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Free-agent outside WRs for the Buffalo Bills to consider signing

Should any of these players compete with Gabriel Davis?

The Buffalo Bills’ receiver room is set to see significant changes for the fifth consecutive year, with Emmanuel Sanders (747 offensive snaps) an unrestricted free agent. Third-year pro Gabriel Davis is expected to step into the starting role, but that isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. The Bills could choose to stack talent on talent to keep their passing game dangerous. On the free-agent market, that means they could find a starter or a backup on the outside.

Let’s start right away by ruling out Davante Adams. The star receiver, due for more than $20 million per year, in no way fits with Buffalo’s salary cap. Chris Godwin, primarily a slot receiver, and also expected to hit a massive payday, isn’t in the discussion either. But other receivers are fair game.

Mike Williams

Early injury issues gave him a slow start in his career, but Williams came on strong as one of the league’s best big-play receivers in the last few years. The 6’4” 218-lb WR averaged 58 catches, 967 yards, and 5.3 TDs (and 16.8 yards per catch) in the last three years.

With Williams finishing his first-round rookie deal, the Los Angeles Chargers could choose to franchise tag him. If he makes it to the open market, you’re looking at a salary of $15-18 million per year, but that’s worth it for a player who’s a low-range WR1 with untapped upside.

Allen Robinson

The last potential WR1 (or high range WR2) on the list, Robinson has maybe the worst QB luck in history. Seriously, the lowlights include Christian Hackenberg, Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, and a slew of backups. Despite that, he had 200 catches, 2397 yards, and 13 TDs from 2019 to 2020.

Robinson hit a brick wall in 2021—he had bad quarterbacks, a bad offense, and missed five games with injuries. Aside from 2017, when he landed on injured reserve after a single game, it was the worst year of his career.

That said, he’s still only 29 years old and his talent is undisputed. He was franchise tagged last season, is free from that, and is expected to sign a long-term deal in the $15-20 million per-year range.

Odell Beckham Jr.

I’m not sure that there’s any way you could lure him away from the Los Angeles Rams. After the Cleveland Browns released Beckham from his contract, he signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Rams. That ended up being a perfect marriage; Beckham had a 27/305/5 receiving slash in eight games, then 21/288/2 in four playoff games as the Rams made their way to a Super Bowl victory.

He tore his ACL in the game, so any team who signs Beckham is lucky if he’s available to practice by September, let alone play in games.

Obviously Beckham has talent, and his diva traits are well-known (though maybe overblown because of toxic teams in New York and Cleveland). If healthy, he’s two years removed from a 1000-yard season, but maybe this isn’t the best time to pursue him.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

This is a player whose value is hard to measure. Smith-Schuster, in his first four seasons, averaged 77 catches, 931 yards, and 6.5 touchdowns, and caught 70% of his targets. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018. As his career moved forward, he started taking more snaps in the slot and saw his productivity dip. Re-signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year, $8 million contract (not a typical value for a player with his career production), he had the worst year of his career in 2021. A shoulder injury required surgery, limiting him to only five games, 15 catches, and 129 yards.

Smith-Schuster hasn’t earned any fans off the field for his social-media hobbies. He’s a huge fan of TikTok trends and viral dance routines, and the way he incorporates them into pre-game warmups caused some teams (including the Bills) to get so fired up they’d play harder in the game.

Only 26, Smith-Schuster is still a high-upside receiver, especially if he works back outside. His value is uncertain, but another single-season deal in the neighborhood of $4-7 million could work. But a desperate team like the Detroit Lions or New York Giants might swing for the fences, and that wouldn’t be a surprise.

Will Fuller

Fuller, a glass cannon, is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL... when he’s on the field. Between injuries and suspensions, he’s only appeared in 55 of a possible 97 games in his career. So his stats don’t look like starting receiver numbers. Although his per-game stats, extrapolated out to a 16-game season, would net you 62 catches, 912 yards, and seven TDs.

The one-year, $10.6 million contract he signed with the Miami Dolphins was a complete bust. He started the year on suspension from a 2020 league violation, broke his finger (which required surgery), and only appeared in two games. So his next contract should be a major step backwards in cost. A one-year deal, in the $5-7 million range, might do the trick.

Michael Gallup

Gallup is a 6’1” 200-lb boundary receiver who plays the game with a lot of the same traits as Gabriel Davis. Beginning his career as a rookie backup, he became a valuable starter in his second season, with 66 catches for 1107 yards and six TDs. In 2020, with Dak Prescott injured, Gallup’s production dipped to 59/843/5—still solid WR2 numbers.

2021 was a tough season for Gallup. First was the ascendance of CeeDee Lamb and tight end Dalton Schultz. At the same time, Gallup dealt with injuries, missing eight games, and eventually tore his ACL in the last game of the regular season.

Gallup will be 26 in 2022, still in the prime of his career. When healthy, he’s easily a starting-quality wide receiver. He’ll probably sign a one-year deal, and he might not want to play for the Bills, who have depth in place. But if they did try to work something out, he likely deserves an incentive-laden deal that could pay up to $10 million or more.

Marquez Valdez-Scantling

A 6’4” 207-lb WR with 4.37 speed, Valdez-Scantling was a big-play threat from the moment he entered the league as a fifth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. He surely benefited from Aaron Rodgers’s pinpoint accuracy, but the cannon-armed Josh Allen could hit him for a few of those 70-yard touchdowns, too.

In his four seasons with the Packers, Valdez-Scantling averaged 31 catches, 538 yards, and 3.3 TDs, with 17.5 yards per reception. The tradeoff is that he only caught 49.8% of his targets.

As a 28-year-old WR3 who some teams might want to stretch to a starter, Valdez-Scantling is probably hoping for $6-9 million per year on his next contract.

Keelan Cole

Like Allen Robinson, Cole has suffered through some dreadful quarterbacks in his career, but he’s still been a productive backup receiver in that time. 2020 was probably his best season, when he caught 55 of 88 targets for 642 yards and five TDs. A 6’1” 194-lb possession receiver with a good feel for zone coverage, he could hold his own as the fourth receiver on the field or as a spot starter in the case of injuries.

James Washington

The former Oklahoma State star hasn’t lived up to his second-round draft status in his career, with his best season a 44/735/3 receiving slash in 2019. Now, you could argue that he suffered by catching passes from a toasted Ben Roethlisberger, especially since his calling card was the vertical passing game. At any rate, he’ll be slotted as a backup receiver on his next contract, and shouldn’t cost much more than the $1.4 million he earned in the final year of his rookie deal.

Demarcus Robinson

Another backup-receiver candidate, Robinson has had a few brief, shining moments for the Kansas City Chiefs, but he’s typically their fourth or fifth option on the field. He played more snaps than teammate Byron Pringle in 2021, but Pringle had the better target share and more productivity. Both players played under low-cost one-year contracts in 2021, and both will likely cost under $5 million per year on their next deal.

Sammy Watkins

Oh hey, remember this guy? Watkins is still in the league, turning 29 this year, but lately he’s more of a WR3 or WR4 on his teams. In the last four seasons, he’s appeared in 47 of a possible 65 games, and he’s averaged 39 catches, 500 yards, and 2.3 touchdowns per year. Injuries and his odd career arc mean that Watkins can’t necessarily take over a game like he did as a rookie, but if the Bills want a low-cost receiver who can back up Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, Watkins just finished a one-year, $5 million contract, and his value hasn’t increased since then.

Zay Jones

Remember this guy? Jones had a rough 2019 and 2020, falling out of favor with the Bills, being traded to the Raiders, and not exactly distinguishing himself there. But he turned a corner in 2021, catching 47 of 70 targets for 546 yards and a touchdown. He also had five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in the Las Vegas Raiders’ playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Jones played last season on a one-year, $2.5 million contract extension. He’d be yet another low-cost backup receiver who could play on the outside or in the slot, but like Watkins, you aren’t signing him for his upside.

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