Bills must spend carefully at WR

Bryant Johnson

Bryant Johnson may have a new home soon, and while he'd certainly boost Buffalo's short receiving corps, the price must be right, says Marc Heintzman

It's no secret that the Bills' receiving corps needs to be revamped this off-season.

With plenty of talent out there for the Bills to act on, they need to do so in the right manner to avoid mistakes they've made in the past. Overpaying for under-performing receivers is something that occurs often, and with the Bills' many other needs on the roster, they can't afford to break the bank on receivers.

One very recent bust at WR was Peerless Price in 2006. After four years away from the team, Price was signed to a four-year, $10 million contract. He had one exceptional season in Buffalo in 2002, so they thought he'd be a good investment again. What did the Bills get for this healthy investment? Not even a full two years worth of playing time. And not even 500 yards. Needless to say, Price was cut this off-season, to make room for a productive receiver.

There are two notable receivers currently in free agency that could bolster the Bills' passing game next season. Arizona's Bryant Johnson, and Seattle's D.J. Hackett are both receivers that would be a good fit for Buffalo. Both receivers offer height, which the Bills desperately need, but are they worth a lengthy contract?

Johnson and Hackett have similar stats – neither has had over 750 yards and five touchdowns in a season. Both have height and youth, but why invest in two mostly unproven receivers?

Both receivers are probably eyeing multi-year contracts, since this spring is their inaugural free agency opportunity. The Bills should spend carefully, though. It would probably be wise for Buffalo to just ink a free agent to a one-year deal. Avoid another Peerless Price situation, and test the receiver first to see if he is capable of putting up big numbers. Sign Johnson or Hackett for one year and if he makes an immediate impact, reward him with an extension.

If they decline the one-year offer, too bad.

But with the number of big contracts being offered by teams dwindling, Johnson and Hackett might want to strongly consider this as well. Holding out for a bigger contract will have teams second-guessing these players. Demanding a No.1-receiver money, but giving No. 2 or No. 3 receiver numbers wouldn't be a good business decision. Sign a one-year deal, put up good numbers, and you'll be rewarded with an extension or a lengthy contract next off-season in free agency.

The Bills primary focus should be taking a receiver in the upcoming draft. Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and Texas' Limas Sweed are two obvious choices and the Bills would be wise to make sure they land one of them. Both are big, athletic receivers with playmaking capabilities. They need a playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Lee Evans.

Speaking of Evans, he is due for an extension and the Bills need to lock him up long-term. Evans is a solid foundation in which to build a receiving corps around. Give Evans enough complements elsewhere on the field, and he could be an elite NFL wide receiver. He already has a speedy counterpart in Roscoe Parrish, who the Bills gave a contract extension in December. If the Bills make good decisions in signing a free agent receiver (to a reasonable contract), or one in the draft, they will have enough to keep Evans long term.

Locking up Evans should be Buffalo's top priority at wide receiver.

Whatever the team's decision ends up being, they have a lot of choices. With all the talent to choose from, the Bills need to spend wisely and build up the talent around Evans. With a stable quarterback situation next season, and (hopefully) a shiny new receiver, look out for the Bills receivers to be a force next season.

Marc Heintzman can be reached at mdheintz@syr.edu

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