The Buffalo Bills were among a handful of teams that chose to stay patient in free agency when the new league year began back on March 9.
The reasons for that varied, but it was mainly due to the team’s lack of cap space.
Instead of going out and bidding on highly-priced players fresh on the market from other teams, general manager Doug Whaley chose to re-sign his own in left tackle Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito.
Now a week removed from the start of the new league year, Buffalo finally dipped its toes into the free agent pool on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Bills hosted wide receiver Deonte Thompson on Tuesday, marking the team’s first free agent visit to One Bills Drive this offseason.
Thompson previously signed with Buffalo in December of 2014, but was waived this past September after an injury prevented him from locking up a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Bills continued their search for “dust settle” free agents Wednesday as they hosted wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Joique Bell and tight end Jim Dray.
Dray ended up putting pen to paper during his visit with the team. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed yet.
Although the tight end’s deal is most likely for around the veteran minimum, Buffalo still has little cap room to work with moving forward.
Prior to signing Dray, the Bills restructured Kyle Williams’ contract to move their cap figure to $7.57 million.
The team will need most of that money to get their eight draft selections under contract later this spring, so it’s doubtful that Whaley and the front office will be able to do much more in the way of free agent signings unless more cuts, restructures or re-signings are on the horizon.
However, if a player comes at the right price like Jim Dray did, then Buffalo just might pull the trigger.
With that said, here’s a quick look at the newly signed tight end, as well as the other three free agents who took a trip to Orchard Park over the past 48 hours.
Jim Dray, tight end, Age: 29- At 6-foot-5-inches and 255 pounds, Dray fits the bill as far as size goes for your prototypical tight end. A seventh-round pick out of Stanford in 2010, Dray has spent time with the Cardinals and Browns so far in his NFL career. After getting drafted by Arizona, Dray spent four years with the team before signing a three-year deal with Cleveland in 2014. He spent the past two seasons with the team before the Browns released him on Feb. 18. Mostly seen as a blocking tight end, Dray should be able to fill that role in a Greg Roman offense that boasted the NFL’s top rushing attack last season. Roman is familiar with the tight end, having coached him in 2009 during Dray’s senior season at Stanford. The Bills’ offensive coordinator was Stanford’s tight ends coach at the time and helped Dray earn second-team All-Pac 12 honors that year. During his six seasons in the NFL, Dray has amassed 56 catches for 605 yards and three touchdowns. In 2013, he finished with 26 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns in Bruce Arians’ first season as Arizona’s head coach. He finished with 23 catches for 303 yards and one touchdown during his two seasons in Cleveland.
OTHER FREE AGENT VISITORS
Jeremy Kerley, wide receiver, Age: 27- It only makes sense that Kerley would make a stop in Western New York during his free agent tour. A fifth-round draft pick out of TCU in 2011, Kerley has spent his entire five-year career with the Jets, including four seasons under Rex Ryan during his tenure as New York’s head man. Kerley had solid seasons under Ryan, as he racked up 166 receptions for 2,073 yards and seven touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league. Kerley is also a reliable return man, particularly on punts, as he has a career-average of 9.3 yards per return. Under new coach Todd Bowles, the 5-foot-9-inch, 188-pound receiver struggled last season as he posted career lows in catches (16), yards (152) and yards per catch (9.5), as well as his second-lowest punt-return average (8.5). As a result, the former Horned Frog was released last Wednesday. He had signed a four-year, $16 million dollar extension with the Jets back on Oct. 21, 2014. Despite his struggles last season, Kerley could provide a stable presence on punt returns for Buffalo, and could also compete for a role on offense as a third or fourth receiver. However, that will all depend on his asking price.
Joique Bell, running back, Age: 29- A former undrafted free agent out of Wayne State, Bell actually began his career in Buffalo when he was picked up by the Bills following the 2010 draft. The 5-foot-11-inch, 231-pound running back spent that offseason with Buffalo in a crowded backfield that at the time included Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Despite those unfriendly numbers, Bell proved worthy of sticking around and was signed to the team’s practice squad before being signed by Philadelphia at the start of the season. From there, the versatile runner also spent time with the Colts and Saints before eventually finding a home in Detroit where he tallied 3,875 yards (2,235 rushing/1,640 receiving) from scrimmage in four seasons with the Lions. Bell was released by Detroit on Feb. 16 following a year in which he posted 311 yards and four touchdowns on 90 carries and 22 receptions for 286 yards. If signed, Bell would provide competition for Mike Gillislee and James Wilder Jr. for the third running back spot behind LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams. In the event of a McCoy suspension, Bell would be a welcomed addition.
Deonte Thompson, wide receiver, Age: 27- Thompson is another familiar face to those in Buffalo as the 6-foot, 203-pound receiver spent the entire 2015 offseason with the Bills before being cut at the end of training camp. Entering his fifth season this year, Thompson spent time in Baltimore prior to his short stint with Buffalo, and was a member of the Bears for seven games at the end of last season. Thompson was used as a kickoff returner and as a receiver in those seven games for Chicago, averaging 29.2 yards per return and totaling two catches for 81 yards. The former undrafted free agent out of Florida has had trouble sticking on a roster so far in his career, but showed plenty of promise with the Bills last preseason as he tallied four catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in the two games he played prior to suffering an injury. Like Kerley, Thompson would provide immediate competition at receiver and in the return game if signed. He would likely come at a very cheap price should the Bills want to give it a second try with the receiver.
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