The Buffalo Bills considered a major weapon for their offense and found a new backup quarterback on the first day of the free agent shopping season.
Veteran receiver Laveranues Coles was the headliner visiting One Bills Drive. Coles, 31, is a nine-year veteran who would give Buffalo a proven outside receiver opposite Lee Evans. The Bills' offense is in need of some type of new firepower after finishing in the bottom eight in the NFL in yards gained for a sixth straight year.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick of Cincinnati reached an agreement on a new contract with the Bills late Friday. He becomes the new No. 2 to Trent Edwards, replacing J.P. Losman.
The Bills also entertained center-guard Geoff Hangartner of Carolina and guard Kendall Simmons of Pittsburgh also visited. Hangartner and Fitzpatrick posted the two highest scores on the pre-draft intelligence test when they entered the NFL in 2005. Simmons has been a starter for the Steelers since 2002 but played only four games last season after tearing an Achilles tendon. He was cut by Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Fitzpatrick, 26, is the first Harvard quarterback ever to throw a pass in the NFL. He was a seventh-round pick of St. Louis in 2005 and reportedly scored 48 out of 50 on his Wonderlic test, according to a Wall Street Journal story.
Fitzpatrick, 6-foot-2, started 12 games for Cincinnati this year after starter Carson Palmer went out with an elbow injury. He went 4-7-1 as a starter, although the Bengals were 4-3-1 the second half of the season. Fitzpatrick completed 59.4 percent of his passes with eight TDs and nine interceptions. He has good mobility and ran 60 times for 304 yards.
The Bills were looking for a No. 2 QB who would be comfortable in his role behind Edwards.
With no proven, difference-making tight ends on the free agent market, the Bills might as well look to receiver to inject more life into their attack.
Coles ranks 13th among active NFL receivers with 631 catches for 8,095 yards and 44 touchdowns. He had 70 catches for 850 yards with seven touchdowns last season for the Jets.
Coles is known as one of the toughest receivers in the league, as well as a hard worker and a great teammate. He plays outside, which is what the Bills need. He is not considered a prime deep threat, but he excels at catching intermediate throws, slants and passes over the middle.
The question is how much good football Coles has left. Coles could have played in New York in 2009 for $6 million guaranteed. However, he had been seeking a long-term deal from the Jets for several seasons, and New York was unwilling to offer it. So Coles agreed to give up the guaranteed deal for this year if the Jets would let him become an unrestricted free agent. They did.
The Bills' prime candidate to start opposite Evans is last year's second-round pick, James Hardy, but he is rehabilitating from a knee injury and had just nine catches as a rookie.
Coles finished his visit at One Bills Drive on Friday evening and caught a plane out of town. Another possible landing spot for him is Miami, since he has a close relationship with Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington.
Hangartner, who turns 27 in April, started 15 games at center for Carolina in 2006 and started eight this past season. The Panthers didn't suffer with him on the field. Carolina went 12-4 and ranked third in the league in rushing. Hangartner is a 6-foot-5, 301-pounder. He scored 47 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test coming out of Texas A&M. The question on Hangartner is can he be stout enough in the middle, since the Bills play rugged nose tackles in the AFC East. Hangartner, however, is familiar with Jets star nose tackle Kris Jenkins, having practiced against him in Carolina for three years.
Simmons, who turns 30 next month, was the 30th overall pick in the 2002 draft. He ruptured his Achilles tendon Sept. 29 and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve. Given the significant nature of the injury, which requires eight months of rehabilitation, the Steelers opted to cut him rather than honor the remainder of a $4.8 million-a-year deal he signed in 2007. If his rehabilitation goes according to schedule, Simmons would be ready to return to action by June.
The Bills have just one returning veteran interior lineman under contract -- Brad Butler, the starter on the right side.
Meanwhile, running back Fred Taylor, who visited the Bills this week, signed instead with New England. It was not clear whether the Bills made a strong offer.
However, the decision made sense, since it was hard to see how Taylor was going to get a lot of touches in a Bills backfield that includes Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Taylor called the move "a no-brainer."
"The visit in Buffalo went real well, but the Patriots just felt like it was the place to be," Taylor said. "After talking to Coach Belichick and looking at everything, looking at the type of players they have, it was pretty much a no-brainer.
"Who wouldn't want to play in New England? They have been the most successful organization in the last decade or so."
Derrick Dockery, cut by the Bills on Thursday, signed with the Washington Redskins with a deal reported to be worth $26.5 million over five years.