The Buffalo Bills signed Brad Smith in 2011 so they could utilize him as an offensive weapon all over the field. His skill set enabled him to return kicks, line up at wide receiver, take snaps under center as a quarterback or serve as a wild card in Wildcat packages.
But will the Bills ultimately regret cutting other promising receivers in favor of the utility man?
On Friday, Buffalo chopped five receivers from the roster as it narrowed its focus on the final 53-man lineup. Among the cut players are Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, Naaman Roosevelt, Ruvell Martin and Kamar Aiken, per Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.
Though Easley did all he could in the team’s final preseason game against the Detroit Lions, he was admittedly leapfrogged this preseason and couldn’t quite establish himself among a crowded group of receivers.
But Hagan had a productive offseason and was making a real push to win the No. 2 wideout job. His spot was believed to be safe.
Meanwhile, Roosevelt is a hometown favorite that Ryan Fitzpatrick seemed to love. Martin is a veteran who excels on special teams. And Kamar Aiken has never been able to get a legitimate shot to reach his potential.
Now, all are gone.
The decision to keep Brad Smith is a complex one. On one hand, he serves as a game-planning problem for opponents due to his versatility. Head coach Chan Gailey has expressed all along his plan to keep Smith as the Bills’ third quarterback. Essentially, keeping Smith as a third QB allows Gailey an extra roster spot, since he can also play receiver and return kicks.
However, that extra roster spot was negated as the team (for now) kept four quarterbacks, including Smith. Per Tim Graham’s report, Buffalo decided to keep both Tarvaris Jackson and Tyler Thigpen in addition to Smith and Fitzpatrick.
It’s hard to argue against that move, since Jackson just arrived in Buffalo from Seattle and is still learning the offense. If he were forced into a game situation early in the year, he’d still likely have difficulty with the playbook, which would obviously hurt the entire team.
Because Thigpen is a more pure quarterback than Smith, it seemed inevitable that the Bills would have to keep him as insurance for the time being.
At this point, it seems fair to wonder whether or not the whole Brad Smith experiment is actually helping or hurting the team. Are the Bills risking getting too cute with his role in the offense? Or is this just the beginning of another Gailey master plan that will ultimately prove beneficial to the offense?
It’s too early to say for sure, since Smith never quite had a chance to find a permanent role last year due to the NFL lockout and his late arrival in Buffalo (he signed in July). For all we know, he could come out and be a star in Gailey’s offense in 2012.
However, Gailey’s offense is spread out and relies on multiple reliable receivers. Currently, No. 1 wideout Steve Johnson only has Donald Jones, David Nelson, rookie T.J. Graham and Smith behind him.
Yes, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are dynamic dual-threat running backs who can catch passes. And yes, the Bills will also keep Dorin Dickerson too, per Graham's report.
But after these most recent roster cuts—particularly at a position that most fans were anxious to see untangled—one thing is for sure: Bills fans will have a close eye on just how much the Bills use Smith on offense, and just how productive he turns out to be.