In a move that hardly came as a surprise, the Buffalo Bills released tight end Charles Clay on Friday.
His departure gives the team $4.5 million in salary cap savings. The Bills will have $4.5 million in dead-cap money from Clay’s original $9 million cap figure, but will save $4.5 million by not having to pay his base salary.
At roughly $79.5 million, the Bills have the third-most cap space in the NFL.
Clay’s declining production made his exit inevitable. The handwriting was on the wall for him when he was a healthy scratch for the Bills’ Dec. 23 loss at New England.
Tight end is considered a key area of need, along with offensive line and wide receiver, entering next month’s free-agency period and April’s NFL Draft. It is perceived to a be a strong year for tight ends in the draft if the Bills choose that option.
Last season, the 29-year-old Clay caught only 21 passes for 184 yards and no touchdowns. His total receptions ranked 42nd among tight ends in the NFL. It was, by far, the worst output of his four seasons with the Bills and the first time in his eight-year career that he did not have a TD. His catch totals before last season with the Bills were 51, 57 and 49, good for 17th, 12th and 14th among tight ends, respectively.
Clay has dealt with a series of injuries throughout his NFL career, although that didn’t discourage the Bills from making him the fourth highest-paid player at his position after he entered free agency with the Miami Dolphins in 2015. Clay signed a five-year, $38 million deal.
Expectations that he would become a major red-zone threat never came close to materializing, and the absence of a consistently effective No. 1 tight end contributed to the Bills having one of the worst passing offenses in the league.
Clay has usually been measured with his words when discussing his performance with the media. That was the case during the locker-room cleanout on Dec. 31, the day after the end of the season.
“It obviously didn’t go how I wanted it to,” Clay said. “But I continued to work and let the chips fall where they may.”
“It wasn’t how I imagined it going when I set my goals at the beginning of the year, but the biggest thing is being there for the young guys ... leading by example and things like that. There’s a lot of good I can take from it. There’s a lot I can learn from it. And it’ll make me better in the future.”
Now that Clay has been released and with Logan Thomas due to become a restricted free agent, Jason Croom is the only tight end the Bills have under contract. Croom had 22 catches for 259 yards and one touchdown in 15 games after being on the practice squad in 2017.
“I want to be somebody that this team can count on,” Croom said before the season finale. “Each and every day, you've got to prove that.”