The Buffalo Bills under head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have shown a “type” that they like at tight end. They want an athletic receiver-type to top the depth chart, but they really like to have a guy who can step in and block backing that player up. For the better part of the duo’s time in Orchard Park, that “blocking specialist” has been the same player.
It certainly helps that the tight end the Bills used as their blocking specialist is among the best in the NFL at that particular trait. What happens, though, when that trait is being phased out of the game at the position? If the offense transitions to more wide-open looks, how does the offensive coordinator incorporate the clearly inferior athlete at a prime pass-catching position?
The answers to those questions lead us to the reason why Lee Smith comes in at number seven on our list of the worst salary cap values for the 2020 Buffalo Bills.
TE Lee Smith
2020 Salary Cap Figure: $3.25 million (1.47 percent of Buffalo’s overall salary cap)
2020 Stats: 10 games, six targets, four catches, 35 yards, two touchdowns
Given Smith’s role, stats obviously don’t tell the story of his season. He had a much better year than he did in 2019, when the usually reliable veteran suddenly became a penalty magnet. In 2019, Smith was called for nine penalties in the regular season, but in 2020, Smith wasn’t flagged once. His snap share, however, dropped precipitously, as he went from appearing on 30 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps in 2019 to just 16 percent last season. With a limited role in the offense, and little production when he did play, Smith might seem like a nit-pick choice for this list, but only one person at his positional group—Tyler Kroft—was compensated better. We’ll talk about him later in this series. Buffalo traded Smith to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason for a conditional draft choice in 2022, so general manager Brandon Beane was at least able to recoup some value for the veteran tight end. However, that doesn’t move me off my stance that Smith was among the worst salary cap values of 2020 for our Bills.