Finally, after all of the courting and all of the calculating and re-calculating of salary-cap numbers, the Buffalo Bills have the player they were bent on getting before last week’s start of the NFL free-agent signing period.
Charles Clay is taking his talents from South Florida to Western New York.
That became official on Thursday, when the Miami Dolphins chose not to match the Bills’ offer of a five-year, $38 million contract to the tight end – on whom the Dolphins had placed a transition tag – allowing him to join Buffalo’s roster. The Dolphins had until Sunday at midnight to decide.
It was widely believed through league circles the Bills had structured the offer in such a way that the Dolphins, having already made big offseason investments of their own that consumed much of their salary cap, wouldn’t be able to match.
The $24.5 million Clay will be paid through the first two years of the contract was seen as the primary obstacle to Miami’s ability to match.
New Bills coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman had firmly placed Clay at the top of their wish list for offseason shopping. Beside viewing him as a clear upgrade at tight end, they also see him as a perfect fit for an offense that requires a tight end who is both a solid blocker and an effective short-area receiver.
Clay, 26, arrived in Western New York on March 10, the beginning of the league’s free-agent signing period, for a three-day visit. He returned to South Florida, and there was speculation last week that, despite signing free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a contract that calls for a $28.6 million cap hit in 2016, the Dolphins would still be able to retain Clay because they had traded away high-salaried wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
But the Bills, with the cooperation of Clay’s agents, were determined to put together the right numbers to virtually guarantee they would land the tight end and add to a growing list of acquisitions that has grabbed the NFL’s attention.
The Bills also have upgraded themselves at running back (by trading for LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles), wide receiver (by signing free agent Percy Harvin), and fullback (by signing free agent Jerome Felton).
In addition, they retained one of their top pass-rushers by signing Jerry Hughes to a new contract, and added one quarterback, Matt Cassel, via a trade and another, Tyrod Taylor, via free agency.
In four seasons since joining the Dolphins as a sixth-round draft pick from Tulsa, Clay has caught 161 passes for 1,809 yards (an average of 11.2 yards per catch) and 14 touchdowns.
Clay has started 47 of the 58 career games that he has played. He has had more than 50 receptions in each of the past two seasons. His 127 catches in that span are the sixth-most in the NFL.