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Addition of Cole Beasley, John Brown drastically reshapes Bills' outlook at receiver

The Buffalo Bills’ receiver corps got an extreme makeover Tuesday.

The team agreed to contracts with both John Brown and Cole Beasley on the second day of the NFL’s “legal tampering period.” Both of those deals won’t become official until 4 p.m. Wednesday, at the start of the new league year.

Brown’s signing, which was first reported by NFL Network’s Peter Schrager, came first. His deal is for three years and worth up to $27 million, with $11.7 million guaranteed, according to SiriusXM NFL radio host Adam Caplan.

The agreement with Beasley, which was first reported by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, came just minutes later. It spans four years, and has a maximum value of $29 million, $14.4 million of which is guaranteed.

Just like that, the Bills added two proven, veteran receivers for second-year quarterback Josh Allen. Brown’s signing comes a year after the Bills first expressed interest in him. The 28-year-old (he turns 29 next month) opted to take a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens last offseason, but the Bills’ interest apparently never dissipated.

Brown had better success with the Ravens when Joe Flacco was at quarterback. He had 35 catches for 601 yards and four touchdowns the first nine weeks, but that production took a nosedive when Lamar Jackson took over for the Ravens. Brown ended the season with just eight catches for 114 yards and one touchdown in the final seven games. Still, he averaged a career-best 17.0 yards per catch in 2018, tied for seventh best among wide receivers, giving the Bills an established deep threat. Brown, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill were the only receivers in the NFL last year to have at least 700 yards, five touchdowns and average 17.0 or more yards per catch.

Brown, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL scouting combine, is listed at 5 feet, 11 inches and 178 pounds. He did most of his work out wide for the Ravens, taking 610 snaps there and just 185 in the slot, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. He caught seven passes (on 28 targets) that traveled at least 20 yards through the air. Brown struggled with drops in 2018, with seven on 49 catchable passes, as charted by PFF. His drop percentage of 14.3 ranked tied for seventh worst among receivers with at least 40 targets.

Brown spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, the team that chose him in the third round of the 2014 draft. His best season came in 2015, when he had 65 catches for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. He made 173 catches for 2,515 yards and 22 touchdowns in four years with the Cardinals.

Brown played in all 16 games for the Ravens after appearing in just 10 in his final season with Arizona. He was diagnosed with the sickle cell trait in October 2016. That can lead to muscle breakdown when doing intense exercise.

[Get the latest on the Bills' free agency moves]

Beasley, meanwhile, is entering his eighth NFL season. He turns 30 next month. He has 319 receptions for 3,271 yards and 23 touchdowns and is coming off the second-best season of his career, catching 65 passes for 672 yards and three touchdowns. His best season came in 2016, when he had 75 receptions for 833 yards and five touchdowns.

Beasley, 5 feet, 8 inches and 180 pounds, is a prototypical slot receiver who excels at gaining separation. He averaged 2.9 yards of separation from defensive backs before making the catch in 2018, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats – a number better than the likes of Michael Thomas (2.7), Antonio Brown (2.6) and DeAndre Hopkins (2.5).

Beasley grew up in Texas and played collegiately at SMU. He joined the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012. Shortly after the 2018 season wrapped up, Beasley expressed some frustration with his role in the Dallas offense, saying the team’s front office “dictates who gets the ball.”

“I’ll always love #CowboyNation and I appreciate the time we have had together,” Beasley posted on Twitter. “Thanks to the Jones family for giving me a shot. Excited for this new journey. Can’t wait to get started in Buffalo. Let’s go #BillsMafia.”

The Bills’ wide receivers finished last season with just 1,989 receiving yards, which was the fourth fewest in the NFL. Brown and Beasley will join returnees Zay Jones and Robert Foster in the Buffalo offense, giving the team a top four – barring any other additions – that on paper is a good deal stronger than what it entered 2018 with.

In some ways, the Bills followed a plan executed last offseason by the Chicago Bears, who surrounded young quarterback Mitch Trubisky with experienced receivers. Trubisky took a step forward in his second season – just what the Bills hope, and need, Allen to do.

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