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How can the Bills address their need at wide receiver?

Brandon Beane felt compelled to apologize to Brian Daboll.

The Buffalo Bills’ general manager intended to get the team’s offensive coordinator some more help during last week’s NFL Draft. After taking quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh overall selection, however, each of Beane’s next four picks played defense.

"We had to trust the board,” Beane said Monday during an appearance on WGR 550. “We put a lot of time into it. I've been a part of it, where you do overreact for need at the time and you let good football players go. It's weird how it just kept falling for us was defensively.

“I felt bad. Daboll would come in there and I was apologizing to him. ... It kept falling to defense for a while until we got Wyatt Teller. You've got to stick to your board. We're not done. We're continuing to look. We'll see what we can make happen between now and the first game in September."

So Beane is aware that the team could use an upgrade at wideout, but cautioned that might not have happened in the draft.

"It was not a strong receiver class to begin with,” he said. “There were a few guys early that went there, two of them in the first ... but it started dropping off after that. Offense as a whole, not only receiver, we were definitely looking for some more weapons.”

Here’s a look at where those might be found:

Free agency

The top remaining player on the open market is former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. The 29-year-old hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season in the last three years, and set a career low with 12.1 yards per catch in 2017.

Bryant reportedly turned down a multiyear contract with the Ravens and is seeking a one-year, prove-it contract that could put him in line to cash in next offseason as a free agent. That could appeal to the Bills since it would be a low-risk move.

Beane has been asked about any possible interest in Bryant twice recently.

“Dez is a very good player,” the GM said Monday during his radio interview. “Is he the same player he was five years ago? Probably not, but he can still play in this league and still help a team. I've never personally met Dez, so we would have to bring him in and visit with him and see if he was a fit. We were generally focused on what we were going to get in the draft before looking at that. So it's something we'll talk about, but that's probably as far as I could say right now.”

It’s fair to wonder how Bryant would fit into the Bills’ locker room, especially given the emphasis that coach Sean McDermott puts on character. Bryant’s former quarterback, Tony Romo, told ESPN that teams should not be scared off of Bryant for that reason.

“There’s a ton of teams he could help,” Romo said. “One thing, I don’t know how many teams will do their homework on it, but Dez is a good teammate and I think sometimes that might get lost in the emotional aspect of teams. If I was talking to any of the GMs or coaches, I would tell them he’s not going to hurt the locker room in any possible way.”

Bryant isn’t the only notable veteran still on the open market.

"I do think there could still be guys out there,” Beane said. “You know, I mentioned a couple times (Jeremy) Maclin and (Eric) Decker last year came out there. What happens is, teams look at what they drafted and they say, 'you know what, I don't want to pay this guy $5 million or $6 million.’ I just drafted a guy that I want to get on the field, anyhow.”

Speaking of Maclin and Decker, both of them are free agents, as well. Maclin, who turns 30 next week, visited the Bills last offseason as a free agent before deciding to sign with Baltimore. He lasted only one year with the Ravens, finishing with 40 catches for 440 yards, both career lows.

Decker, 31, played in all 16 games for Tennessee in 2017, making 54 catches for 563 yards and one touchdown.

Brandon Marshall, 34, is another veteran of an advanced age who remains unsigned. He played in just five games for the Giants last season, making 18 catches for 154 yards. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5.

There are younger options available, too, although they are far less accomplished than the players above. Markus Wheaton, 27, had a pair of good seasons with Pittsburgh in 2014-15, but has just seven catches for 102 yards and one touchdown in the past two years, the last of which was spent in Chicago.

Kamar Aiken, 28, played in 15 games (with seven starts) for the Colts in 2017, making 15 catches for 133 yards. The Bills were rumored to have an interest in Aiken last year when he was a free agent.

Trade

Beane has shown he’s not afraid to be aggressive in this way. As he said above, it’s possible that teams that drafted a wide receiver last week will decide to move on from a high-priced veteran. There were 10 teams that took a wide receiver in the first three rounds of the draft.

Of those, two teams in particular could be of interest. The Falcons added Calvin Ridley in the first round out of Alabama, and he figures to take over as the No. 2 receiver behind Julio Jones. Where does that leave Mohamed Sanu? He has three years remaining on his contract, with base salaries between $6 million and $6.5 million.

Sanu is a candidate to be released if the Falcons can’t find a trade partner.

The Broncos took SMU’s Courtland Sutton in the second round, as well as Penn State’s DeaShan Hamilton in the fourth round. Denver has high-priced receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas, 30, has two years remaining on his contract, at base salaries of $8.5 million and $14 million. That second figure is likely too high for the Bills, but Thomas could be released after this year with no salary cap hit.

Sanders, 31, also has two years left on his contract, with base salaries of $8.25 million and $10.25 million.

Status quo

If the Bills choose not to go ahead with either of the above options, they can go with what they’ve got. That would mean Kelvin Benjamin as the No. 1 … and then a lot of uncertainty.

Zay Jones is the perceived No. 2 receiver, but that’s assuming he will be ready to play – both mentally and physically – after having offseason shoulder surgery and then being arrested in Los Angeles.

The No. 3 receiver at the moment appears to be veteran Jeremy Kerley, who was signed this offseason. The Bills added a pair of receivers in the draft – Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud in the sixth round and North Carolina’s Austin Proehl in the seventh round.

They’ll compete for a job in the slot, but it’s unlikely they develop into meaningful offensive contributors as rookies.

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