(WKBW) — The seemingly slow buildup to the beginning of the NFL free agency period is behind us, as now we're on a fast track to not only the legal tampering window but also for the official start to the new league year in under one week.
And with free agency comes the responsibility for the Buffalo Bills to add substantially to a roster that was weakened by a low amount of cap space last year. Done by design in 2018, now the shackles are off, and the Bills are free to spend their over $70 million in cap space as they choose
Especially with how Brandon Beane denied the notion that being "judicious" is the same as being prohibitive to signing the bigger fish in free agency, all options are still firmly on the table for the Bills. All this week, 7ABC will be going through five names that make sense for the Bills in free agency.
To begin the week, we discussed two offensive players in center Matt Paradis (with a mention of Mitch Morse, too) and wide receiver Devin Funchess. We also brought up linebacker Anthony Barr in more of a unique way than what his role would typically dictate.
However, the next stop is for a position that has both a crying need for more players and more talent. After all, only one tight end remains on the roster just under one week before the start of free agency.
It's a position that the Bills desperately want more out of in 2019 and beyond which is why they've chosen to hit the restart button on all but Jason Croom. It gives them a blank slate to work with, needing a couple of different types of tight ends to maximize the role within Brian Daboll's offense.
That leads me to Baltimore's Maxx Williams, who would be a perfect fit for many different reasons.
How Williams would fit the Bills roster:
With only Croom on the roster, for the time being, Beane will need to find a couple of different players to add to the mix. The hope would be that while an individual's strength is in one specific area, they'd still be able to contribute in an all-around way, too.
In the case of Williams, after battling for his roster life in the summer of 2018, he went on to show some promising signs in both major areas of playing tight end in the NFL. The odds were stacked against him, too, after falling behind the depth chart to Nick Boyle and then watching the Ravens draft two players at his position in the 2018 NFL Draft.
However, Williams earned his way to both the roster and with playing time and showed a different side to his game than what many anticipated when he entered the NFL in the first place. Williams blew away the NFL Combine in 2015 with some of the best numbers at his position in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 20-yard shuttle, and his height-weight-length-hand size combination all looked the part, too.
The Ravens moved up in the second round to secure getting Williams on the roster, but once in Baltimore, injuries and falling down the depth chart kept him at bay. However, in his final season in Baltimore, it wasn't the crazy athleticism that kept him on the field -- it was his blocking.
Though not the most technically refined approach, you can tell Williams has spent a lot of time working at getting better in that area because he repeatedly gets the job done in both run and pass blocking snaps. That isn't Croom's strength, and it means a good blocking tight end doesn't exist on the roster.
It's tough to ignore Williams' versatility, too. The Ravens lined him up anywhere they could think to put him.
They split him out wide, attached him to the hip of the offensive tackle, put him as an H-back and heck, they even lined him up at fullback. He was a multi-functioning tight end that significantly helped their running game when he was on the field, while also playing a high percentage of special teams snaps.
However, the production as a receiver just hasn't been there since his rookie season. Although, that's where you go back to the traits to see if you can unearth a gem in free agency.
When given chances, Williams usually showed an ability to pick up yards after the catch, and perhaps with a higher volume of targets, he could thrive in a different system with a different team. Not to mention, Williams turns 25 in April, which makes him incredibly young in the scope of free agents that have gone through their initial rookie contracts.
Williams is a baseline good blocker with some chops in the passing game with the upside for more -- an entity that the Bills don't have on the roster. Bringing in Williams would be an attempt by the Bills at finding value and hoping for a substantial return on a relatively small investment.
How Williams would fit the salary cap structure:
Now four years removed from when Williams was a second-round pick, he will receive a contract commensurate with the production he's managed to put up as that's how he'll likely be projected moving forward.
Considering that Williams had fewer receptions and yards over the last three years combined, along with some injury concerns along the way, means that he's not likely to cash in on free agency. However, the skill set and the work he's done to stay on the field is something teams cannot ignore, either.
The Williams situation is somewhat like the one with Devin Funchess. Of course, there is much more production from Funchess over the past two seasons, but the concept of taking a swing on a short-term, low-to-middle-tier money player is a smart one to follow.
It's especially prudent for a team like the Bills that had minimal production from the tight end position in 2018 as both pass catchers and blockers, and because they don't want to fall into the same financial pitfalls that forced Beane to aggressively fix the cap by sacrificing talent for the 2018 campaign. The Bills aren't in a position to add top-tier talent at every weak spot on the roster, which forces the need for creativity.
Tight end is one of those positions without a big-time name available in free agency, so that helps the idea of looking for calculated low-risk, high-reward types like Williams. Add in Williams' age to the equation, and I think it's a no-brainer.
For Williams, he has a chance to go to a team without a starter at tight end and no guarantee that they'll be able to add a young one in the draft. For the Bills, they have insurance with blocking ability while still maintaining some upside, and can delay the big strike for that position down the road for the time being.
Other tight end names to keep an eye on, as well:
Dwayne Allen - The Bills had the 29-year-old in for a free agent visit according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. Known for his blocking at this stage of his career, he brought in only 13 receptions in 29 games active for the Patriots. He would be a welcomed addition in the locker room for his reputation as a leader, which is important to head coach Sean McDermott.
Jesse James - A block-first type as well, James showed an ability to make plays in big spots while in Pittsburgh. Considering his starting experience over the last three years, and the fact that he turns only 25 in June, that might drive his price point up higher than the Bills might feel comfortable paying.
Demetrius Harris - Following in the footsteps of so many tight ends before him, Harris is trying to turn a college basketball career into a successful NFL career. Firmly behind Kansas City starter Travis Kelce, the 6-foot-7 tight end is a projection with minimal production, but also shows the promise of a player that comes with a significant yards per catch average over his last two years. Harris also played nearly 80-percent of the Chiefs' snaps on special teams in 2018. He might be a sneaky name that gets paid more than you'd think. He turns 28 in July.
Tyler Kroft - Usually buried behind others on the depth chart, Kroft flashed quite a bit of potential in 2017 as a dependable target that can make difficult catches, along with some athleticism to gain separation. His 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017 will be the selling point after he was shut down in mid-October due to a broken bone in his foot. Kroft will be 27 in October.
Jeff Heuerman - Injuries have defined his first four seasons with Denver, but when healthy and available, Heuerman showed the ability to make an impact on the passing game. The inability to stay on the field, though, will likely drive his value down which means, like Williams, there could be an opportunity for the Bills to strike for someone that had 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns in ten starts last season. Heuerman will be 26 years old for all but the final month of the 2019 season.
TE Maxx Williams - With Clay cut, TE is a glaring need. Could try and pick up a guy in the draft but why not try and sign Maxx? He shouldn’t cost too much and still has a lot of potential being 25 years old heading into next season. 6’ 4” 250 lbs and a lot left in the tank.— Nick Cuomo (@cuomonick) March 4, 2019
Maxx Williams, TE - the Bills have needed a decent pass catching TE for the last 3 years and clay never worked out. Williams is the odd man out at BAL, could be signed cheap, and has a huge upside. If he's already claimed, OT Jake Fisher (CIN) as a TE is an intriguing option too.— Nick Colao (@nickcolazer16) March 4, 2019
Jesse James. Young TE who can quickly help Allen and this offense. A big target at 6'7" is perfect for our TE spot to work with Croom in two TE formations.— KaJe (@KJBanach) March 4, 2019