The money says Charles Clay is an elite tight end in the NFL.
It says he’s right up there, financially, with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas.
Clay’s other numbers, the ones that don’t follow dollar signs, say something else about one of the biggest offseason additions to the Buffalo Bills. Good, but not necessarily elite. Productive, but not necessarily spectacular.
In the past four seasons with the Miami Dolphins (58 games), Clay caught 161 passes for 1,809 yards and 14 touchdowns. The rundown of the others in his fiscal neighborhood goes as follows:
In the past five seasons with the New Orleans Saints (78 games), Graham, now with Seattle, caught 386 passes for 4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns.
In the past five seasons with the New England Patriots (65 games), Gronkowski has 308 receptions for 4,379 yards and 54 TDs.
In the past four seasons with the Denver Broncos (36 games), Thomas, now with Jacksonville, caught 109 passes for 1,282 yards and 24 TDs.
So, the obvious question is whether the five-year, $35-million contract that the Dolphins wouldn’t match – thus allowing Clay to join the Buffalo Bills last month – puts pressure on him to perform at an elite level?
“It doesn’t at all,” he said during the Bills’ voluntary offseason conditioning program earlier this month. “Nobody can put more pressure on me than I put on myself already. I mean, that’s just part of it. I’m going to come out and do all I can to try to help this team. I’m not going out trying to validate why I got the money I got. When guys start to do that, that’s when you start pressing. And I don’t want to do that.
“I’m going to come out, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to play as hard as I can and do all I can to help this team win. That’s my only focus right now.”
The fact is, the Bills aren’t seeking from Clay the same type of defense-stretching ability that Graham, Gronkowski and Thomas provide. They aren’t going to frequently rely on him to make those long, game-breaking catches that the others make. It doesn’t mean Clay won’t deliver impactful plays, but he probably won’t have receiving stats that compare favorably with those of Graham, Gronk, Thomas and other tight ends who are considered greater downfield threats.
The Bills wanted the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Clay because they see him as a complete tight end. They wanted him for his blocking. They wanted him for his short-area effectiveness as a receiver, especially near the end zone. They wanted him because they believed he was better than any tight end they had on the roster and any other available tight end for the style of offense being implemented by new coordinator Greg Roman.
The Bills wanted Clay so much, they were willing to pay the hefty price required to pry him away from the Dolphins, who would have preferred to keep him but not under the terms of the Bills’ offer.
“I think Charles has shown that he’s a very multi-dimensional type player, and he can function at a high level in the run game and in the passing game,” Roman said. “He loves playing the game, and that’s what we look for. He’ll probably be doing a lot of things; he’ll have a lot on his plate. He’ll be studying a lot at night.”
Predictably, Rex Ryan’s player-friendly personality and track record of defensive success played a big role in the recruitment of the player at the very top of the Bills’ free-agent wish list. Ryan, who saw plenty of Clay for most of his previous coaching stint with the New York Jets, turned on the charm after he and Clay boarded the private plane of team owners Terry and Kim Pegula for the flight from South Florida to Western New York.
“One of the first things he said when I got on the plane with him was, ‘I didn’t have to watch any film once free agency started because I know all about this guy. I’ve been watching him for the past four years,’ ” Clay recalled. “We kind of laughed about that. But I know what kind of defense he runs, and I know what he’ll do. You take an already-great defense and you add Rex Ryan to it, it’ll be lights out.
“Before I ever took my visit here and I saw some of the moves that they made with Rex Ryan and the Pegulas and LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin, you kind of want to be a part of that. Granted, I played against the defense for four years, so I know how tough the defense is. And then you start to throw in those weapons and you bring in Richie Incognito, and I know the toughness that he brings to the game just from the time that he was in Miami, and you get the sense, ‘Man, that’s going to be a tough team’ and you want to be a part of that.
“I was excited just about the opportunity, and they showed me that they value me just as much as I value them.”
During the offseason conditioning program, Clay and his teammates in attendance took the first steps toward learning their respective playbooks. As Roman mentioned, there was plenty for him to study. There is plenty more studying to do.
In the Bills’ offense, Clay will find himself in a variety of roles depending on the situation and the play call. It will be a significant change from his mostly stationary role with the Dolphins.
“It’s basically just moving around a lot,” Clay said. “I might be in the backfield sometimes. I could be out wide. I could be in-line, in the slot. It’s just a matter of match-ups and how we match up against a certain team that week.
“I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about. And it’s not only myself. There are a lot of guys we have in this offense and a lot of guys that can move around, so it’ll be fun and I can’t wait for it. I’m excited.”
But not pressured.