Jason Croom was both melancholy and motivated when the Buffalo Bills released veteran Charles Clay last month.
“He’s a great dude. One of my favorite people. It’s sad to see him go,” Croom said last week during a phone interview with The Buffalo News. “We understand it’s business, but that’s got nothing to do with us. We still have a good relationship outside of that.”
On the field, it’s another story.
Clay’s departure, along with Logan Thomas’ status as a restricted free agent, leaves the 6-foot-5, 246-pound Croom as the Bills’ only tight end under contract for next season. And although the team will undoubtedly address the position in free agency, the draft or both, the second-year pro sees the shakeup as a path to increased playing time, if not the starting job.
“Really, it’s another opportunity for me to step up,” Croom said. “That’s what’s been pushing me even harder this offseason. I literally just finished up my workout.”
Croom, 25, played in 15 games last season, starting three, and finished with 22 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown. He spent much of the 2017 season on the Bills practice squad after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee.
Clay, 30, started 12 of the 13 games he played last season but managed just 21 catches for a career-low 184 yards and no touchdowns. He was entering the final season of a five-year, $38 million contract, and his release saved $4.5 million under the salary cap.
Croom said he expects stiff competition for snaps, and that he doesn’t feel the starting job is his to lose.
“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Croom said about the Bills’ decision makers. “All I can do is when that ball comes my way or a play comes my way, my results better be to make a play. That’s all I can do. I really don’t ever concern myself with anybody else.”
Croom said he’s optimistic about Josh Allen and the Bills’ young offensive corps continuing to build on last season, when the team finished with a 6-10 record, winning four of its final seven games.
“What excites me is the energy, the momentum we had ending the season,” Croom said, “and I just feel like everybody, we understand we didn’t have a lot of experience, and everybody is motivated. We know we’re better than what we put out there. You would see flashes. We’re going to put it all together.”