After he caught 82 passes for nearly 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns in 2006, it seemed Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans was on the cusp of NFL stardom. Unfortunately for the mild-mannered Evans and his team, though, he found out the hard way in 2007 that success in pro football doesn't always extend from one season to the next.
Thanks in large part to shaky-at-best quarterback play, a general lack of complementary offensive weapons and an unimaginative playbook, the 25-year-old Evans—a 2004 first-round pick—grabbed a disappointing 58 passes from signal-callers Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman for 849 yards and five touchdowns this past season. For a player who was supposed to become the Bills' next great receiver, Year 4 of Evans' career was certainly unexpected and unkind.
However, as disappointing as Evans' numbers were, that certainly doesn't make him a bad player. In fact, the 5-foot-11, 197-pounder remains extremely gifted, and he's still among the best sideline deep threats in the league. This offseason, Buffalo will have to take some pressure off the University of Wisconsin alumnus by adding a few more aerial weapons—such as a big, physical receiver capable of dominating in the red zone and a legitimate pass-catching tight end—to its game plan for 2008.
First and foremost, though, before free agency commences in March and the draft arrives in April, the Bills will have to worry about Evans' future. The Bedford, Ohio, native's contract runs for two more years, but he has the ability to void it after next season; and honestly, why wouldn't he? Evans, who has 233 career receptions for a tremendous 16 yards per grab and 29 touchdowns, would stand to make a lot of money on the free-agent market a year from now.
Because of that, the Bills will have to worry about signing the talented Evans to a long-term extension. He may not be an elite-caliber receiver, but in this day and age in pro sports, you simply cannot allow assets to get away. Buffalo has done that far too much during its eight-year playoff drought, most notably with defensive tackle Pat Williams, who was let go after the 2004 campaign and has since increased his stardom in Minnesota.
Last month, Evans intimated that he would be willing to talk about a new contract with the Bills, but the organization hadn't yet approached him at that point. If Buffalo's brass—mainly owner Ralph Wilson and chief operating officer Russ Brandon—wants to send the right message to its fan base and players, it will hammer out a deal with Evans, one which would keep him in a Bills uniform for the foreseeable future.
With some extra help, improved quarterback play and new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's more aggressive playbook, Evans could again become the 80-catch, 1,200-yard wideout he was in 2006.
For opposing defenses, that would be a frightening thought.
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