The Buffalo Bills are in a unique situation this off-season. They have plenty of salary-cap space, with at last $80 million in funds to spend on improving the team. They can increase that number by releasing some highly priced veterans who have under-performed over the years. Charles Clay, their soon-to-be-30-year-old tight end, is one such player.
The Bills can save $4.5 million by cutting ties with Clay, who signed with Buffalo prior to the 2015 season. Thanks to that contract, a five-year pact worth $38 million, many fans have viewed Clay’s time with the team as a failure. While calling it that might be a bit of a stretch, it is clear that he has not been worth the money spent.
Even with that said, Clay has been one of the more productive tight ends in franchise history. He is currently 18th in franchise history in receptions, hauling in 178 passes over his four seasons with the team. That total is fourth among all Bills tight ends, trailing only Pete Metzelaars, Jay Riemersma, and Scott Chandler.
Could the Bills try to pick up another tight end in the free-agent market to replace Clay? If so, the market is full of talented players, but they all come with some sort of catch, no pun intended. If the Bills are willing to eat the $4.5 million in dead cap in order to save the same amount by cutting Clay, they will need to find a replacement. If they choose to go for a free agent, here are some of the top targets the team could look to acquire.
This will be the hot name, as the veteran is coming off the best year of his career last season. Playing for the 4-12 Oakland Raiders, Cook led the team in targets (101), receptions (68), receiving yards (896), and receiving touchdowns (6). Zay Jones had one more target and one more touchdown than Cook did, but other than that, no player on Buffalo’s roster was close to Cook in any receiving category. The problem isn’t that Cook had a great year, however. The problem is that Cook had his best season in a walk year where he turned 32. He will probably command a huge contract on the open market, one that will almost certainly be similar to Clay’s in terms of return-on-investment. Excluding 2018, Cook’s average season over his NFL career included totals of 43 catches, 550 yards, and two touchdowns—numbers that are very similar to Clay’s averages (53/540/3) during his time with Buffalo. Even with Cook’s career year added in, his career average “slash line” is 46/587/3. Add in the fact that Spotrac speculates that Cook’s value is $7.1 million per annum on the open market, and it’s a hard pass for me.
The first of two Cincinnati Bengals to discuss, Uzomah stepped up in place of a pair of injured Tylers this season, breaking through for a career year. He caught 43 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns; coming into the season, he had totaled only 36 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons. The former fifth-round draft choice picked a good time to post a career-high stat line, although he was not highly regarded by analytics outlet Pro Football Focus. They graded Uzomah at a 57.4, the 50th-ranked tight end in the league in 2018. He is only 26, so his best years are probably in front of him; however, it would take a leap of faith to sign him and expect production that even equals Clay’s averages.
Another young player from the AFC North, this Pittsburgh Steelers bruiser was drafted three picks after Uzomah in 2015. He has managed a solid career in the Steel City, averaging 34 catches for 340 yards and three touchdowns per year over his career, He is a solid blocker with a big frame at 6’7” and 261 pounds. PFF graded James a 66.4, 30th among all tight ends last season. While he certainly has room to improve, especially as it relates to consistency, leaving a passing attack dominated by Antonio Brown could benefit him overall. Buffalo would benefit from having a gargantuan extra blocker with solid hands on the roster.
Feeling lucky? Roll the dice on Eifert, easily the most gifted of all the available tight ends, but he is also the least likely to stay healthy. The former first-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2013 has only played in 43 games over his six-year career, as he has been sidelined by a stinger, an elbow dislocation, another stinger, an ankle injury (suffered in the Pro Bowl, no less), back surgery, a knee cyst, and a broken ankle. Yikes. A one-year deal loaded with incentives could make sense, but Eifert may be too damaged at this point to be worth considering.
The Baltimore Ravens used a second-round pick on Williams in 2015, and he has largely been a disappointment over his career. Williams caught 32 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown as a rookie, but he suffered a knee injury in his second year that has sapped much of his already-limited athleticism. Since the injury, Williams has made 31 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons. He is a tenacious worker and a solid blocker and, at 25 years old, he definitely has some growth potential—especially if he is able to regain some of his quickness from before the injury. Counting on him to be much more than a solid ancillary player, however, would be foolish. A short, incentive-laden contract would be the way to go if the Bills decide to pursue Williams.
Which tight end should the Bills sign to replace Charles Clay?
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None; keep Clay
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