Solid, but not spectacular would be a good way to describe Charles Clay’s first three seasons in Buffalo.
The Bills lured Clay away from the Miami Dolphins after the 2014 season with a five-year contract worth up to $38 million that still ranks eighth in average annual value three years after it was signed. The return on that investment for Buffalo has been only so-so.
Clay finished 2017 with 49 catches for 558 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games, missing three because of a knee injury. He tied for 14th in catches, ranked 13th in yards and was tied for 30th in touchdowns among NFL tight ends. Clay, though, is one of the Bills’ more valuable offensive players, in part because of his ability to play in all situations and in part because of what’s behind him.
Returnees: Charles Clay, Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas, Khari Lee, Jason Croom, Keith Towbridge.
What the numbers say: As a team, the Bills completed 78 passes to tight ends for 947 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. Comparing that to the rest of the AFC East, New England (with star Rob Gronkowski) finished with 83-1,211-9, Miami was 54-505-4 and the Jets were 68-598-4.
What to expect: More of the same, since the Bills oddly didn’t gain or lose any players at the position. That would seem to indicate some level of confidence in the players on the roster in the eyes of the front office.
If he stays healthy, Clay should again be in the range of 50 catches and 600 yards, although it would be nice to see him find the end zone more than twice. The bigger question is if any of the players behind him can become anything more than role players.
O’Leary is coming off his best season, with 22 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He’s never going to be a player defensive coordinators lose sleep over, though. Logan Thomas had just seven catches for 67 yards after a promising preseason. Khari Lee appeared in eight games, exclusively as a blocker, failing to record even one target in the passing game.
Towbridge spent the 2017 season on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in training camp, while Croom finished last year on the Bills’ practice squad after being released last summer. The undrafted free agent out of Tennessee is a roster long shot, as is Towbridge. The biggest thing to sort out at training camp will be whether the team keeps four or five at the position.
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll spent three years in New England coaching the position. Unfortunately for the Bills, he doesn’t have a Gronk in Buffalo to work with.