Bills acquire P Matt Haack, reportedly set to sign WR Emmanuel Sanders
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane spent the bulk of the NFL’s two-day legal tampering period watching other teams, primarily the arch-rival Patriots, engaging in a free-for-all of spendthrift spending.
He bided his time as the first wave of big-money deals were made because he’d taken care of the top priorities on his offseason list before the negotiating window even opened – the retention of three of his own key free agents, linebacker Matt Milano and offensive linemen Daryl Williams and Jon Feliciano.
And then Tuesday night, Beane swung back into action by securing deals with two free agents, punter Matt Haack and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, while also trading tight end Lee Smith.
Obviously, the juicier signing – which can happen when free agency officially begins with the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday – is that of Sanders because he will presumably take the spot of departed John Brown.
Brown was released last week in order to save $7.9 million on the salary cap. In conjunction with the release of defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson and several contract reductions or restructures, that allowed Beane to get Milano, Williams and Feliciano back into the fold.
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Having started Tuesday with approximately $9 million in cap space according to sports financial website spotrac.com, Beane will put most of that to use to make sure the Buffalo offense can keep humming. Sanders, per multiple reports, is expected to sign a one-year deal worth $6 million.
Sanders turns 34 Wednesday which means he’s three years older than Brown who turns 31 on April 3. On the surface it may seem odd that the Bills would invest in an older player like this, but there’s nothing to indicate that Sanders’ days as a productive receiver are behind him.
Last season with New Orleans, Sanders caught 61 passes for 726 yards and five TDs while playing 52 percent of the snaps on offense. Brown’s season was curtailed by injuries and he had only 33 catches for 458 yards and three TDs.
For his career, Sanders has been the more prolific player, though it certainly helped that he caught passes from three future Hall of Famer quarterbacks for the bulk of his career – Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh from 2010-13, Peyton Manning in Denver in 2014 and 2015, and Drew Brees in New Orleans last season.
In 11 NFL seasons Sanders has 662 receptions for 8,619 yards and 47 TDs. Brown has 320 catches for 4,748 yards and 31 TDs in seven seasons.
Sanders will also give the Bills a bit more diversity as he lined up on the outside on 426 snaps and was in the slot for 225 according to Pro Football Focus. This means he can step in for slot receiver Cole Beasley if need be, while also sharing time on the boundary with Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis.
Bringing in Sanders could mean the end of Isaiah McKenzie’s days with the Bills, an unrestricted free agent who played well during his 2 ½ seasons in Buffalo, but saw his role reduced last season by more than 200 snaps compared to 2019.
It would appear that leading the NFL in gross punting in 2020 will not be enough to salvage Corey Bojorquez’s job with the Bills. The team announced that Haack, formerly of the Miami Dolphins who is also left-footed, agreed to a three-year deal. The monetary terms were not disclosed.
Bojorquez, who averaged 50.8 yards per attempt last season, is a restricted free agent and the Bills have not yet offered him the right-of-first-refusal tender which would cost $2.13 million. Haack played the 2020 season on a contract that paid him $2.13 million.
Haack, who originally signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State in 2017, has spent his entire four-year career with the AFC East rival. He became expendable when the Dolphins agreed to sign free agent punter Michael Palardy on Monday. Palardy had visited the Bills last week.
Haack averaged 44.7 gross yards per punt and 39.9 net which is a Dolphins record. He also had 114 punts downed inside the 20 including a Dolphins record 34 in 2018.
In his 2 ½ seasons in Buffalo, Bojorquez averaged 44.7 yards per punt gross and 39.5 yards net with 74 downed inside the 20.
The trade of Smith is quite a move because Beane was expected to cut Smith in order to save $2.25 million on the salary cap. He still saves the money, but he was able to secure an asset in the form of a late-round draft pick in 2022 from the Falcons.
Also, by lopping Smith off the roster, it opens up a spot in the tight end room and with the Eagles giving Zach Ertz’s agent permission to seek a trade, the Bills have been linked to the Philadelphia veteran.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.