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Veteran tight ends the Bills could sign in free agency

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Buffalo Bills v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

These tight ends could be Bills in 2021.

The NFL always faces a dearth of dynamic tight ends, and 2020 continued that trend: Only five players had more than 700 receiving yards, and only five had more than seven touchdowns. The free-agent tight end market, as you might expect, is short on production and short on potential. The Buffalo Bills have to decide if they want to spend for a new veteran to work with Dawson Knox, even in a seller’s market.

26-year-old Hunter Henry, the top target available, is probably priced out of Buffalo’s range. But who else could they sign? Let’s break down the best options...


Jonnu Smith

Here’s your first projection pick. The 6’3” 250-lb Smith just had his best season—41 catches, 448 yards, and eight touchdowns. Those are good, but not great numbers, and it’s worth noting that Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt, and Geoff Swaim all poached snaps from him time to time.

Still, he’s basically a four-year starter and a great athlete. He won’t make as much as Hunter Henry, but he could be signed to a four- or five-year deal of around $7-$8 million per year, depending on the demand.

Gerald Everett

This is your other projection pick. Everett is pretty similar to Jonnu Smith: Their 40-yard dash, broad jump, and vertical jump were almost identical. He also made it through four years of football without a true “breakout” season—2020 was his best year, with 41 catches for 417 yards and one touchdown.

Everett wasn’t a clear-cut starter like Smith, since he worked mostly in the shadow of Tyler Higbee—and Sean McVay’s offense, earlier in his career, almost never featured multiple tight ends on the field. So expect Everett’s deal to be a little cheaper than Smith’s, overall. He could opt for a prove-it contract, or he might be lucky to sign a three- or four-year deal with a big number ($30 million or $38 million) and low guaranteed values.

Rob Gronkowski

Having won yet another Super Bowl, could Gronk be convinced to play one year in Buffalo (and maybe win another ring) before he retires? The future Hall of Famer hardly missed a beat in his return to action, with 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. His blocking prowess is, of course, legendary.

In 2020, Gronkowski made $9.25 million with the leftovers of his New England contract. As a 32 year old who already retired once, it’s hard to peg his value, but Spotrac estimates a one-year, $8.5 million deal. But this is a fickle player, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he only wants to play with Tom Brady from here on out.

Jared Cook

He’ll be 34 years old in 2021, but doggone it, Cook still has fuel left in the tank. Though he played roughly 75 percent of snaps while with the Oakland Raiders, his usage dipped to 45 percent of snaps the last two years with the New Orleans Saints. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 and 2019, and caught 37 passes for 504 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. In my mind, I’ll always remember Cook as the player who got away, when the Bills ultimately settled for Shawn Nelson in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Cook just finished up a two-year, $15 million contract. He’ll probably look for a one- or two-year deal this season, and a target value between $4-$7 million seems right.

Trey Burton

If you’re looking for a backup tight end who could handle the kind of H-back role the Bills feature in their offense, Burton’s a valid choice. His best season was a 54/569/6 season in 2018 when he played 80 percent of snaps. Other than that year, he never cracked 34 percent in his career.

Burton played on a one-year, $910,000 contract in 2020 and caught 28 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll probably net a similar contract this year.

Other options

The Bills could always run back with Tyler Kroft, their highest-paid tight end of the last two seasons. The raw statistics aren’t great: 18 catches, 190 yards, and four touchdowns in those two years combined. Kroft barely saw the field even while healthy, with the Bills making him inactive for most of the 2020 season in favor of blocking tight end Lee Smith. Beyond Kroft, do any of these names seem like winning options to you? Jacob Hollister, Virgil Green, Blake Bell, Jordan Reed, Richard Rodgers, Darrell Daniels, Dan Arnold?

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The Buffalo Bills....

 

 

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REBUILDING SINCE 2000!

 

 

 

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