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Bills masked their WR intentions with pair of free-agent signings

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It’s without question; the Buffalo Bills needed to amp up their receiving core this offseason. With recent missteps at the wide receiver position in Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin, the Bills looked to make a splash in free agency to give quarterback Josh Allen offensive weapons. With two significant free-agent signings and the 2019 NFL Draft less than a month away, there are now more questions than answers.

After signing former Baltimore Ravens speedster John Brown to a three-year, $27 million deal and former Dallas Cowboys slot man Cole Beasley to a four-year, $29 million deal, the Bills have acquired a solid crew of wideouts. Among those signees, the roster includes receivers Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Ray-Ray McCloud III, and Victor Bolden Jr. Exactly where these players will line up on the line of scrimmage this upcoming season is a mystery.

Jones led the Bills last season in catches (56), targets (102), receiving yards (652), and receiving touchdowns (7). Coming into the offseason, Jones appeared to be Buffalo’s undisputed number-one wide receiver—at least in the minds of Bills Mafia.

“I’m not one that subscribes to a ‘number-one receiver,’” said Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Bean at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. “We’re just looking for good football players, good receivers that can make plays and that Josh can count on when he throws them the ball.”

Brown has the play style to fit perfectly next to Jones, who has struggled to make big plays in his professional career. Brown’s skills as a deep threat helped him average 17.0 yards per catch in 2018, just behind Mike Evans, Josh Gordon, and DeSean Jackson. Someone else who averaged more yards per catch in 2018 is Brown’s new teammate Robert Foster.

Foster’s 20.0 yards per reception helped the undrafted wideout move into the second receiver role last season. His biggest moment for Buffalo was a memorable 75-yard touchdown haul from an under-pressure Allen against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the addition of Brown, Foster’s role now seems clouded. The two are a mirror image of one another: deep threats with quick speed and the ability to make a big play. With Brown’s payroll, it is expected he will start over Foster who will likely move to a replacement option. Still early in his career, Foster could possibly develop into a slot receiver, but even that role is now taken.

“When you turn on the film for Cole [Beasley], you see a guy that is quick. Quicker than fast, gets off the line and he does a great job with his routes of not selling them,” said Beane when asked about Beasley. “I would say he’s a very dependable slot, a proven pro and he’s a veteran.”

Beane also called Beasley a “quarterback’s best friend” based on his ability to run timed routes to perfection. His experience and track record in Dallas as an underneath receiver indicate he’ll be Buffalo’s main slot receiver this fall, again leaving Foster’s role and time on the field in question.

Jones could also move to the slot in some scenarios with Brown and Foster on the outside for deep pass plays. With the current roster, any combination of personnel could create a feasible lineup for Allen in the pocket.

To land both free agent receivers, Beane had to use some clandestine moves. His staff was negotiating with both players’ agents at the same time but in different rooms down the hall from each other so they wouldn’t know about the other one, he told The Bills Beat podcast. The will play different roles in the offense, but the more, the merrier.