A report over the weekend from the Buffalo News' Vic Carucci indicated that the Buffalo Bills could be looking to make a run at soon-to-be free agent tight end Charles Clay. The move could bolster a Bills offense in need of play-makers, while subtracting a big portion of the offense from an AFC East rival, the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins, of course, have until the start of free agency on March 10 to re-sign Clay to a contract extension which would prevent him from hitting the open market. Even if a deal is not struck before that date, there is nothing that would prevent the Dolphins from re-signing Clay, but it would allow other teams to potentially drive up the asking price.
Clay spent much of the 2014 season dealing with a knee injury, but was still third on the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He was forced to miss two games during the year, but, when healthy, is an explosive player for the Dolphins and a key target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. According to a report from the Palm Beach Post's Andrew Abramson, a source "with knowledge of the situation" has said "it would be very surprising if Clay is not back with Miami in 2015."
Teams are not allowed to directly speak to players, or their agents, who are under contract with other teams until March 7, when the league opens the "legal tampering" period. That does not mean, of course, that contact with agents has not been "unofficially" made, especially at this week's NFL Scouting Combine where a team could talk to an agent about the rookie the agent is representing, and happen to mention interest in a veteran player that agent also represents. Or, perhaps, in finding a veteran player at a specific position, one that a veteran the agent represents plays. There are plenty of ways for a team to let an agent, and thus a player, know that there is an interest. Most of the time, it can be done without a source leaking the interest to a local newspaper.
This is also smokescreen season, when teams release information that may or may not be true, in an effort to keep any of the other teams from knowing the true plans and targets, both in free agency and in the Draft. This could be a case of Buffalo looking to drive up Clay's asking price from the Dolphins, with word that there is at least one team who could be looking to sign him if he is a free agent. It could also be a source close to Clay leaked the Bills interest to try to force the Dolphins to offer more money.
There is a lot of speculation whenever free agency gets close, and there really are not a lot of known facts. Every rumor gets explored, but nothing is set until ink hits paper and the contract is finalized.
Unless the Bills are willing to pay well over whatever the Dolphins are willing to spend, it is hard to imagine Clay giving up an offense that wants to use him with a quarterback set in place to go to a Bills offense trying to re-establish itself under new head coach Rex Ryan, and without a quarterback. Clay should end up back in a Miami uniform, despite the current rumors. Will it happen before or after free agency begins, and how much will that impact the money, might be the bigger questions.
One player who appears set to test the market is defensive tackle Jared Odrick. The Dolphins have said, according to multiple reports this offseason, that retaining Odrick is a priority for the club. According to the same report from Abramson, however, there is "a growing beliefe that he will test the free agent market." Again, that does not mean the Dolphins will not be able to get their 2010 first-round Draft pick to re-sign, it just may mean the asking price will be higher than the team would like. Odrick is expected to garner interest from several teams, and the Dolphins, who are already strapped for money against the salary cap this year, could find themselves in a bidding war for the 27-year old.
It is definitely starting to feel like free agency around the NFL. At the end of next week, teams will begin openly talking to players, and in just over two weeks, the madness of free agency will officially begin. Will the Dolphins have completed deals to lock up Clay and Odrick by then? How much cap space will they have been able to create through contract restructuring and/or roster cuts? It is going to get busy in the NFL world very shortly.