They don’t want to lose their fastball. That was part of Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott’s explanation for the signing of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders last offseason. The Bills know where their bread is buttered and it’s in the pass game throwing the ball to wide receivers. The team was surely hopeful that Gabriel Davis would be prepared for a larger role in 2021 (and his final game of the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs rewarded that thinking), but the team’s brass didn’t want to put all their eggs in that basket knowing how important wide receiver depth is to the success of franchise quarterback Josh Allen.
This offseason, the slot-receiver role takes center stage for the Bills’ wide receiver corps. Cole Beasley is a year older with a contract that could save Buffalo over $6 million in cap space if cut, Isaiah McKenzie is a free agent, and the team is likely to remain a heavy 11-personnel team. So what should the Bills do at that position before the 2022 regular season kicks off?
Let Isaiah McKenzie walk (if the contract on the open market is what I think it might be)
Isaiah McKenzie can be a dynamic player with the ball in his hands and his presence down the stretch this past season in the Bills’ offense was important as it added variance to the run game and dynamism in the pass game. If McKenzie could be relied upon as a returner in addition to his sparkplug status on offense, this would be a much easier decision. But absent additional value on special teams, Buffalo shouldn’t match the contract that I think McKenzie might get on the open market, which could approach the Kendrick Bourne/Jamal Agnew numbers of $4.5-$5 million per season.
Restructure Cole Beasley
General manager Brandon Beane has said openly that he expects Cole Beasley to be back, but it doesn’t mean he has to be back at exactly his current salary figure. The Bills have shown a penchant for guaranteeing a lower salary figure to players in restructures, and a $4 million fully guaranteed salary could save the Bills a couple million in cap space while retaining an important part of the offense that helps Josh Allen defeat zone coverage.
Draft Calvin Austin III
The Bills land themselves a sparkplug to replace McKenzie in this hypothetical situation. Austin is a complete receiver who lacks dynamic size (5’7” and 173 lbs) but brings dynamic change of direction and route separation. He has some return experience as well and can be developed there as he eases his way into the offense with more gimmicky play calls. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and said he’s had “great talks” with the Buffalo Bills per Ryan Talbot of NYUP.com. Brandon Beane jokingly told the media recently that if they find another Tyreek Hill, to let him know. Austin is not Tyreek Hill, but the dynamism that can likely be had on day two of the NFL Draft is tempting.
- All-22 Review: Cole Beasley’s 2021 season
- All-22 Review: Isaiah McKenzie’s 2021 season
- Salary cap consequences of releasing Cole Beasley
- Contract projection for Isaiah McKenzie
- In-house replacement options for McKenzie/Beasley
- Free agents available at slot receiver
- NFL Draft options at slot receiver
- Opinion: Bills should use multiple tools to improve slot WR position this offseason