The Buffalo Bills signed Tyler Kroft to a hardy contract during the 2019 off-season, but it’s more team-friendly than it seems.
Before the off-season officially started, the Buffalo Bills made it loud and clear that they needed a new tight end–as they released four-year starter, Charles Clay. In both free agency and the draft, they did just that; adding free agent Tyler Kroft, third-round pick Dawson Knox, seven-round pick Tommy Sweeney, and former-Bill Lee Smith to the rotation.
Kroft–as it currently stands–is expected to be the starter if he recovers from a foot injury in a timely fashion; ideally before or during training camp. The Bills bet big on him in free agency, paying him as a crown jewel of a weak free agent tight end crop. Buffalo gave Kroft the second highest contract for any free agent tight end in total dollars with $18.75 million over three years
Kroft’s average annual value ($6.25 million), ranks second for free agent tight ends behind seasoned veteran Jared Cook, per Spotrac. League-wide, the contract’s AAV is the 14th highest at the position. It’s a hefty contract, but it’s a front-loaded deal with an out in 2020–meaning the Bills could cut him and save $5 million while having just $1.6 million in dead cap next year, per Over The Cap.
The contract given to Kroft tells us one–grand–thing; the Bills are banking on his potential but are aware it may not work out, giving themselves an out after just one season. Drafting two tight ends reaffirms that.
Kroft burst onto the scene as the Bengals’ starter in 2017. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end filled in for the injured Tyler Eifert well, playing the role as a receiving (or move) tight end. Though his route tree was limited–mostly nine-routes up the seam, outs, and curls–he was impactful as a vertical, big-bodied, sure-handed threat. He ended the year catching 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns on a 67.7% catch rate.
After his 2017 season, the expectation was that both Kroft and Eifert would play out their contract years while contending for the starting spot long-term. But, then the wheels fell off. The oft-injured Eifert suffered a gruesome ankle break early on. The injury forced the Bengals to place him on the injured reserve. A week later, Kroft followed with a broken foot.
The foot injury was a cause for concern pertaining to Kroft and his free agency status; along with his lack of experience (25 catches, 257 yards, one touchdown outside of 2017). In the end, the Bills gave him a lucrative contract–to the naked eye–that is far more team-friendly than player-friendly.
Unfortunately for both, Kroft sustained another broken foot injury during the start of the most recent off-season training activities. It forced him out of spring practice, leading to the rookie Knox seeing starter snaps, and subsequently turning heads. For the 26-year-old Kroft, this may mean his starting spot is in danger, even if he comes back soon.
However, the front-loaded deal doesn’t mean Kroft is on thin ice, yet. It’s an extremely favorable contract for the Bills no matter the outcome. If the tight end excels and solidifies himself as a starter in 2019, Buffalo will have him on an affordable deal through 2021. If the opposite happens via injuries or regression, the Bills could rid themselves of the contract without incurring a hefty cap penalty.