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Contract projections for Bills slot WR Isaiah McKenzie

Could McKenzie be in line for a pay jump?

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills are looking into their slot receiver position, and Isaiah McKenzie is a free agent. Last year, they grabbed him on a one-year deal for the league minimum to return with the rest of the gang. This year, will it cost more to retain McKenzie? Let’s take a look at some comparable contracts.

First, let’s talk about what contract Isaiah McKenzie isn’t going to get. JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers a year ago for one-year, $8 million after putting up 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. So we know McKenzie is well below that threshold.

McKenzie had 20 catches for 178 yards, one touchdown, and 6.8 yards per target in 2021. He added nine rushes for 47 yards and another TD. Those are replacement-level numbers a year after notching five touchdowns and 30 catches.

Comparable contracts

Isaiah McKenzie
Buffalo Bills, 2021
One year, $1.275 million ($350k guaranteed)

McKenzie’s numbers were much better in 2020 and yet he only signed for the league minimum in 2021.

Dede Westbrook
Minnesota Vikings, 2021
One year, $1.275 million ($350k guaranteed)

After an ACL injury ended his 2020 season, Westbrook signed a minimum contract in the 2021 offseason. He played in 15 games but only saw 15 targets. In his second and third seasons, he put up big numbers for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he was still only able to nab the minimum coming off injury a year ago.

DeSean Jackson
Los Angeles Rams, 2021
One year, $4.5 million

Jackson signed with the Rams at age 35 coming off a season in which he caught 14 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown for the Philadelphia Eagles in five games. Those numbers mostly line up with McKenzie for the season, but Jackson averaged 16.9 yards per touch in 2020 compared to McKenzie’s 7.8. Not even a contest. In addition to a short season in 2020, Jackson had a short season in 2019. His previous multiple 1000-yard, nine-touchdown seasons certainly served him well in negotiations.

Contract projection

I just don’t see the market for McKenzie to make medium money after one game of explosiveness. His season-long numbers weren’t great and his 2020 numbers were manufactured with the jet-sweep motion. He’s quick, he’s good with the ball in his hands, he can put pressure on a defense, but I think what he brings to the table isn’t going to ensure a pay day. He was benched on returns down the stretch, too, so he loses that value. In fact, I think it’s pretty likely he ends up on the New York Giants to help out Brian Daboll when they slightly outbid the Bills. We don’t know what new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey wants to do with jet sweeps, and Buffalo has Marquez Stevenson to do that job.

With five accrued seasons, McKenzie doesn’t jump to the next level of veteran minimum contract but the minimum goes up from 2021 to 2022, so I’ll adjust accordingly.

One year, $1,172,500
$350,000 guaranteed

McKenzie gets another league minimum deal. His base salary totals $1.035 million with $212,500 guaranteed plus a $137,500 signing bonus.

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