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Buffalo Bills free-agent target profile: wide receiver John Brown

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The Bills tried to dance with Brown last offseason, and even though he spurned them, a follow-up should be in order

Heading into the 2018 NFL offseason, the Buffalo Bills knew they needed help at the wide receiver position. They wanted to add someone who could stretch the field vertically, as they already had larger possession receivers on the roster like Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes. The team pursued John Brown, a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals who ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

In the 2019 NFL offseason, the Buffalo Bills know that they need help at the wide receiver position. They have a pair of young players in Zay Jones and Robert Foster who showed promise at times, but they need a veteran presence who can consistently come open for young quarterback Josh Allen. The team should once again pursue John Brown to fill that role.

The Bills offered Brown a longer contract than the one-year deal he ultimately signed. Buffalo’s offer to Brown reportedly was three years in length, but Brown wanted a one-year deal to prove that he was healthy after missing plenty of time in 2017 due to injury. While he has said he would like to return to Baltimore, he has also said that he will not sign a one-year contract again, as he prefers to sign a longer-term deal this time around.

What can Brown do for the Bills? Let’s have a look.

Athleticism

Brown is a flyer, possessing excellent speed and route-running ability on the outside. Though he is smaller in stature, standing only 5’11” and weighing in at 179 lbs, he is tough enough to win contested catches in traffic. Putting him on the outside along with Robert Foster would give Josh Allen two legitimate deep threats, and it would open holes underneath for someone like Zay Jones, who operates best from the slot. When Baltimore had Joe Flacco at quarterback last year, Brown caught 34 passes for 587 yards and four touchdowns; after the switch to a run-oriented look with Lamar Jackson, Brown only caught ten passes for 128 yards and one touchdown, a line that includes Baltimore’s loss in the playoffs. Combining Brown’s athletic ability with Allen’s propensity for taking deep shots could pay huge dividends for both players.

They’ve Already Done Their Homework!

Buffalo was pretty far along in the process to sign Brown last year, and he had a strong 2018 campaign that was completely free from injury. Brown made 42 catches in the regular season for 715 yards and five touchdowns. That was his best output since 2015, a year in which he caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. The 2018 represented a high-water mark in games started for Brown, as he started 15 of the team’s 16 games, and he played in all 16 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2014. Buffalo knows what they’d be signing in Brown, and they know that he fits what they want to do offensively. It would just be a matter of coming to terms.

Overrated?

Brown may still be living on his reputation from his first two years as a Cardinal, as the first two years of his career (31 games, 113 catches, 1,699 yards, 12 touchdowns) were more productive than his last three (41 games, 102 catches, 1,531 yards, 10 touchdowns). Much of his statistical decline last season is due to the quarterback switch in Baltimore, but it’s safe to wonder why Brown wasn’t used more often in the parts of Lamar Jackson’s game where the rookie excelled if Brown truly is a top-end receiver. Teams may have doubts about paying Brown top-end receiver money when his career production has been far from top-end receiver production.

What Will He Cost?

The Bills would be wise to approach Brown with a contract similar to the one they offered him last year. A three-year deal at an average value of $5 million to $7 million seems reasonable. For comparison, an average yearly value of $7 million would put Brown in between Jordy Nelson ($7.1 million) and Robert Woods ($6.8 million). The Bills could use a player with Brown’s skill set, and Brown is searching for a long-term deal in a place where he’ll be a big part of the offense. Thinking about a Buffalo offense where Josh Allen has multiple burners on the outside is almost too good to be true, and John Brown could be one more piece to the puzzle in Allen’s development.