TORONTO — The Buffalo Bills entered the NFL offseason with one major goal: Upgrade everything around Josh Allen in 2019. That seems reasonable to do for a team that found a potential franchise quarterback but had below-average performances in the offensive line and receiving corps last year.
Buffalo averaged just 16.8 points per game in 2018, third worst in the NFL. Among the reasons for such unimpressive numbers are the wide receivers. After all, Zay Jones was the only player with more than 35 catches or three TD receptions for the Bills.
Jones will now play alongside veterans Cole Beasley and John Brown, both signed in free agency. He’ll also share targets with the Bills’ new tight ends. Which one of them has yet to be decided, however.
That’s because an already-uncertain position in Buffalo just received bad news in the first day of OTAs.
Tyler Kroft, who signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Bills this offseason and is expected to be the team’s No. 1 tight end in 2019, broke his foot and has been ruled out for at least three months. This is the same foot injury that limited Kroft to just five games (and zero touchdowns) with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.
While having the tight end for Week 1 against the New York Jets is what the Bills hope for, the injury means that Kroft will probably miss all the Training Camp activities with his new teammates. That’s a big deal considering that Buffalo may have seven different starters on offense and a second-year quarterback under center this season.
Who will step up as the main tight end for the Bills is uncertain at this point, and is a big storyline for the upcoming Training Camp.
Besides Kroft, Buffalo signed Lee Smith (3-yr./$9 MM) in free agency, and drafted Dawson Knox (96th overall pick) and Tommy Sweeney (228th).
From a blocking standpoint, the Bills might have all they need in these players, but the offensive production is a concern once again.
Although Smith scored a career-high three TDs in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders, he’s known for his blocking ability and he has yet to surpass 80 receiving yards in a season.
The draft class might not have the answer either.
While Knox went through his entire college career at Ole Miss without scoring a touchdown, Sweeney, who showed solid receiving skills in Boston College, is a long-term project coming out of the seventh round.
What the Bills are going to do seems unpredictable, but definitely it’s not hard to understand why the team is under those circumstances. Buffalo never found a successor for Scott Chandler, one of the team’s most productive tight ends, whose tenure with the Bills lasted between 2010-2014.
After his departure, Charles Clay was designated to be the main tight end as he signed a 5-year, $38 million contract in 2015.
The former sixth-round pick had a career year with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, posting 69 receptions, 759 yards, and six touchdowns. Then, he faced a big downfall in his career that reached its lowest point in 2018.
Last year, Buffalo had one of the league’s worst tight end corps in Clay, Jason Croom, and Logan Thomas. They had 55 catches, 520 yards, and one touchdown. Combined.
Besides that, neither one of them surpassed 22 total receptions (Croom led the team with 22), their highest reception-per-game average was 1.6 (Clay), and the Bills’ longest play by a tight end was a 26-yard reception by Croom.
An undrafted free agent in 2017, Croom is the only tight end who stayed with the Bills in 2019, as Clay and Thomas are gone after signing deals elsewhere.
Clay’s contract has been proved to be a mistake, but fingers should also be pointed to the Bills’ decision to not draft a single tight end between 2016 and 2018. In that span, names such as George Kittle, Austin Hooper, Chris Herndon, all heard their names called in the third round or later.
The fact that the Bills signed two tight ends in free agency, plus drafted two other names for the position, shows how desperately they need an answer.
In an offseason with plenty of great decisions, Buffalo may have to pay the price for past-years mistakes at the tight end position.