CAPACCIO: Bills still have work to do at wide receiver

Examining the current roster and the remaining options to add to the group

Sal Capaccio
March 26, 2018 - 1:52 pm

Photo: Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, FL (WGR 550) - 10 days ago, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said the team didn’t have any money left to make any more significant signings in free agency and that they could still do some “lower-level deals.”

Even before that comment, there seemed to be a glaring need at wide receiver. Then four days later, second-year wideout Zay Jones was involved in a bizarre incident in a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex where he was arrested for felony vandalism. Charges were never filed, but the incident has, nonetheless, further clouded the state of the position on the roster. Jones could be subject to disciplinary action by the NFL. And given the type of players Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have made a point to bring into the organization, Jones' behavior that night certainly does not fit within that vision. I don’t expect him to not be on the roster come training camp, but it’s still a situation that will force Beane and McDermott to examine both short-term and long-term at the position.

As the roster currently stands, Jones is expected to be the No. 2 wide receiver opposite No. 1 Kelvin Benjamin next season. Andre Holmes would be the third wideout on the depth chart. Then after that, there are even more questions than answers, especially when it comes to having a player to get down the field and behind the defense, or at least the consistent threat to do so. Also, all three of those players are coming off an injury. Benjamin (knee) and Jones (labrum) each had offseason surgery, while Holmes finished the season on injured reserve with a neck injury.

Deonte Thompson filled the speed role nicely at times last season after he was signed in mid-October. But he’s now moved on to the Dallas Cowboys via free agency. The team signed Rod Streater - who was having a fine training camp before he was hurt and reached an injury settlement with the club - to a reserve contract immediately after the regular season. He has more of that type of speed they lack. 

Jordan Matthews, who the Bills traded for last preseason, is still an unsigned free agent looking for work. However, he’s also coming off surgery and is very similar in traits to the other wideouts they already have. After they acquired Benjamin at the trade deadline, the writing was on the wall for Matthews. It doesn’t look like the Bills had any intention of trying to bring him back.

From there, the Bills have three more wideouts combining for a total of a whopping six NFL receptions, all coming from Quan Bray. He was signed to a reserve contract back in January. The other two are Malachi Dupre and Brandon Reilly, who both spent most of last year on the team’s practice squad. Both players were signed to the active roster in December, but neither has been active for an NFL game in their careers.

So, here’s the Bills’ wide receiver group as of Monday:

  • Kelvin Benjamin
  • Zay Jones
  • Andre Holmes
  • Rod Streater
  • Brandon Reilly
  • Quan Bray
  • Malachi Dupre

For months, it’s been clear the Bills have had to add talent and depth to the position. But, curiously, they have yet to bring any free agent receiver to Buffalo for a visit. That’s not to say they didn’t look into or even offer a contract to anyone after free agency began. But they haven’t been linked to anyone as of yet, whether officially or even just reported. Maybe they feel really, really good about guys like Reilly or Dupre after having them for a full season. But that’s a pretty large leap of faith to make in guys who have never caught an NFL pass in a regular season game.

Of the unrestricted free agents available, none jumps off the page as an immediate upgrade to what the Bills already have. Players like Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, Kamar Aiken, and Dontrelle Inman could be signed to compete, but none of them would even be a guarantee to make the final roster.

Chicago Bears' receiver Cam Meredith is a restricted free agent who caught 66 passes for 888 yards two years ago in only his second season. However, he missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and Chicago can match any offer he receives from another club.

In addition to Matthews, receivers Brandon Tate and Jeremy Butler remain unsigned. Tate could be an option later in free agency, but strictly as a kick and punt returner. Butler spent all year on injured reserve after a concussion in preseason.

Replenishing the position through the draft doesn’t appear to be a viable option since this isn’t considered a particularly strong draft at wide receiver, and it’s tough to expect a mid-round pick to come in and contribute right away at the position. SMU’s Cortland Sutton, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, and Oklahoma State’s James Washington are all wideouts who are considered potential first or early second picks who could push for immediate playing time. But it’s still hard to envision any one of them stepping right up into a prominent role from day one. And if the Bills have to spend some of their early draft capital to move up, as many still believe they will do, that doesn’t leave as many picks to have to use on a wide receiver when they also still have other needs to address.

Any way you look at it, the Bill still have plenty of work to do at a position that doesn't seem to have a lot of options left.

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