Bills Free Agency: Matthews, Thompson among four wide receivers whose contracts are up

Breaking down the four Bills wide receivers and one offensive lineman set to become free agents

Sal Capaccio
January 17, 2018 - 9:22 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have 18 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 14, the first day of the new league year. All of them are eligible to re-sign with the club before hitting the open market. However, those who played 2017 on one-year veteran minimum deals have to wait until March 14, unless they agree to another one-year, vet minimum contract with the Bills. If they do, they can re-sign before then.

The advantage for the team signing a player to a one-year vet minimum contract is that no matter how many years of service they’ve had in the NFL, he will only count as a player with two years of service against the salary cap, which will be $630,000 in 2018.

Here’s a look at the Bills' wide receivers and offensive linemen scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March and how I see their situations:


  • Deonte Thompson - Wide Receiver

Despite signing with the Bills after Week 5 and only playing in eleven games, Thompson wound up tied for the team lead amongst wide receivers with 27 catches and had more receiving yards than any other wideout - by over a 100 - with 430. He also led the Bills with a 15.9 yard average per-catch.

Even though he’s not going to keep defensive coordinators up at night game-planning to stop him, Thompson is still the team’s only real deep threat on the roster and started seven of his eleven games in 2017, which shows how much the coaching staff felt they needed him on the field. The Bills need to get more speed at the position in the offseason.

They did sign Rod Streater to a reserve/future contract on New Year’s Day, which means Streater will come to camp again and add some additional speed, but he's far from a certainty. So Thompson may have a role with the team again next year, especially if they can get him on another one-year veteran minimum deal, which is what he signed for this past year.

  • Jordan Matthews - Wide Receiver

Matthews was supposed to have a huge role in the Bills’ offense, but it just never materialized, mostly because of injuries. After trading for him during the preseason the same day they dealt away wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Matthews suffered a chipped sternum in his very first practice. He came back to start the regular season, but then missed Week 5 at Cincinnati with a thumb injury. The Bills traded for wideout Kelvin Benjamin less than three weeks later. After returning from that injury, Matthews hurt his knee and missed the team’s Week 11 game at the Los Angeles Chargers. That knee injury lingered and impacted Matthews’ play the rest of the season until he was finally shut down for good and missed the Bills’ final four games. He underwent both knee and ankle surgeries back in December.

Matthews had an excellent start to his career in Philadelphia, collecting 225 catches over his first three years in the league. He finished with just 25 receptions for 282 yards in 2017. He was set for a big payday this offseason before all of that. These injuries will most likely lessen his value on the open market, but there will still almost certainly be teams willing to pay him much more than the Bills given his injury history, lack of production this year, and the fact they now have Benjamin (scheduled to make $8.5 million next year) and drafted Zay Jones in the second round. Even if they felt Matthews’ price tag would be worth it, it’s hard to see where he fits considering Benjamin, Jones, Andre Holmes (who is still under contract) and he are all the same possession-types of receiver and, as stated, the team needs to add speed to it’s receiving corps.

I don’t see Matthews returning to Buffalo in 2018.

  • Brandon Tate - Wide Receiver

Tate played on the one-year veteran minimum in 2017. He was a solid punt returner, actually finishing sixth in the NFL averaging 9.7 yards per-return, and filled in on spot-duty at wide receiver when others went down with injury.

I thought the team should have used Tate more in that role, actually, given the situation they were in and their need for more big plays. But as it was, they kept him inactive for three games and even tried to replace him with Kaelin Clay, who the Bills traded for right before the season began. Clay was eventually cut and Tate maintained the top returner role for the rest of the year.

He played on the one-year vet minimum last year, and the only way the Bills are bringing him back is if that’s the case again. They might decide to go down that road after letting free agency play out and seeing who else they sign, but it looks like they want to get younger (Tate will be 31 next season) and develop someone else to take the return spot.

  • Jeremy Butler - Wide Receiver

Butler never got a shot with the Bills after he suffered a concussion during training camp and was placed on injured reserve for the season. If they feel the concussion isn’t a concern anymore, he could be brought back, but there will be plenty of players just like him looking for jobs come this summer if the Bills need more receivers at camp. 

  • Seantrel Henderson - Offensive Tackle

Henderson just finished playing out his rookie deal. He also just made it to unrestricted free agency since the games he had been suspended for didn’t quite add up to enough to keep him from having an accrued season.

Most believed the Bills would move on from him when he returned from the suspension he was serving to start the season, or even before that. But Henderson bought into head coach Sean McDermott’s program and eventually found a spot on the roster and even as a contributor on the offensive line for seven games, starting one.

They often used him as an extra offensive lineman in heavy sets towards the end of the season. Young offensive tackles who hit free agency usually get pretty good money, but teams may shy away from Henderson given his suspension history and the fact that he’s battling Crohn’s Disease and the uncertainty of his health long-term.

I’d be a bit surprised if the Bills brought him back at all, but given they liked the way he worked and stayed clean last year, there’s a possibility they offer him a short, cheaper contract to keep him around, and just in case he doesn’t get any other better offers.

More Bills free agency primers: QBs and RBs

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