How Should The Bills Finish Building Their WR Room?
As free agency rolls on and the Buffalo Bills look to keep filling out their roster, rumors centered around the Bills acquiring Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins started to gain some steam yesterday.
Early in the morning, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said that the Bills are the best fit for the star wideout. Fast forward a few hours, and multiple Bills fans noticed that Hopkins and QB Josh Allen started following each other on Instagram. (Hopkins is also following WR Stefon Diggs and DE Von Miller.) And then for the cherry on top, Hopkins posted Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” song on his Instagram story.
Could Buffalo actually be the top landing spot for one of the league’s premier receivers?
Bills WR Room
The Bills signed WR Trent Sherfield to a one-year contract Monday afternoon. The 27-year old brings size, speed, and versatility with him to Buffalo, as he can also contribute on special teams.
Sherfield joins a WR room that still has a lot of questions that need to get answered; after Stefon Diggs, there is no real consistent threat. Gabe Davis had an underwhelming third season to say the least, finishing with a 52% catch rate, T-52nd in receptions (48), and 30th in receiving yards (835). Will the Bills look to bring in another boundary receiver to give Davis some competition and push him at WR2?
The Bills also had a plethora of slot receivers on their roster last year even though their offense didn’t center around the slot; Cole Beasley has not been re-signed, Isaiah McKenzie was cut as a cap casualty and then signed with the Colts, and then Jamison Crowder signed with the Giants today. Buffalo signed Deonte Harty as an upgrade over McKenzie. In his four seasons, Harty has played 319 snaps out wide and 238 in the slot; will he see more snaps from the slot, or will the Bills keep him on the boundary? And then what about Khalil Shakir? Will he get more snaps this year? Will he be the starting slot receiver?
As for Sherfield, a lot of us thought he would be an upgraded version of Jake Kumerow, a boundary receiver, run blocker, and special teams asset. However, he said on One Bills Live Monday that he thinks the Bills view him more as a slot receiver.
Current Depth Chart
As of right now, here is the current WR depth chart. (The team also signed Dezmon Patmon, KeeSean Johnson, and Isaiah Coulter to reserve/future contracts, but these five are almost locks to make the roster.)
- Stefon Diggs
- Gabe Davis
- Khalil Shakir
- Deonte Harty
- Trent Sherfield
The Buffalo Bills have one roster spot left, as they usually carry six WRs on their active roster. With three players who have the skillsets to play on the inside, the Bills still face the same problem as they did last year in not having enough true boundary receivers behind Diggs and Davis.
So who will fill that spot and how will the Bills fill it?
This is the most boring answer, but it is a possibility, so it needs to be said. If the Bills are really high on one of the guys they signed to reserve/future deals and he shows up and shows out at OTAs and training camp, they may just be inclined to fill that sixth and final spot with one of them. There is always one training camp darling, someone who the fans and the media fall in love with, and that could be the case this summer.
Starting with Isaiah Coulter, he is a 6’2″, 198 pound receiver who started as a linebacker but switched to WR while at Rhode Island. Coulter finished with 1,039 receiving yards his junior season before getting drafted by the Houston Texans in the fifth round in 2020. Dezmon Patmon is a 6’4″, 225 pound receiver who was Indianapolis’ sixth-round pick in 2020. In four years at Washington State, he compiled 1,976 yards and 13 TDs on 156 receptions. KeeSean Johnson had the biggest numbers out of the three, recording 3,463 yards and 24 TDs on 275 receptions in his four years at Fresno State. The 6’1″, 201 pound receiver was also a sixth-round pick, as the Cardinals selected him 174th overall in 2020.
Now as for a more likely way to round out their WR room, the Buffalo Bills could explore the trade market. They could still look at the free agency market for someone like WR Odell Beckham Jr., but given what little cap space they have left and other positions they could use it on, I feel like a trade is more likely than another FA signing at this point. GM Brandon Beane could look at the trade market to not only help his team from a production standpoint, but from a financial standpoint as well.
If you’re picking up what I’m laying down, the Bills could include DT Ed Oliver in a deal that would bring DeAndre Hopkins to Buffalo. Doing so could actually SAVE the Bills $6 million in cap space as Oliver has a $10.8 million cap hit this season. Hopkins has a $30.8 million cap hit in 2023, but the team acquiring him would only be responsible for his base salary of $19.5 million. And if that team can convert his base salary into a signing bonus, Hopkins’ cap hit would drop to $4.8 million, which would be almost exactly $6 million less than Oliver’s.
However, reports came out that the Cardinals’ asking price has dropped. So if the Bills don’t want to create another hole on their roster, they can keep Oliver and just give the Cardinals draft picks instead.
One of the main questions now is what can the Buffalo Bills offer? A lot of this depends on what they think of Oliver. The former ninth overall pick has recently been posting on his Instagram stories how he wants to get paid, but yet has never eclipsed 43 tackles and 5.0 sacks in a season. With a market value of $10.4 million, will the Bills really want to give him a multi-year contract with an AAV above $10 million?
If they do, then they would keep Oliver and just send the Cardinals draft picks. And even if they aren’t planning on giving him a multi-year contract extension, they may still want to just send the picks rather than creating a hole on their defensive line this year. But that’s the thing — why let him walk next year when you can potentially get something back for him and help your cap situation this year?
If I were Brandon Beane, I would save as many draft picks as I can and include Oliver in the deal to Arizona. The Bills have six draft picks this year, all coming within the first six rounds. (They wouldn’t have had a fifth-round pick if Beane somehow didn’t get a fifth from Arizona for OL Cody Ford.) If you can acquire Hopkins for Oliver and a late day three pick AND save $6 million in the process, I would be all over that. If it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to retain Oliver next year, you might as well save at least one pick to help find his replacement in this year’s draft.
That being said, the Buffalo Bills can also draft a wide receiver to fulfill that sixth and final spot. Similar to Ed Oliver, the Bills will have to look into the future with Gabe Davis and determine whether he can be a full-time WR2 or not.
If the Bills were to acquire Hopkins, that would almost certainly take them out of the running for selecting a WR early in the draft. While that doesn’t mean that Davis would be a lock to get re-signed, it does prohibit Buffalo from finding and grooming a potential replacement if the two sides choose to go their separate ways following next season. (Plus, Diggs will be 30 years old and Hopkins will be 31 this season.)
If the Bills do not acquire Hopkins, then they almost have to draft a wide receiver to not only fill that final roster spot and add depth and competition, but to also get him in the pipeline to potentially take over as WR2.
I would like a straight up boundary receiver. The Bills have a lot of smaller, quick players who can play on the inside or on the outside… give me a big-bodied WR who can go make the tough, contested catches. Someone who stands out for that role (to me at least) is Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman, a 6’3″, 216 pound receiver who is projected to be a day two pick. Rashee Rice from SMU is another name to keep your eyes on.
Balancing Winning Now vs. The Future
This is a huge question that all these rumors boil down to — how much do the Bills want to win now, and how much of their future do they want to sacrifice in order to do so? Beane always talks about winning now AND in the future, which is smart. But if you have a player like DeAndre Hopkins right in front of you at a reasonable price, you almost have to take it.
And it’s not like the Bills would have to sacrifice that much anyways if the reports are accurate. Plus, even though acquiring Hopkins would take them out of the running for drafting a wide receiver early this year, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be able to draft one next next year, let Davis walk, and then let that rookie sit behind Diggs and Hopkins for a year.
Let’s see what Big Baller Beane has up his sleeve.
Feature Image: Jennifer Stewart/AP