By Paul Wanecski
When reported last month that tight end Jermaine Gresham was in the need of back surgery to repair a hernia, teams who were interested in the free agent immediately fell off the radar. This couldn’t have worked out any better for the Buffalo Bills.
Gresham has had a productive, yet unspectacular career in Cincinnati. He stands 6’5”, weighs in at 260 pounds and comes from a heralded Oklahoma program. All signs pointed to Gresham being an immediate impact player when he was selected 21st overall in 2009. Some concerns over his surgically repair knee following an injury in his senior season might have been a reason he slipped to 21st, but many draft experts criticized the Bengals for taking a player with that injury so high. For starters, Gresham is ranked as an average run blocker but an above-average pass blocker (to be fair, most TEs in the league are not called on to pass block in today’s NFL, so the sample size is quite small). He is, however, a down-the-seam threat that teams will need to account for. Combine him with Charles Clay, who could be used out wide as a receiver or even split in the backfield, and Gresham playing on the line would isolate match-ups that would only benefit the Bills offense. The Bills would be smart to call and Gresham would be smart to listen. The Bills can offer him something other teams cannot; the ability to start (we all know Greg Roman likes to run two TE sets) while not being the primary target. While that may not sound like a proposition he would find appealing, this season's production would be compromised by his injury anyway, this would just allow for a justification of his statistics for 2015.
From a production standpoint, Gresham’s has never topped 6 receiving touchdowns. The most yardage receiving is 737, which is significantly higher than the 496 average yards receiving per year in his 4 other professional seasons. In 2014 he was second in the NFL in catch rate at 78% which was only behind New England’s Tim Wright (stat has a minimum of 25 passes). Of course, Gresham caught more than double the passes of Wright. While you may look at that and think that Gresham had a Pro Bowl year, he added 3 fumbles and 7.4 yards per reception, the lowest of his career. He was used mainly as a safety valve for Andy Dalton last season and it shows with a monstrous dip in production. His long reception was 23 yards. If you are looking for a red-zone threat that fights for the ball, then you might want to look somewhere else.
Now you may ask why the Bills would in interested in signing a player coming off a back surgery with previous knee injuries and following the worst year of his career after signing Charles Clay this offseason? To put it simply, he needs to re-establish his value while making the most he can on the free agent market. The problem does not lie in his physical skills. While recovering from surgery, he is missing vital offseason preparation time which is used to learn the playbook. He is a man without a home and his value is depreciating by the day. He and his agent are fully aware that he will need to prove that he is healthy and the only chance he had at a longer term contract was lost after day 3 of free agency. Teams will wait for the draft and then gauge interest.
He will sit and wait for a one or two year contact which shouldn’t exceed $2 million in base value. No team will swoop in an offer him more. Until he can prove he is ready for 16 games, teams would be smart to keep it short, sweet and cheap with Gresham. This could work in the Bills favor.