It's crunch time.
After Tampa Bay signed the best tight end available, Ben Troupe, the Bills are in semi-scrambling mode. The tight end market was dry to begin with. Now it's probably at the point where most of the free agents available now, will still be free agents when July training camp rolls around. With Troupe out of the picture, Chief Operating Officer Russ Brandon and the Bills brass have a decision to make.
Do they postpone a glaring need altogether and bank on landing a top-notch pass-catcher in April's draft? Do they give Courtney Anderson a shot? Or why not do both?
Buffalo will probably opt for Door No. 3.
There is no guarantee that USC's Fred Davis will slip to the Bills in the second round. Buffalo's dream scenario is probably to go WR in the first and Davis in the second. Quarterback Trent Edwards needs youth at receiver to grow with. A Limas Sweed-Fred Davis Day One on draft weekend would surely cue collective Tiger Woods-fist pumps in the Bills war room.
But in reality, March isn't about wishful thinking. It's about designing Plan A, B, C and D. Buffalo must prepare for draft disaster, by signing another tight end ASAP.
Current starter Robert Royal should stick as a solid extra lineman in Buffalo's promising rushing attack. Teyo Johnson was acquired on Jan. 29 for a two-year, $1.2 million trial run. Johnson is a 6-6, 260 lb. tease/project that was drafted in the second round by Oakland 2003 and hasn't played in the league since 2005.
After visiting the facilities Wednesday (one day after Troupe did), former-Raider Courtney Anderson could be the Troupeless consolation prize. Much like Troupe, Anderson fits the athletic, pass-catching role the team is starving for, although he is raw and inconsistent. Anderson hasn't had a breakout year as Troupe did in 2005 (55 rec., 530 yd., 4 TD), but he has flashed enough potential to warrant consideration as a NFL starter.
Even though it seems like he's had more changes in residence than Sam Cassell.
Last season, Anderson was released by Oakland before the season, was in Miami's training camp, signed a contract with Detroit, appeared in two games with the Lions, was cut loose in late October, and signed with Atlanta in November, where he played in two games.
Oakland, Miami, Detroit and Atlanta – a combined 16-48 last season – aren't exactly tight end hotbeds. The fact that Anderson failed to latch on with each team may be the reason he did not have any more visits scheduled after the Buffalo pit stop.
"Last year was a whirlwind with four teams in a year and I didn't like it," Anderson told the press Wednesday. "I just want to get an opportunity where I'm stable and get better and make the team better."
It's been difficult for Anderson to convince teams that he is still worthy of an NFL contract and that his team-hopping last season was one massive speed bump, not career suicide.
"Hopefully they see the film I put out there and just try to convince them that I'm going to come in, work hard and I'm not going to say too much," Anderson said. "I'm just going to do my job and hopefully they just believe in what they see on the film and they believe in what I'm saying to them. But most of all just what they see on film and my work ethic."
Despite his rock band-like tour through cities last season, Anderson's attitude remains upbeat. He's 27 years old, so his career still has time to peak, and in Buffalo's offense he could flourish. Far too often last season, Trent Edwards was left without a viable option between the hash marks i.e. the Bills' failed fourth down screen pass to Fred Jackson in Cleveland that ended their playoff hopes. With a legitimate, big red zone threat, Buffalo would have most likely played that decisive down with more aggression and put the ball in the end zone.
At 6-6, 270 lb., Anderson immediately fills a niche. He played wide receiver until his junior year at San Jose State. Unlike Royal, Anderson would be a downfield threat.
In 2005 and 2006 with the Raiders, he appeared to be turning the corner. Anderson caught 49 passes for 588 yards and five touchdowns in the two seasons combined.
If he can settle in one location, actually have a chance to unpack his bags and get six months of reps in with Edwards, Courtney Anderson may be the right guy at the right time and build upon that promising two-year spurt.
He isn't hurting in confidence, despite last season's turbulence.
"A guy like [Antonio] Gates," said Anderson when asked what he does well at tight end. "Or somebody you throw the ball to them 12 times you know he's going to catch at least eight. So if they throw it to me 12 I'm pretty sure I'd catch eight. I think I'm pretty balanced."
Royal enters 2008 on the third year of his four-year, $10 million contract. If then-general manager Marv Levy could turn back time, he probably would have spent that money elsewhere. But Royal still has value in Buffalo's run game. The trend in today's league is to give two tight ends substantial playing time. One as a virtual extended tackle. The other as a receiver.
Green Bay's offense dominated last season with Donald Lee and Bubba Franks in this formula. Franks missed eight games with an injury, but returned in time to spark Ryan Grant's 201-yard outburst against Seattle in the playoffs. The Packer cut Franks on Feb. 20 before the tight end was due a $500,000 bonus and a $3 million base salary next season. It's not time to pull the plug on Royal yet, but he absolutely needs a downfield complement. Last year, despite seeing the most snaps at tight end, Royal only caught 25 passes.
The current stock of unemployed tight ends is weaker than that grossly overplayed Cuba Gooding Jr. Haines commercial. Not interesing. Joining Anderson and Franks atop the TE list are Eric Johnson and Kris Wilson. Johnson had 48 catches for 378 yards and two scores for New Orleans last season, but said he'd like to return to the Saints. New Orleans also re-signed tight end Billy Miller on Friday. Wilson, a 2004 second-rounder from Pittsburgh, caught 24 balls for Kansas City last season.
Push is coming to shove. As teams gobble up free agents by the hour, Anderson is probably Buffalo's best choice for the interim. Three days have elapsed since his visit, and still no contract has been finalized. Ideally, the Bills would prefer a rookie to mold within its stage-one offense. With options running low, Buffalo may be forced into signing Anderson, if for nothing else as an emergency plan. Davis or Notre Dame's John Carlson would be jackpot selections at the 41st overall pick.
For now though, signing Courtney Anderson is the best move.
For both parties.
"I don't have any other visits lined up and the timetable could be right this second to sign here," Anderson said. "I want to go to a place where I'm comfortable and they want me there. That's where I'm at now."
Check the Buffalo Football Report for updates throughout the weekend.
Tyler Dunne is the Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org