Step one is admitting there’s a problem
During the 2021 free-agency period, a popular topic among Bills Mafia was the potential addition of one of the prized free agent tight ends. Jonnu Smith from the Tennessee Titans and Hunter Henry from the Los Angeles Chargers sparked a conversation about the value of diversity in personnel groupings and the potential benefit of a more robust two-tight-end look. Ironically enough, both Smith and Henry ended up signing with the AFC East’s New England Patriots. But as the start of the 2022 league year draws ever nearer, the topic has once again been pushed to the forefront after Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane used two-tight-end sets as his first example of an offense playing to its personnel strengths in a recent interview on WGR550 in Buffalo.
So what should the Bills do at TE2 (and TE3 if we’re being honest)? I have some thoughts:
1. Acknowledge and accept that personnel diversity is a good thing
I recognize this seems like a strange point I chose as the lead. But the Bills have been primarily an 11 personnel team for two straight years like much of the NFL. That grouping has been far and away their most commonly used look during that time, and sometimes there is a hesitancy on an organizational level (and from fans) to see anything other than spreading the field with fast receivers as a way to generate the most explosive offense.
But the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more prepared you’ll be for any situation. Every defense has its weaknesses and the Bills’ offense, while very good for two straight years, is not above having a less-than-ideal game here or there. Those hiccups can be lessened with the ability to adapt to the circumstances, and having a reasonable TE2 is one of the ways the Bills can match whatever schemes or personnel they’re seeing on the opposite side of the ball.
2. Sign Will Dissly (estimated contract: 2 years, $8 million)
I felt a lot better about this contract projection before Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas signed a three-year, $16.95 million contract, but I’m hoping teams and agents will recognize that as an outlier. Dissly is an accomplished blocker who can play in-line and is a reasonable receiver. Putting Knox and Dissly both in line opens up play-action from under center and maintains the threat of the run.
3. Sign Evan Engram (estimated contract: 2 years, $11.5 million)
Engram has always shown elite athleticism but has a reputation for drops, although his career drop rate is still below that of newly forgiven Bills tight end Dawson Knox. You may immediately ask yourself why I would advocate for signing two free-agent tight ends. Evan Engram played 78% of his snaps in a position that was NOT in-line and 69.5% of his snaps in the slot last year. There would be plenty of times where Knox, Dissly, and Engram are all on the field and I’m not entirely sure it’d even be classified as 13 personnel. Evan Engram is an athletic bigger slot player and his inclusion on this list is only because he’s listed as a tight end. As insane as it may seem at first glance, you could get Engram involved in the jet-sweep game, as well. He ran the same 40 time as Isaiah McKenzie and I remain hopeful he can be better utilized than he has been under Jason Garrett, Mike Shula, and Mike Sullivan.