After the Buffalo Bills declined to tender RFAs David Nelson and Donald Jones, it became clear that the team will be starting over at wide receiver. Considering both the west coast offense and the k-gun place an emphasis on effective receiver play, it is critical that Buddy Nix bring in capable talent if Marrone’s offense has any chance at success. Since rookie wide out’s are rarely dependable or productive, the Bills will likely be targeting one or more free agents. Here are a few of their options:
Greg Jennings is probably the most proven wide receiver available. Jennings is capable of doing a variety of things well, including pushing safeties deep and running precise routes that the west coast offense demands. However, Jennings had some groin injury problems this past year limiting him to 7 games, which would be less of a problem if he were a tad younger than 29. Jennings is likely looking for a long term deal, possibly in the 7-9 million dollar range according to an AFC exectuive, so he is a player that would likely help his team, but also be a candidate to become a bad contract on the back end of his deal. It may all be for moot, however, as Green Bay is still considered in the mix to not let him hit free agency, either by franchising Jennings or signing him to a long term deal.
Mike Wallace is the other premium free agent in this year’s receiver class. Wallace has achieved that status primarily by doing one thing extremely well: threaten defenses deep with his ability to get behind safeties, and actually catch the ball when he does. This is something that the Bills could certainly use, as they haven’t been able to do it since Lee Evan’s prime, and it was the major failing of the Chan Gailey offense. But, just like Jennings, Wallace won’t come cheap; multiple teams have done everything short of copping to interest in the receiver.
Hixon is much more of a mid to low tier fee agent, but consequently may provide better value. The receiver stands at 6’2″ with 4.4 speed, so he has the athleticism to push deep and make the catch when he gets there. Hixon has had a few productive seasons in recent years, but never was able to elevate above 3rd on the depth chart, and his fate was likely sealed when the Giants selected Reuben Randle in the 2012 draft. However, Hixon has had multiple 39 (oh so close to 40!) catch seasons in Kevin Gilbride’s sight adjustment passing game that should share some elements with Marrone’s K-Gun concepts.
Devery Henderson never fully lived up to expectations as a 2nd round pick in New Orleans, and at 31, there are questions concerning how much longer he’ll be able to be productive- especially considering his slipping production in recent years. However, there are a few reasons to believe he may be a good fit with the Bills. Henderson has made his living as a deep threat, achieving up to 25 yards per catch in his best season. Not only did he do this in a offense similar to the one Doug Marrone will run, he did it in one where Marrone was the coordinator. Depending on how their relationship was in New Orleans, Marrone may also want to start off with a receiver that has some familiarity with his system, and that can help move TJ Graham’s development along. The market may not be huge for the aging receiver, and considering the amount help the Bills need, I’d be surprised if the Bills didn’t at least show interest.
When it became known that Bowe and the Chiefs were negotiating, some noted Denario Alexander as a viable next best thing for Buffalo. Whaley has mentioned the need for a large, “open when he’s covered” type of player, and if Alexander isn’t that player now, he’s a prime candidate. Although he doesn’t have Bowe’s experience, Alexander is a 6-5 receiver that had a productive, promising season for the Chargers, reeling in 7 TDs. The only problem is the Chargers are likely to put a first round tender on him, effectively eliminating the receiver from Bills consideration. If not, he could be a good fit.
Another Giants receiver not expected to be retained, Barden is interesting primarily for his 6-6 frame. He had a great game against the Panthers this year stepping in for Hakeem Nicks, grabbing 9 balls for 138 yards. However, the Panthers played a soft zone, and when more aggressive pressing teams jammed Barden, he had a very difficult time getting any sort of a release and disappeared. The Bills need bodies though, and he has a big one, so maybe Buddy takes a flyer.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; just a look at some of the bigger names and perhaps better fits for the Bills. It’s very difficult to predict exactly how the front office will approach acquiring new talent, especially considering Nix and co may tend to focus more on the draft. I do believe that at least one free agent receiver will be signed, and Henderson and Hixon are two less talked about names worth monitoring when free agency opens on March 12th.
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