Lee Evans NFL Trade Analysis: One of the Most Underrated Players in the League

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Lee Evans NFL Trade Analysis: One of the Most Underrated Players in the League
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The Buffalo Bills—who seem to be constantly rebuilding—shipped under-appreciated WR Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2012 fourth-round draft choice.

The trade is symbolic of the direction that both teams are headed in: while the Bills focus on getting younger, the Ravens are determined to eliminate any lingering excuses for Joe Flacco's sputtering development.

 

Buffalo Bills Perspective:

If the Bills had a deep position in their roster, it was at wide receiver. However, a closer look reveals cause for worry.

Evans' numbers don't reflect how integral a part he plays in the Bills makeup. The WR was the only player capable of taking the top off the defense. 

Playing the "what-if" game doesn't help anything, but the Bills have never fully utilized Evans' talent. He has only enjoyed one stable quarterback situation. In that year (2006), he set a career high with 1,292 receiving yards along with 8 TDs.

The stat that best summarizes Evans' career in Buffalo is 8.

That is the number of quarterbacks the Bills have cycled through during Evans' seven-year tenure—almost one for every season—(Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Shane Matthews, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, and Fred Jackson—who threw him a TD against the Titans in 2009).     

 

Evans year-by-year w/ QB situation:

2004: Rookie season, Bledsoe unquestioned starter - - 48 receptions for 843 yards and 9 TDs

2005: Losman/Holcomb - - 48 for 743 yards and 7 TDs

2006: Losman unquestioned starter - - 82 for 1,292 yards and 8 TDs

2007: Losman/Edwards - - 55 for 849 yards and 5 TDs

2008: Edwards unquestioned starter - - 63 for 1,017 yards and 3 TDs

2009: Edwards/Fitzpatrick - - 44 for 612 yards and 7 TDs

2010: Edwards/Fitzpatrick - - 37 for 578 yards and 4 TDs


See the trend? When Evans had some stability at QB, he put his talent on tape and began to get comfortable with the offense. Most players wouldn't get close to that kind of success with Buffalo's revolving-door QB set-up.

Not to mention the three different head coaches Evans has played under. It's difficult enough for receivers to get their timing right with QBs switching throughout the season, especially one with Evans' speed and agility.

Coaching instability only compounds the problem.

If the Bills are banking on new signee Craig "Buster" Davis to somehow be completely healthy for the first time in his career, and realize his talent, then they're asking an awful lot.

The Bills have depth in the #3-5 WR range, but it's not as if they have starters waiting in the wings. 

Naaman Roosevelt, Roscoe Parrish, Donald Jones, David Nelson and undrafted free agent Kamar Aiken have all shown promise as role players, but I highly doubt any of them could step up and be productive as a starter. 

When it's all said and done, I think the severely undersized Parrish will be lining up at flanker. The coaching staff is very high on last year's fourth-round pick Marcus Easley despite only having one productive season at UConn, and tearing up his knee last season. Still, Easley may push for playing time outside.

Stevie Johnson will now be facing coverages he's never seen before. He's made his money finding seams in the zone and battling for the football.

Now he'll have a guy jamming him off the line and trailing him in man, with a safety over the top or a linebacker shading him inside. Defenses can now focus primarily on him, forcing Johnson to battle for every yard.

To go the intangibles route, Evans has also been a consummate pro who shows up, works hard, and is a great teammate.

For a 4th-round pick in 2012 (which will be a late pick in that frame), the Bills just made Chan's job a lot more difficult. 

It's not as if the team was ready to compete for a championship this season, but I felt they would at least be competitive. The defense has the talent to break into the Top-12 statistically and the offense—despite the O-line woes—could at least spread out the receivers and chuck it around to a couple decent options.

The Bills got precious little when they dealt maligned RB Marshawn Lynch last season.

We didn't have to move him then, and it's curious that the Bills caved for a fourth-round pick when their asking price was thought to be at least a third-rounder.

 

Baltimore Ravens Perspective:

The time is now for Joe Flacco. Since being drafted 18th overall in 2008, Flacco has shown flashes of his potential.

As a rookie, he took the team to the brink of the Super Bowl. While the Ravens have won games with Flacco in the post-season, those victories have often come in spite of his performances.

Flacco has the tools to make all the throws, but his pocket presence and accuracy are too inconsistent for a playoff-team starter. 

He's shown flashes of being the quarterback that general manager Ozzie Newsome envisioned when he spent a first-pick on the kid from Delaware.

The company line has been that Flacco hasn't had the necessary weapons around him to thrive.

It's a debatable point. 

He had old-but-reliable targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Anquan Boldin is among the league's best in terms of catching the ball and yards-after-catch, but he doesn't have great vertical speed. 

That's where Donte Stallworth's was supposed to come in, but the speedy receiver was a non-factor through most of 2010.

The team made a point of addressing the receiving issue this off-season. They drafted raw-but-speedy WR Torrey Smith in the second round and added Tandon Doss in the fourth.

Like Smith, Doss can get downfield—fast. Though he struggles catching passes away from his frame and doesn't exactly relish contact, Doss looks to be a contributor on offense.

Both players will see time this season, but I don't feel that either will become a consistent NFL starter.

By allowing tight end Heap to walk, the door opened for Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. While Pitta is more of a complimentary player with good hands, Dickson has the athleticism to be a solid starter.

Despite all these targets—not to mention game-breaker Ray Rice at RB—the Ravens still lacked a legitimate receiver to play opposite "Q" this season. 

Enter Lee Evans. The two receivers should complement each other very well. Evans has struggled with quarterbacks under-throwing (or then drastically over-throwing) him his entire career. He shouldn't have to worry about that with Flacco. 

It couldn't have hurt Lee's value in the Ravens' eyes when he went off against them last season to the tune of 6 catches for 105 yards and 3 TDs.

This team is getting older fast and need to make a run to the Super Bowl before Ray Lewis and Ed Reed walk away from the game. 

Add Flacco's contract situation on top of that, and you've got a potential problem.

The quarterback has been vocal with his frustration with the team not yet rewarding him with a contract extension.

Newsome should be hesitant to dole out a truck-load of guaranteed money to a player who still has so much to prove.

There's a difference between a serviceable starter and a franchise-caliber leader. Flacco is currently the former, though he'll firmly tell you he's the latter. 

With all these weapons in place, Flacco doesn't have anymore excuses.

It's time to put up. 

 

Bottom Line: 

Baltimore comes out of the Evans trade looking pretty good. 

The Bills gave up a starter that could have helped them this year—which to me says the team can live with being mediocre for another season in order to add another younger (and cheaper) contributor to the roster next season through the draft.

Evans' base salary of $3.28 million is very do-able for a borderline first-or-second option receiver at this point in his career—not to mention the fact that the Bills still have so much cap room at their disposal. 

Thus, cap couldn't have (or at least shouldn't have) played too great a role in this decision. Again, the team isn't ready to compete for a title yet, but I really do think the team had the potential to be competitive.

I expected them at the very least to finish with a record that wouldn't justify their talent, most likely due to playing in a tough division. The offense lost a huge dimension in Evans, heaping pressure upon head coach Chan Gailey.

The Ravens grabbed a player for below-market value, who can contribute immediately. 

Evans is 30, but he is still locked up for two more seasons at a reasonable rate. The Ravens won't be forced to evaluate his contract situation and get locked into anything just yet. They also can get their answer on Flacco, gauging his value now that he has another dependable receiving option.

On a selfish note, I'm disappointed the Bills received such small compensation for him.

However, I don't mind the trade because I'd like Lee to have the opportunity to play in a more stable offense. I'm happy for him and he deserves it after spending so many years being the ultimate team-player.

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