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10 Thoughts on the Bills Trading Lee Evans

Over the weekend, unfortunately I have not had the proper time frame I would’ve liked to be able to sit down and give the Lee Evans to Baltimore trade the proper time and effort in a piece it deserves.  So, yes I know I’m a little late but I wanted to get my final thoughts together and get them out there.

1.  Let me start with Lee Evans, since he spent the first seven years of his career in Buffalo it’s logically a damn good place for me to begin.  He was, and remains a true professional.  Evans spent seven years in Buffalo, and let’s be truthful they were seven long years.  The most success the Wisconsin product endured was his rookie season in 2004 when the Bills went 9-7, and should have made the playoffs if not for the still unexplainable season finale loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ B-team.  Since ’04, the Bills’ win totals per season went 5, 7, 7, 7, 6, and 4.  But through all the losing, the constant turnover from the coaching staff to the front office and the unsuccessful search for a franchise quarterback, you never heard a negative remark made by Evans.  He strapped on his helmet every Sunday and always gave you his best regarding the circumstances.  He never squabbled with teammates or coaches, never called out the Bills’ publicly in the media.

2.  When I think of Evans, he’ll always be the “What-if” player to me, as in what if he actually got a chance to play with a star quarterback?  How truly talented a receiver could he have been playing with a Tom Brady, or a Drew Brees or a Peyton Manning?  Evans never had the distinction of playing with an elite signal caller, and Bills never came up in short supply of mediocrity under center.  In seven years, Evans played with six QBs:  Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. 

3.  Which leads me into Evans’ career numbers with Buffalo:  he ranks fourth all-time in receptions (377), third in all-time receiving yards (5, 934) and third all-time in touchdown receptions (43).  Those numbers alone, combined with the him playing with those previous six QBs mentioned, it’s amazing he exits Buffalo ranking as high as he does on the Bills’ all-time receiving list. 

4.   I’m not buying the notion that trading Evans already means the Bills are waiving the white flag on the 2011 season.  Whether you believe him or whether you’re skeptical, Bills GM Buddy Nix and company are looking for any number of ways to improve the team and ultimately, the main objective is to win.  Let’s face it, the Bills haven’t spent the better part of the last seven seasons winning with Evans.  With Evans, they’re not a Super Bowl threat, a playoff contender or a threat to New England and New York in the division, and now without him, nothing has really changed.  The larger issues surrounding the Bills have little or nothing to do with their wide receivers.

5.  I don’t expect much excitement to be generated around the Bills’ new found fourth-round pick they’re getting from Baltimore.  The Bills have had far more success finding late round gems than finding impact players on the first day of the draft.  But take a look at some of the Bills’ fourh-round choices over the years:  Ko Simpson, Duke Preston, Sam Aiken, Avion Black, Dwayne Wright, Derek Fine, Marcus Easley and Reggine Corner.   The most notable fourth-round pick the Bills made that turned into a solid player and contributor is Terrence McGee.  I fully understand the notion of getting what you can for a player that you’ve thought about unloading.  But the reality is that the chances of that fourth-round pick being a franchise-type cornerstone you can build a team around are minuscule.

6.  This puts a huge amount of pressure on Stevie Johnson, who now becomes the new No.1 receiver.  Can Johnson handle it?  Is he ready to take another big step in his development as a receiver?  After totaling 12 career catches (only two in 2009), Johnson burst onto the scene with 82 receptions, 1, 030 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.  Was it an aberration, or sign of bigger things to come in his career?  A season ago, Johnson reaped the benefits of Evans drawing double coverages from opposing defenses.  That’s all out the window this season.  I think it’s a lot to ask of a player who’s had one good season to continue to produce and produce at a high level while drawing the undivided attention of opposing defenses usually reserved for Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.  That’s what’s awaiting Johnson in 2011 until one of Buffalo’s other receivers rises to the occassion and begins producing.

7.   “It all comes down to money…everything else is just polite conversation.”  Admittedly, this is one of favorite sayings or quotes and certainly, money factored into the decision to trade Evans.  Now on the surface it’s easy to point out that these are the “same old Bills” and “Ralph Wilson is cheapest owner in football”.  Maybe that holds water in this case, but I’m not so sure.  Evans received a hefty contract from the Bills to the tune of more than $37 million.  Now Evans is a nice receiver, but that’s Andre Johnson money we’re talking about.  So by those standards it’s easy to see the Bills overpaid for Evans and the numbers suggest he didn’t produce at a No.1 receiver clip.  His $3.275 million comes off the books and the Bills are saving money.  Financially, Buffalo has to be smart about things.  Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are focused on building through the draft and through their draft picks over the past few seasons they’ve acquired some promising wide outs who the Bills believe can do the job in replacing Evans at a fraction of the cost.

8.  I don’t begrudge the Bills for moving Evans in order to let their young and deep receiving core develop.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that line of thinking.  That’s their plan and they want to follow through with it.  Truthfully, the Bills entered 2011 with a logjam at receiver and someone was going to be the odd man out once the Bills brought in Buster Davis from San Diego.  Only time will tell if this proves to be a smart decision.  But the Bills have tremendous faith in youngsters Donald Jones, David Nelson, Marcus Easley and Naaman Roosevelt, along with Davis.  When Evans and Roscoe Parrish both ended up on injured reserve near the end of last season, Buffalo’s rookies filled in nicely and showed enough to convince Nix and Gailey they are deserving of more playing time.

9.  I think this is a good move for the Baltimore Ravens, and also a necessary move.  The Ravens’ receiver position remains quite fuzzy with the exception of Anquan Boldin.  During free agency, Baltimore released longtime wide out Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap.  Their pursuit of Malcom Floyd fell short.  Mason signed with the New York Jets and the Ravens found themselves thin at receiver.  I originally thought they’d be on a short list of teams interested in Randy Moss or even Braylon Edwards.  So suddenly, it was a crapshoot after Boldin and the Ravens were left with a pair of rookies, Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss as their No.2 and No. 3 receivers.  Baltimore still believes they have a championship caliber team and going into the season with a pair of rookies in their top three receiving slots was not a good recipe.  Instead, the Ravens get a speedy, veteran deep threat for Joe Flacco while Boldin does the dirty work underneath and over the middle.  Evans finally gets to play for a Super Bowl contender and chance to make the playoffs for the first time in his career.

10.   I’m kind of surprised Evans remained with the Bills this long.  I thought around the time of the draft a year ago that the Bills would entertain the idea of trading Evans.  Once free agency frantically began weeks ago, I was anticipating hearing Evans’ name as someone the Bills were going to release.  I’m not sure if his declining production the past two seasons factored in at all, but it was clear Evans was caught in the middle of the Bills’ ongoing rebuilding project and I think by the end, he probably embraced the desire to play somewhere else for a playoff or Super Bowl contender.  Factor in the Bills’ desire to play their younger receivers and the time was now for the Bills and Lee Evans to end their seven-year relationship. 

I’d like to wish Lee Evans all the luck in Baltimore and I hope before his career ends he gets the chance to experience the feeling of playing in a big time playoff atmosphere. 

Best of luck, Lee!

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