BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills finally landed the veteran wide receiver help they were looking for when they traded a sixth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Mike Williams on Friday.
The trade seems like a win-win move for both teams. The Buccaneers were ready to move on from Williams, who comes in with a history of off-field trouble and was recently stabbed in the thigh, and likely would have released him if unable to secure a trade partner. If he can keep himself on the right path, however, the Bills acquired a starting-caliber wideout at a low cost.
A 6’2″, 212-pound wide receiver who is strong and physical, Williams adds the size Buffalo needed at the position. He was limited to six games and 22 catches last season due to a hamstring injury, but caught a total of 193 passes for 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons.
Williams should have a chance to compete for a starting spot in Buffalo; with the team’s current depth chart, he likely projects as its No. 3 wideout, as an outside receiver in three-receiver sets with either Stevie Johnson or Robert Woods kicking inside to the slot. While he has the athleticism to be a significant downfield threat in the Bills offense, he might be his biggest asset as a red zone receiver who can go up and make plays on the ball.
It shouldn’t be considered a guarantee that Williams will play a big role in the Buffalo offense. He will have to compete with Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham and potentially a draft pick for playing time or even a roster spot, and given his history, he could easily be one misstep away from losing his job.
The Bills should be as aware of Williams’ troubles as any NFL team. Williams previously played for Bills coach Doug Marrone when Marrone was the head coach at Syracuse University, but ultimately ended up leaving the team after a number of off-field incidents. Despite that, Marrone must feel confident that Williams, a Buffalo native, can turn things around, as the Bills almost certainly would not have made this trade without getting Marrone’s stamp of approval.
“With regard to our time at Syracuse, I feel that is in the past for both of us,” Marrone told BuffaloBills.com.
The Bills would not have traded a draft pick for Williams if they didn’t expect him to make an impact. At the very least, the Williams acquisition satisfies the mantra that Buffalo should emphasize the addition of weapons for second-year quarterback EJ Manuel to work with. With a number of young talents already on the roster but no receivers outside of Johnson with a history of production, the Bills were smart to seek out and acquire a veteran with proven playmaking ability.
What the Williams trade shouldn’t do is preclude the Bills from still targeting a wide receiver in this year’s draft. Should Texas A&M’s Mike Evans be available with the No. 9 overall pick, he would still be among Buffalo’s best potential draft choices. On Day 2, the Bills could still look at big receivers such as Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Indiana’s Cody Latimer, the latter of whom visited the Bills earlier this week.
Though Williams is technically signed through 2018, he might only end up being with the team for one year unless he restructures his contract. While the receiver is only set to make $1.8 million this year, his cap hit jumps to $6.8 million in 2015 and rises every year from there. Fortunately for Buffalo, his 2015 salary is not guaranteed until the third day of the 2015 league year, according to Spotrac. His future years consist of non-guaranteed money, leaving the Bills with a reasonable out that would not include having to incur a considerable dead money hit should they move on from Williams.
Considering that, the Bills should continue to look for young offensive weapons as they continue building their roster for the long term. Tight end might now be a bigger position of need than wide receiver, so the Bills could look to target North Carolina’s Eric Ebron at No. 9 overall or a Day 2 tight end such as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro or Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas instead of drafting a wideout early. Nonetheless, Williams could be more of a short-term fix than a long-term solution, especially if he runs into any off-field issues.
The Bills still don’t have any premier receiving weapons at either wide receiver or tight end, so they shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft a potential star if they can get the right value. Nonetheless, the addition of Williams gives the Bills more draft flexibility. With a stable of receivers that includes Johnson, Williams, Woods, Goodwin and tight end Scott Chandler, Buffalo has plenty of players who can get open and make plays as Manuel attempts to take a significant leap forward with his play in 2014.
There has been some speculation, including from NFL Network’s Albert Breer, that the Bills could move on from Johnson. That said, he is still the best and most reliable receiver that Buffalo has. While a desire to move on from Johnson could be a potential move behind Buffalo’s acquisition of Williams and its interest in other free-agent wideouts, it isn’t something the team should seriously consider unless it also adds an early-round draft pick at the position.