Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - As the Buffalo Bills look towards free agency and the NFL Draft, my 2023 "State of the Bills" position-by-position series continues.
Here’s a look at the wide receivers:
- Stefon Diggs
- Gabriel Davis
- Isaiah McKenzie
- Khalil Shakir
- Dezmon Patmon
- KeeSean Johnson
Pending Free Agents:
- Cole Beasley
- Jake Kumerow
- Jamison Crowder
State of the position:
Diggs is still one of the best receivers in the NFL and had another fantastic season in 2022, finishing near the top in every major statistical category and being voted a Second-Team All-Pro.
He’s going to be 30-years-old in November, but doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all. He signed a four-year, $96 million contract extension last offseason with $70 million in guarantees.
There’s been quite a bit of talk this offseason about Diggs’ immediate future in Buffalo, and even speculation from some he could get traded. If the Bills were to do that, it would cost them over $37.5 million in dead salary cap space. Even a post-June 1 trade would cost close to $12 million in dead cap. It would save them $8.4 million but they wouldn’t have that money available until June.
On top of all of that, he’s their best offensive player outside of quarterback Josh Allen. So that’s not happening. He’s still the team’s No. 1 wideout in 2023, and most likely beyond.
There was a lot of debate about what to expect from Davis coming into the 2022 season, and very high expectations from many. He injured his ankle prior to Week 2, and it seemed to linger for most of the season.
Davis still finished with his best season in the NFL, collecting 48 catches for 836 yards - both career highs - as well as tying his career-high with seven touchdown receptions. Davis averaged 17.4 yards per-catch, which was not only also a career-high, but No. 2 in the entire NFL behind only Jaylen Waddle’s 18.1.
Do the Bills view Davis as their legitimate No. 2 wideout? This offseason may tell us that in how they handle the position.
They could add to the position via free agency or the draft, and have someone compete with him for that status. He’s going into the final year of his rookie contract. The team could look to extend him or let it play out, but either way, he will a big part of their plans in 2023.
McKenzie has one year remaining on his contract, and is scheduled to count over $2.5 million against the salary cap. The Bills can save over $2.2 million of that by releasing him, which is a very real possibility after a 2022 season in which he never took hold of the slot receiver position and was no longer the team’s primary punt or kick returner.
McKenzie still offers speed at a position the Bills need it, and is valuable as a return man, especially if they decide to move on from Nyheim Hines. So it will be interesting to see how his situation plays out.
One of the biggest questions from last season is why Shakir did not play more than he did. After a solid training camp and preseason, the rookie was inactive for two of the first three games, and only saw 25% of the snaps on the year overall.
Shakir can play both outside and in the slot, which may be his best position in the NFL. It’s going to be very interesting to monitor how the Bills treat that spot this offseason, which then might be an indication of their plans for him going into Year 2.
Speaking of the slot, Crowder was signed to a one-year deal last offseason to be a main target from that spot, essentially replacing Beasley. He also came into the year as the team’s primary punt returner. But a broken leg suffered in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens derailed the rest of his season, and he was unable to get back on the field.
Now Crowder is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bills want to bring him back, but probably not at the same $1.975 million salary he made last year. So if they are interested in doing that for less, it will probably depend on what the market holds for the soon-to-be 30-year-old, eight year veteran.
Because the slot position didn’t work out the way the Bills had envisioned, they re-signed Beasley at the very end of the season. He then suited up for two regular season and both playoff games, catching seven total passes in those four contests.
Beasley stated when the season ended that he’d like to return to Buffalo again, but he will also be 34-years-old at the end of April. A one-year, minimum salary contract isn’t out of the question to bring him to training camp to compete for a job.
Kumerow was, once again, kept on the roster as a core special teams player, but he battled injuries at a couple different times that cost him most of the season and wound up playing only six games. They’ve always loved having him for that specific role, and he even had a small contribution on offense last season, catching four passes for 64 yards over the first three games.
Will that continue, as he is set to become a free agent? Quite possibly, considering the Bills usually keep 3-4 core special teamers, he knows and understands what’s expected. It will likely not cost the Bills more than a minimum salary to keep Kumerow.
Patmon and Johnson both finished the season on the practice squad, and were signed to Reserve/Future contracts for 2023. So, as of now, they’re in the plans to go to camp and compete.
The Bills haven't taken a wideout in Round 1 since trading up for Sammy Watkins in 2014. However, many believe they will do that this year.
Whether they do or not, it's a position that needs to be addressed to help the group and give Allen more weapons and options. Maybe that will be in the draft, maybe it will be via free agency, or maybe there's a trade to be made.
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