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CAPACCIO: Bills UFAs - Offensive skill positions

By Sal Capaccio

Twitter: @SalSports


The Bills have 23 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market next month. This week, I’ll be summarizing and stating what I think the team’s approach should be with each one.  Today, a look at the skill position (non-offensive linemen) on offense:


QB EJ Manuel

He won't go down as the biggest bust in Bills draft history, but EJ certainly never lived up to the expectations that go along with being a first-round choice. But that's not really his fault. He was selected far too high in 2013. After being given one final shot to show what he could do in the season finale at the Jets last year, Manuel's poor performance almost certainly finally closed the book on his chapter in Buffalo. Given his age (27), physical attributes, and the fact that he's actually started in and won games in this league, Manuel will most likely have a few teams come calling for a number two QB. But it shouldn't be the Bills. 

Verdict: Time to move on as an organization and EJ should want a fresh start somewhere else, as well.

WR Robert Woods

Woods should be one of the team’s top-three priorities, along with CB Stephon Gilmore and LB Zach Brown, as far as the Bills trying to retain their own. He's been their most consistent wideout for most of the past four years, has missed a total of only seven games in his career, and had the most yards receiving on the team last season. The problem is, he's a number-two receiver who will be paid - somewhere - a lot more than what the Bills can, or should, offer him for that role. They'd like to see Sammy Watkins stay healthy this year and that would lead to a big contract. And the team isn't going to tie-up a huge percentage of their salary cap in the wide receiver position. As much as it would be nice to have Woods back, it's hard to see it happening.

Verdict: Make Woods an offer of $5-6 million per year knowing full well he will most likely get much more elsewhere. Then don't match.

WR Percy Harvin

Harvin unretired to join the Bills in November. He lasted two games before migraines forced him out of the lineup again. He was then placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Illness List for the rest of the season.

Verdict: There is no reason to consider Harvin as an option any longer.

WR Marquise Goodwin

Raise your hand if you had Goodwin as the healthiest wide receiver for the Bills in 2016. If you have your hand up, you're lying. But, that's exactly what he was, missing only one game all season. He actually wound up third on the team in yards receiving (431) and touchdown catches (3). Goodwin, of course, brings world-class speed to the position, but there's no guarantee he will stay healthy, either, given his history of only playing 24 of a possible 48 games his previous three years. The Bills are extremely thin at wide receiver heading into the off-season. There will be teams who will investigate signing him, and fall in love with his speed, but no one should give him so much money the Bills won't at least have a chance to bring him back for a low price. 

Verdict: Offer him a short, cheap deal but don't go any higher if another team wants him for a higher price.

WR Justin Hunter

Hunter is an interesting case. He came in after missing all of training camp and four games when he was claimed off waivers, then caught only 10 passes all year. He had more than one catch in only one game. However, of those 10 receptions, 4 were for touchdowns. At 6-4, he's the kind of red zone at target the Bills need. But he also offers very minimal special-teams value when he’s not lining up on offense.

Verdict: Like Goodwin, try to retain Hunter, but put a bit of a higher priority on him. However, don't overpay for his services.

WR/KR/PR Brandon Tate

Tate was one of the nice surprises for the team as the season went on.  He was signed as a punt and kick returner and did a solid job in that area, finishing fifth in the league with 11.6 yards per punt return.  He was also thrown onto the field as a wide receiver several games due to injuries at the position and didn’t look out of place.  He only had 8 catches, but all came during a five game stretch in the middle of the season, averaging 14.6 yards per catch.  Tate was one of the few players who did a nice job running after the catch, an area the Bills were awful.  Other than spot duty as a wideout, Tate is very limited in what he can offer teams, especially as a nine-year veteran who turns 30 this coming season.  But he can be a nice low-priced piece for the Bills 

Verdict: Resign for 1-year, veteran minimum

TE Chris Gragg

I believe the fourth-year player was actually missed more than most realize last season. He was a capable in-line blocker and a trusted receiver when called upon. But, his ACL injury in preseason cost Gragg his entire season. That, along with the money Charles Clay is making as the clear number-one, and the emergence of Nick O'Leary as a solid number-two, the team would be best served going younger and healthier here.

Verdict: Let Gragg hit free agency and sign elsewhere. If still unsigned in August, and healthy, explore resigning him to compete for a roster spot.

RB Reggie Bush

Bush was signed late in training camp last season to compete for the primary punt and kick returner spot, as well as a backup running back.  After looking fresh and rejuvenated the first couple weeks with the team he barely saw the field in 2016.  And when he did, he carried the ball only 12 times for -3 yards, actually setting an NFL record by becoming the first rusher ever to finish the season with negative yards having at least 10 carries.  He also finished with only two punt returns and five kick returns.  He was inactive for three games.  Bush will be 32 years old before free agency begins.

Verdict: No need to bring Bush back.  Let him become a free agent and either sign elsewhere or retire.

FB Jerome Felton

After being cut then brought back a week later to start last season for financial purposes, Felton once again opened holes for LeSean McCoy and helped the Bills running game finish at the top of the league.  New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has been a part of systems, with or under Mike Shanahan, Alex Gibbs, and Gary Kubiak, who like to utilize the fullback, but generally one more athletic who can also carry the ball and catch passes out of the backfield.  Felton isn’t going to help much in those areas, but he’s still one of the best blocking FBs in the league.  Considering he was signed for less than $1 million last year and is about to turn 31 this offseason, the Bills should be able to keep Felton for a low price if they want, possibly even the veteran minimum - which will then allow them to use the vet salary cap benefit and only count $615,000 on the cap.

Verdict: Resign for 1-year, veteran minimum.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports

02/13/2017 2:18PM
Sal's Bills UFAs: Offensive skill positions
Please enter your comments below.
02/13/2017 2:33PM
Addition by subtraction
Agree with everyone who you pegged to let go. No need to Goodwin, Harvin, EJ, Gragg, Bush. Hunter is whatever too. There are better WRs out there. I like Tate, good returner, and Felton had a solid year, but everyone else can go away. Sometimes the team gets better when you remove them. Same can be said that getting rid of Bulldog will improve this radio station.
02/13/2017 3:12PM
i was having a bad Monday but reading this list of players gave me a good laugh. Thanks Shill Capaccio!!!
02/13/2017 3:48PM
Quite Telling
When ONLY TWO of nine featured UFAs are outright endorsed for definite resigning -- and at that, ONLY for 1-year veteran minimum offers !!!!!!! Then, of the remaining seven UFAs, three are at best LUKEWARM recommendations for low-ball offers (that will likely be rejected), followed by the advice not to match and let them walk away (presumably because their loss is deemed "no big deal" by the author). Last, the four remaining players -- the largest single grouping of the nine total UFAs written about -- ALL carry the recommendation to jettison them from the roster outright and/or let them retire (which is a complete no-brainer in the case of both Reggie Bush and Percy Harvin; heck, Fred Jackson would have been a better option than Reggie Bush -- but the Rex Ryan/Doug Whaley/Bills Front Office cabal didn't want to deal with the PR nightmare of bringing back FredEx and having him demonstrate that he had more in the tank than Bush). This utter lack of roster talent and depth -- coupled with the unmitigated disaster of bungling Chris Hogan's departure last year such that Whaley and Brandon allowed a bitter divisional rival to poach him from the Bills FOR NOTHING IN RETURN (we could, and should, have tendered him a higher than bare minimum offer that would have guaranteed us at least a 2nd round [and possibly a 1st round] draft pick -- speaks VOLUMES in INDICTING Whaley, Brandon, and all the scouts who have MISMANAGED the Bills' talent level for YEARS !!!!!!!! They should be FIRED for INCOMPETENCE. !!!!! I understand that the Bills have hit paydirt on "some"/a few of their draft picks (the law of averages alone drives that) ... but there have been far too many spectacular misses and at best marginal returns too high in the draft order and/or in free agency to justify not making sweeping organizational changes in front office "leadership" and the draft staff. 17 years AND COUNTING of being a bottom feeder (or near bottom feeder) within our division without so much as a sniff of the playoffs says it all. Since being promoted to Bills CEO at the end of 2009, and then taking virtually complete control of the Bills as President on 1 Jan 2013 when Ralph Wilson handed the keys over to his "son" Russ Brandon, how have the Bills made ANY appreciable improvement or had any progress toward winning the division????????? That's SEVEN SOLID most recent SEASONS of FAILURE that can heavily be attributed to Russ Brandon directly (along with successive GMs Nix and Whaley) out of the 17 running seasons of failure in total (the other 10 years of failure "might" be more fairly attributable to the entire/overall organization -- of which Brandon was a part -- as opposed to placing the blame as heavily at his doorstep. Regardless, RB is too heavily involved with too much failure.
02/13/2017 3:58PM
Keep Woods, Felton, and Hopefully Hunter....
Let the rest of them shuffle out of Buffalo.
02/13/2017 4:56PM
Article title was misleading Sal
I thought you said "offensive SKILL positions."
02/13/2017 4:59PM
Looks eerily similar to how Sabres are built
Lot of chaff there.
02/13/2017 7:50PM
Offensive "skill" ??
Every single one of the above are examples of the many reasons why this franchise is the biggest joke in the league. Those stiffs are symbolic of the many failures of Doug Whaley. Oh and no need to worry; Not ONE other NFL franchise would touch any of those stiffs. THE DROUGHT will reach 18 years old AND DON'T FORGET "THE LITTLE BROTHA" of The Drought will reach 6 years old this spring! KEEP BUYING BRANDON'S INVENTORY, FOOLS!
02/14/2017 8:18AM
Sal Sal Sal
Did Kim or Billy Buffalo assist you with your verdict?
02/14/2017 12:23PM
Review of EJ Manual is not reaslistic enough
You still are bestowing too much praise for EJ Manual Capaccio. Yes he was drafted too high. EJ Manuel was certainly not good enough to be drafted in the first round like he was. He also is not good enough to have been drafted in the second round. He is arguably the worst QB the Bills have ever had along with JP Losman, Trent Edwards, Rob Johnson etc. He just may be the biggest bust in Bills history and he is the singular reason why the team didn't improve the last few years and are headed back towards the bottom of the NFL. Doubtful that his "physical attributes" are so great that many teams will be breaking down his door to sign him.
02/14/2017 7:39PM
Keep Gilmore? Are you joking? NOOOO WAY!!! The bonfire with legs.
Can't open filed tackle, gets burned far more than he defends passes or intercepts. He got burned so often for that 6 game stretch he could be mistaken for a bonfire with legs! He wants top 5 money, you have to drinking the coolaid Sal. Can you imagine Gilmore as a starting CB on a top team? I can't, maybe once upon a time, but not now. $10M = NO WAY foolish foolish.
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Comment :
Are you sold on Robin Lehner as the Sabres #1 goalie?
  Yes. His play the last 2 months has sold me.
  Not yet. I need to see him play well/stay healthy the rest of the season.
  No. He's not the answer. I wouldn't re-sign him.
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