Coming into the 2021 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills had a lot of questions at the tight end position. A pair of third-year players had failed to show definitively that they could be consistent, trustworthy weapons at the position, which led fans to hope for outside acquisitions to add firepower for quarterback Josh Allen.
When those acquisitions never came to fruition, one of Buffalo’s tight ends took that big leap from “guy who shows flashes of ability” to “guy who can cause damage for opposing teams.” Entering the final year of his contract, what’s next for Dawson Knox, especially now that a new tight end is in the mix?
In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster heading into training camp, we profile the tight end group.
Contract status: Entering final year of four-year rookie contract ($2,745,545 cap hit; $205,545 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 25 (26 on 11/14/2022)
2021 Playing time: 15 games (14 starts), 917 offensive snaps (76.54% of team total), 18 special teams snaps (4.15% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 71 targets, 49 receptions, 587 yards, 9 touchdowns
Entering the 2021 season, Dawson Knox had played in 27 regular-season games. He had 52 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns in those games. Expectations weren’t exactly high for Knox, but for most, it certainly seemed that it was the time to show the Bills’ brass that they had made the right move by keeping Knox atop the depth chart at the position. He didn’t disappoint, as he essentially equaled his career production in a little over half the time. Along the way, he set a franchise record for touchdown receptions by a tight end, breaking a record shared by Scott Chandler, Jay Riemersma, and Pete Metzelaars. He shared the lead in the league for touchdown receptions by a tight end in 2021, tying Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, and Hunter Henry for the honor. Knox saw the fourth-most targets on the team, with only Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Emmanuel Sanders seeing more looks. It was the breakout year that everyone hoped for, and it gives hope that the team has a long-term solution at a long-ignored position.
Contract status: Signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract this offseason ($3.2 million guaranteed at signing)
Age: 27 (Turns 28 on 11/19/2022)
2021 Playing time: 365 offensive snaps (30.85%) and 13 special teams snaps (2.71%) for Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key 2021 statistics: 14 catches, 135 yards, 1 touchdown for Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers liked Howard enough to pick up his fifth-year option after three good seasons in Tampa Bay. He caught 34 balls for 565 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, his second in the NFL. But then the Bucs signed Tom Brady, who brought along his buddy and future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, who significantly dwindled Howard’s playing time. Howard signed in Buffalo on a prove-it deal to play with Josh Allen and try and get a bigger contract a year from now. His signing is the reason most people think the Bills may move to more two-TE sets under new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. A 1-2 punch of Knox and Howard could be a scary proposition if dialed in correctly.
Contract status: Entering final year of four-year rookie contract ($989,046 cap hit; $24,046 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 27 on 7/1/2022
2021 Playing time: 13 games (3 starts), 267 offensive snaps (22.29% of team total), 1 special teams snap (.23% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 12 targets, 9 receptions, 44 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble
Sweeney’s career has been marred by injury. He’s already missed an entire season on injured reserve (due to a combination of a foot injury and myocarditis following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis). By the end of 2021, he was a healthy scratch, as the Bills chose to go wide receiver-heavy on offense and keep just one tight end on the game-day roster. It seems unlikely Sweeney will be able to play his way into the lineup this year, but with a new play caller potentially wanting more two-TE sets, he’ll have a shot.
Contract status: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/24/2022 ($705,000 cap hit; $0 dead cap)
Age: Turned 23 on 1/21/2023
2021 Playing time: N/A
Key 2021 statistics: N/A
Morris spent the year on Buffalo’s practice squad. He wasn’t called up when the team needed bodies at the position, as the Bills chose to elevate Kahale Warring for one game and three offensive snaps in Week 8.
Contract status: Signed three-year UDFA contract this offseason ($711,666 cap hit in 2022)
Age: 21 (Turns 22 on 12/20/2022)
2021 Playing time: 12 games for Texas A&M
Key 2021 statistics: 40 catches, 515 yards, 4 touchdowns for Texas A&M
Wydermyer entered the 2022 NFL Draft early but wasn’t picked. He was a John Mackey Award finalist twice during his college career and is an impressive prospect at the position. I think he is the UDFA most likely to make the final 53-man roster if you’re looking for one to root for. If they keep three, he could pass Tommy Sweeney this offseason.
The Bills saw great production from the tight end position in 2021 and still added two legitimate roster contenders to the group this offseason. It’s fueled speculation of a change in offensive approach, but only one tight end is signed beyond 2022.
Not only are the players fighting for playing time and roster spots, they are fighting for new contracts. That massive individual competition coupled with the potential game-plan changes are going to make this position group incredibly interesting to watch during training camp.