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Free-agent slot receivers the Buffalo Bills could sign

If the Bills want a change-up, they have a few options

For the last few seasons, Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie have given the Buffalo Bills’ offense two different and effective weapons who typically line up in the slot. This offseason, though, the Bills have new coaches, new contract situations, and some tough choices to make. Do they keep Beasley, who’s getting up in years, or release him for cap savings? Do they bring back McKenzie, who’s shown brief glimpses of exciting play sandwiched by time as an afterthought in the offense? Buffalo also brought in Emmanuel Sanders in 2021, another veteran familiar with the slot. His one-year deal has expired.

If the Bills want to revamp the way they use their slot receivers, this is a real opportunity for them to do so. Don’t expect them to be in the market for Chris Godwin, who should make $15-20 million per year even on a torn ACL. But there are still some veterans available (including many younger options) who could contribute in their own way. See any you like?

Braxton Berrios

“A former sixth-round pick who was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets” isn’t exactly a selling point for a free agent, but give Berrios the benefit of the doubt. As a returner, he’s a first-team All-Pro, leading the league in kick return average (and ranking second in punt return average for players who returned at least 15 punts). As a receiver, his production is more modest, but still decent. 2021 was his best year, with 46 catches for 431 yards and two touchdowns, plus seven carries for 40 yards and two more TDs.

The 5’9” 190-lb Berrios isn’t ready to be an every-down slot receiver the way the Bills have relied on Cole Beasley to this point. But he could be an upgrade over Isaiah McKenzie’s role, and at 26 years old, he’s still young enough to grow into a starter.

Berrios is projected for a four-year, $24-million contract by Spotrac, which seems like a wild overestimation for an elite returner with low receiving production in his career. The roughly $2.5 million per year estimated by OverTheCap is a better ballpark number for Berrios.

Russell Gage

Picked by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, Gage has become a more and more important part of the Falcons’ offense as the years go on. The 6’0” 184-lb receiver was even more critical for Atlanta when top receiver Calvin Ridley skipped a portion of the 2021 season for personal reasons.

In the last two years, Gage has 138 receptions for 1,556 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are solid number-two receiver numbers. He turns 26 this year. Coming off his rookie contract, which paid him a performance-boosted $2 million in 2021, he’s due for a raise into the $5-6-million-per-year range, at least. He reportedly wants to be back in Atlanta, though.

Jamison Crowder

The best receiver on one of the worst passing offenses of the last three years, Crowder did manage to live up to the three-year, $28-million contract he signed with the New York Jets. The slot receiver’s best season was 2019, when he caught 78 passes for 833 yards and six touchdowns. By 2021, he was eclipsed in the offense in favor of rookie Elijah Moore and other options like Corey Davis. It didn’t help that he suffered a calf injury that cost him multiple games.

Still only 28, Crowder should be able to recoup his value with better teammates and coaching around him. He’s had four seasons of at least 700 receiving yards in his career. He’ll probably end up with a pay cut this time around, and might be interested in a short-term deal. Something like a one-year, $5- or $6-million contract makes sense.

Christian Kirk

Kirk, one of the youngest free agents available, only just turned 25 years old. He just had the best year of his career, receiving a more prominent role in the Arizona Cardinals’ offense with DeAndre Hopkins sidelined with injuries. He had 77 catches for 982 yards and five touchdowns, as a result. Kirk’s also never really had a down year, with at least 590 yards in every season since entering the league.

The former second-round pick just wrapped up his rookie contract. He has been roughly as productive in his early career as Corey Davis, who signed a three-year, $37-million contract last season. So look for Kirk to seek $11-12 million per year on his next deal.

Zach Pascal

In 2019 and 2020, Pascal looked to be one of the league’s ascending slot receivers. The 6’2” 214-lb receiver averaged 43 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns in those two seasons. It was an efficient clip of 8.6 yards per target, as well. The 2021 season was a major disappointment, then, as Pascal didn’t mesh well with new quarterback Carson Wentz. He saw his efficiency plummet to 5.6 yards per target, with the lowest catch rate of his career. Overall, he caught 38 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns.

The former UDFA, who was tendered a $3.3-million contract last offseason, will be unrestricted in free agency this year. With his history of production, he should earn a mid-sized contract, but not likely something in the range of $10 million per year.

D.J. Chark

Chark is one of the more high-risk, high-reward talents set to enter free agency in 2022. A 6’4” 198-lb receiver who ran a 4.34 at the Combine, he was a Pro Bowl selection in 2019 when he stacked up 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight TDs. His 2020 season was also solid, in light of QBs Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon, and Jake Luton splitting time on the offense. But he broke his ankle four games into the 2021 season, before he could build any real momentum.

Chark just finished his rookie deal, signed as a former second-round pick. He’s probably worth more than the $2 million he was set to make in 2021, but how much more is up to NFL teams. Maybe he takes a one-year, $3- or $4-million contract to bet on himself for a raise. Maybe he looks for a two- or three-year deal, worth less per year, for the financial security. Maybe a team sees “former Pro Bowl player, 25 years old” and throws $35 million at him. It’s hard to say.

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