The Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Dez Bryant on Friday, and speculation immediately followed via ESPN that the Buffalo Bills could be a good landing spot for the free agent. While Bryant has publicly stated his desire to play for a team in the NFC East, which would allow him to play against his former team twice a year, this doesn’t mean that the league’s other 28 teams should give up hope of signing Bryant.
Yesterday, our own Tristan Garnett wrote that Buffalo should resist the temptation to sign the veteran wideout. With all due respect to my colleague, I disagree with that position entirely. The Bills would be wise to at least kick the tires on Bryant for a multitude of reasons.
Bryant instantly becomes Buffalo’s best wide receiver
Buffalo’s current receiver depth chart is among the worst in the NFL. The group is led by a solid option in Kelvin Benjamin, but behind him lies more question marks than should appear on an NFL roster. The Bills’ current number-two option is Zay Jones, who struggled as a rookie and was arrested after a bizarre incident at his brother’s apartment in March. While he likely won’t face discipline from the league after charges were dropped, the incident was alarming nonetheless.
After Benjamin and Jones, the Bills have a litany of spare parts and questions. Andre Holmes is a special teams player whose one positive receiving trait—his height—has not translated into sustained success at the NFL level. 2017 training camp darling Rod Streater is a journeyman who caught 60 of his 127 NFL passes back in 2013. Kaelin Clay was acquired by the Bills via trade, then released, and then re-acquired in free agency. He has 6 NFL catches to his name. After that, Buffalo has a trio of players (Quan Bray, Malachi Dupre, and Brandon Reilly) who have never suited up in a meaningful NFL game.
Bryant’s worst NFL season came in 2015, when he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 9 games. Had he logged those numbers last year in Buffalo, he would have placed first in receptions among wide receivers (besting Jones and Deonte Thompson, who tied for the team lead with 27), second in receiving yards (to Thompson’s 430), and first in receiving touchdowns (tying Holmes with 3). Jones played in 15 games, Holmes played in 14 games, and Thompson played in 11 for Buffalo. Clearly, this receiver group needs talent, and Bryant has it.
A one-year deal mitigates risk and provides incentive for the player
Much has been made about Bryant’s sideline antics over the course of his NFL career. It’s true that Bryant gives the appearance of a ‘diva’ at best, and of a malcontent at worst. However, signing the 29-year old to a one-year contract provides both parties with motivation to perform and protection against poor decisions.
If Bryant is unable to latch on with a team in the NFC East, he may be left scouring the league for interested teams willing to take a chance with a volatile player. This scenario is actually quite likely, given the New York Giants current roster (and current dealings with a headache at wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.) and the Philadelphia Eagles’ depth chart (headed by Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, and Nelson Agholor). This leaves the Washington Redskins, who currently have the least amount of money tied into wide receiver contracts for 2018, according to Spotrac, as the only other NFC East team that makes sense for Bryant.
If Buffalo were to offer Bryant a one-year deal full of incentives, the contract could work quite well for both parties. The Bills have an opportunity to exact the most out of a talented player for one season, and Bryant has the chance to show the league that he has a lot left in the tank as he hits unrestricted free agency at 30 years old. Which leads me to...
How can Buffalo’s unidentified rookie quarterback succeed without weapons at his disposal?
Yes, Bryant will demand the ball. Yes, Bryant will drop some passes (he dropped 7 last year). Surrounding a young quarterback with legitimate NFL weapons, however, is a must if that young quarterback is going to succeed. Look no further than the Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams for proof. Each team selected a rookie quarterback early in the 2016 NFL Draft; the Rams took Jared Goff first overall, while the Eagles traded up to select Carson Wentz second.
In 2016, Goff’s best receivers were Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin; he completed 54.6% of his passes for 1,089 yards with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In 2017, the Rams acquired Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods via free agency, and they drafted Cooper Kupp. Goff completed 62.1% of his passes for 3,804 yards with 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also had a new offensive mastermind in head coach Sean McVay.
In 2016, Wentz threw to Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, and Dorial Green-Beckham; he completed 62.4% of his passes for 3,782 yards with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Before tearing his ACL in December of 2017, Wentz had completed 60.4% of his passes for 3,296 yards with 33 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. His top wide receivers were Jeffrey, Agholor, and Torrey Smith, with tight end Zach Ertz serving as his number one option.
Expecting a rookie quarterback to come into the league and put mediocre personnel on his back is a recipe for disaster. If the Bills are serious about rebuilding the offense, they need to provide whomever their young signal caller will be with the right weapons to succeed.
As the roster is currently constructed, it’s likely that anyone playing the Bills will continue to stack the box with eight defenders, looking to take running back LeSean McCoy out of the offense as soon as possible. Adding Bryant would force teams to choose whether to double-team him or Benjamin on the outside, and it would allow Jones to operate from the slot, where he did most of his damage during his excellent collegiate career.
Of course, all of this is hypothetical, given that the Bills and Bryant would have to at least express mutual interest in each other even if the Bills were to explore the possibility of adding the three-time Pro Bowl player. It’s possible, even likely, that the Bills could offer the same money (or even more) as a team that plays the Cowboys and Bryant would reject the offer in order to stick it to his former employer.
However, not exploring the possibility of adding a supremely talented player at a clear position of need is negligent. The Bills would be wise to look into making what would be an instant upgrade to their offense.