The Buffalo Bills made what they thought was a big splash in free agency when the team signed tight end Charles Clay to a five-year, $38 million contract with $24.5 million guaranteed during the 2015 off-season.
The results, especially during the 2018 season, have been underwhelming. In four seasons in Western New York, Clay has caught 178 passes for 1,822 yards with nine touchdowns, numbers that mirror his four years with the Miami Dolphins (161 receptions for 1,809 yards with 14 touchdowns).
Last year, Clay regressed big-time, catching 21 passes (on only 36 targets) for 184 yards and no touchdowns—the first season where Clay was held without a touchdown catch. It was his lowest catch output since 2012, his second year in the league, and it represented a career-low in receiving yards. Clay did miss three games due to injury and has missed ten games over the last four years in Buffalo. Prior to the 2018 season, Clay had been targeted at least 70 times in each of the last five seasons.
With a base salary of $4.5 million and a cap hit of $9 million, the Bills are paying a lot of money for a player who underachieved in 2018, but the Bills could move on from Clay’s contract and be on the hook for only $4.5 million. So, could the Bills move on from Clay before the 2019 season?
Internally, there are two other tight ends under team control heading into the 2019 season: Jason Croom and Logan Thomas.
Croom actually led Buffalo’s tight ends in receptions (22), yards (259), and touchdowns (one) last year, appearing in 15 games (three starts). Croom, 24, was more than serviceable in the blocking game, and he was more than capable in his route-running. Croom, who was a wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, was a pre-season breakout candidate last year, and should have an even bigger role in Brian Daboll’s offense in 2019—especially with how Croom (6-foot-5) can present match-up problems to the opposition. Croom would make a logical replacement for Clay if the Bills decide to part ways with the veteran.
Thomas, 27, caught 12 passes (17 targets) for 77 yards in 12 games (three starts). The former collegiate quarterback at Virginia Tech has oozed potential, but that potential has yet to translate onto the field as Thomas has struggled in the blocking sector. A restricted free agent, Thomas appears unlikely to head into the season as the favorite to win the starting tight-end job.
While Clay is the more established tight end, he also costs more than his productivity merits. With Josh Allen entering his second year, he will need all of the offensive weapons he can get, and at this stage of their careers, Croom appears to be the best internal bet to start at tight end in 2019. For a Bills team that needs to get more out of their tight ends, it would make sense for the Bills to release Clay and give Croom a chance to show what he can bring to the offense.