OPINION: Free agent, trade targets for the Bills at tight end

The team may be looking for an upgrade this offseason
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“It was never where I felt the opposing defense was like, man, we got to stop their tight ends from going off.

“At the end of the day we’d love to have a guy like we just faced in Kansas City (Travis Kelce). They don’t come very often, but that’s what you want.”

Those two quotes may have resonated as much as, if not more, than anything else Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said in his end-of-season Zoom conference call with the media back on Jan. 27. They were as candid as you’ll usually get from any team’s general manager about a specific position, but also gave some great insight into what he and his staff may be thinking as the team heads into the offseason.

Tight end could very well be a position the Bills target either during free agency or by way of trade.

Here are some potential targets via both avenues (age listed is at the start of the 2021 season).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:

Hunter Henry - 26 - Los Angeles Chargers

Amongst all NFL tight ends over the past two seasons, Henry ranks sixth in yards with 1,265, and seventh in receptions with 115. He’s also caught nine touchdown passes during that time frame.

Henry burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2016 with 478 yards and eight touchdowns, then followed it up with an excellent sophomore campaign of 45 catches for 579 yards. He missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL, but is almost three full years removed from that injury, and his production suggests he’s completely recovered.

He did miss four games in 2019 with a knee injury, but has played almost every game since, except for going on the COVID-19 list at the tail-end of last season for a pair of contests.

The Chargers placed the franchise tag on Henry a year ago. They could do so again, but it would be much more expensive this time around.

Jonnu Smith - 26 - Tennessee Titans

Smith hasn’t been the high-volume producer others at the position have been since entering the league in 2017, but that’s partly due to the fact that he’s played in such a run-heavy offense. The Titans are one of only three NFL teams to run the ball more than they’ve passed over the past three seasons.

That said, Smith’s production has increased every year, going from 18 to 20 to 35 to 41 catches, with over 400 yards in each of the past two seasons. He saw his highest totals last year with 41 catches for 448 yards and eight touchdowns.

Despite having the 22nd-most targets amongst tight ends over the last two years (109), Smith is tied for the sixth-most touchdown receptions with 11. Tennessee used Smith on screens and short passes to get the ball in his hands where he really excelled, and found his way to the end zone.

Smith and Henry figure to be the most sought after tight ends on the free agent market, so his price could climb pretty high, especially if Henry gets tagged again and becomes unavailable. The Titans aren't expected to tag Smith, but it's always possibility.

Gerald Everett - 27 - Los Angeles Rams

Everett is extremely similar to Smith in the fact that his production has gone up every year he’s been in the league.

Starting from his rookie year in 2017, his receptions went from 16 to 33 to 37 to 41. His receiving yards also climbed each season, topping out at 417 this past year.

Also like Smith, Everett wasn’t a big focal point of the Rams offense. Last year alone, the Rams had two different wide receivers with at least 124 targets, and another with 81. Everett wasn’t even on the field as much as fellow-tight end Tyler Higbee, who saw close to 73% of the snaps while Everett was below 57%.

However, Everett is athletic and can move around the offense. The Rams love to use a lot of motion, including with their tight ends.

The question a team like the Bills needs to answer on Everett is if that production will take a dramatic jump if he sees the field a lot more.

Jared Cook - 34 - New Orleans Saints

At this point of his career, Cook would most likely be a one-year player, but the Bills may want to bring someone in just for a season for an immediate upgrade while they buy some time to figure it out long-term.

Cook has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, wi