The Buffalo Bills have seemingly been in search of a great tight end for the franchise’s entire history. The team’s all-time leader in receptions at the position, Pete Metzelaars, left the team in 1994, having accumulated 302 catches in his 156 games with the team. While other teams have begun to utilize tight ends that play more like wide receivers, the Bills have been unable to find players that fit the new-age mold for the position.
The team thought it had found a player like that in 2015, signing a tight end from a divisional rival to a big contract. That contract is part of the reason that many people speculate that 2018 will be his final year with the Bills.
In our latest installment of the state of the Bills roster, we look at the tight end position, a group that is set to undergo big changes in 2019.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $9 million cap hit ($4.5 million dead cap if cut)
- Age: 29 (30 on 2/13/19)
- Playing time: 13 games (12 starts), 504 snaps (47.59% of offensive total), 1 ST snaps (.23%)
- Key statistics: 36 targets, 21 catches, 184 yards (8.8 YPC), 1 fumble
Any mention of Clay necessitates a mention of his contract, a five-year, $38 million pact signed in the 2015 off-season. The 2019 season is slated to be the third consecutive year where Clay will carry a $9 million salary cap hit if he is on the Bills’ roster. The reason that it’s an “if” this year is twofold—not only did Clay’s production dip dramatically this year, but it’s also the first year that the Bills can move on without taking on an exorbitant amount of dead cap money. While $4.5 million is no chump change, had the Bills cut Clay prior to the 2018 season, they’d have been on the hook for a $13.5 million cap charge. Clay’s cap hit is the fourth-highest on the Bills next year. He made $250,000 per target this season. It’s time to move on.
- Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; RFA
- Age: 27 (28 on 7/1/19)
- Playing time: 12 games (3 starts), 284 snaps (26.82% of offensive total), 190 ST snaps (43.28%)
- Key statistics: 17 targets, 12 catches, 77 yards (6.4 YPC)
Thomas has been an interesting experiment during his career in Buffalo, fully realizing his transition from quarterback to tight end during this time. While he possesses tremendous athleticism, that athletic ability has not translated to success on the field. He has struggled as a blocker, especially—consistently losing at the point of attack in both run and pass protection. As a restricted free agent, Buffalo could offer him an original-round tender, and since Thomas was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, any team who tried to sign him would have to forfeit a fourth-round pick in order to do so. The problem is that no team would be willing to forfeit that pick, at least based on his actual production, and if that were to happen, I’m not sure that Thomas is worth the projected $2 million tender.
For the record, Spotrac has Thomas as an unrestricted free agent, but the best we can tell based on Thomas’s service time and the league’s RFA rules, he is set to be a restricted free agent next year.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit (0 dead cap if cut)
- Age: 24 (25 on 2/28/19)
- Playing time: 15 games (3 starts), 387 snaps (36.54% of offensive total), 146 ST snaps (33.26%)
- Key statistics: 35 targets, 22 catches, 259 yards (11.8 YPC), 1 TD, 2 fumbles
The second-year pro played in his first career NFL games this year, and he acquitted himself fairly well overall. Croom looked comfortable, though not overpowering, as a blocker, and he showed some good route-running ability and athleticism. As a former collegiate wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, Croom definitely has some mismatch potential moving forward, and he has tremendous overall upside. I expect that he’ll have an even greater role in the offense next year.
The tight-end position is one where plenty of change should probably occur this year, and general manager Brandon Beane may have confirmed as much by saying, well, nothing. In his end-of-the-year press conference, Beane was asked about both LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay being on the roster in 2019, and while Beane discussed McCoy at length in his answer, he did not so much as mention Clay’s name. Add to that a late-season healthy scratch for Clay, and most signs point to the 2018 season being his last with Buffalo.
Clay is a talented player, but he has played under the weight of his big contract in Buffalo, and after having a season where he was not used much at all, it does not seem wise to keep him on the roster moving forward. The same goes for Logan Thomas, whose physical attributes far exceed his actual ability at the tight end position. That leaves the Bills with only Croom, who appears to be the leader at the position as we head into the offseason.
The Bills will need to add a player or two here, whether via the draft or free agency. The list of free agents isn’t especially appealing, and it’s always difficult for rookie tight ends to come on and make an immediate impact. Buffalo will need to search far and wide for effective additions at the position.