunity to show what he can do. In his three starts he was targeted 10 times, catching 7 passes for 114 yards. That’s nearly the same yards per game average (38.2) that Clay averaged on the season (40.9). Add in his very good blocking skill set and he has shown he could be a fill-in replacement, at least.
Throughout the 2017 season, O’Leary actually outgained Clay in yards per target, with a 10.06 to 7.54 average, and in yards per reception where he won 14.64 to 11.39. Both tight ends had two touchdowns.
With two one-dimensional tight ends behind him in Khari Lee (blocking) and Logan Thomas (receiving), O’Leary is the only tight end that could step into the starting role. The combination of depth and versatility that both Clay & O’Leary offer together is too good for the Bills to move on from in 2018, but if they pulled the trigger, they could do worse than O’Leary as the replacement.
Jimmy Graham, 31, Seattle Seahawks
Just a few years ago, Graham was legitimately challenging Rob Gronkowski for the title of best TE in the league. While his numbers haven’t been as good with the Seahawks the last few years as they were with the New Orleans Saints, they’re still pretty darn good.
Ed Dickson, 30, Carolina Panthers
Dickson hasn’t been much of a touchdown threat in his career but he’s nonetheless a dependable option, who’s has started a lot of games (85) and has been productive on two teams (Ravens and Panthers).
Tyler Eifert, 27, Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert, a former first-round pick, has had success in the league but has missed an alarming 41 out of 80 games over the course of his five-year career, including 14 this past season.
Richard Rodgers, 26, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers is an off-the-radar option. He’s fallen off the map the last couple of years, but back in 2015, Rodgers was the team’s starter and caught eight touchdowns.
Hayden Hurst and Dallas Goedart are both athletic receiving tight ends in the mold of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Ertz. Mark Andrews is more in the mold of the Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Witten in that he works the middle of the field by boxing out defenders and catching almost everything thrown in his general direction. All three prospects will find themselves draft in the first or second round of the draft.
Durham Smyth and Ian Thomas may be the most complete tight ends in the draft, while Adam Breneman and Mike Gesicki are sneaky athletic and flash very soft hands. Troy Fumagalli may not test well at the combine, but he has the frame at 6’6”, 248 pounds to improve as a blocker.
These guys lack the frames to be full-time no. 1 tight ends, but have shown they can be productive in the past. Chris Herndon is essentially a big wide receiver playing tight end. His future in the NFL may be as an H-back, Charles Clay-type. Ryan Izzo is a more athletic version of Nick O’Leary, while Tyler Conklin is well-rounded but doesn’t offer a high ceiling. Cam Serigne flashes some decent hands, but I don’t expect the combine to be very kind to him. Look for these prospects to be Day 3 picks.
With all the information now at your disposal, it’s time to make up your mind. You’re the brain trust at One Bills Drive. Which option is the best call? Discuss in the comments section, too.
What should the Bills do at tight end this offseason?
This poll is closed
Keep Clay and O’Leary as a 1-2 punch
Release Clay, draft a replacement to be TE1
Release Clay, sign a free agent to be TE1
Release Clay & roll with O’Leary as the top guy