The Buffalo Bills added even more competition to their roster at tight end Monday by signing Lee Smith to a three-year contract.
The deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, is worth up to $9 million.
Smith, 31, returns to the Bills after previously spending four seasons with the team from 2011-14. He most recently was with the Oakland Raiders for four years. Smith has played in 107 career NFL games with 66 starts, making 56 catches for 392 yards and seven touchdowns.
As those numbers suggest, Smith’s primary role for most of his career has been as a blocker. The analytics website Pro Football Focus ranked him seventh in its positional grading for 2018. That included a run-blocking grade of 70.9 that ranked 17th overall. In 61 pass-blocking snaps, he was charged with allowing one sack and two quarterback hurries. Smith was used more by the Raiders as a run blocker, playing 176 snaps in that role in 2018.
His addition gives the Bills six tight ends on the 90-man roster, as he joins Tyler Kroft, Jason Croom, Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney and Moral Stephens, who participated in this past weekend’s rookie minicamp and signed Monday. The size of his contract makes it a good bet Smith will be on the Bills’ 53-man roster. Kroft, who signed a three-year deal at the start of free agency, is scheduled to count nearly $5 million against the 2019 salary cap, so he also is a safe bet to make the team. The same goes for Knox, whom the Bills acquired in the third round of last month’s NFL draft by trading a pair of fourth-round draft picks to move up.
After signing Smith and Stephens, the team eased the logjam at the positions some by releasing tight end Jake Fisher, who was signed earlier this offseason. Fisher, who last played for the Cincinnati Bengals, was a converted left tackle attempting to make a position switch.
The question for the Bills now becomes whether they keep three or four tight ends on the 53-man roster. If it’s four, the last spot likely will come down to Sweeney, who was a seventh-round draft pick, and Croom, who played in 15 games last season, making 22 catches for 259 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to Stephens, the Bills announced they have signed three more players who participated in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis: UAB defensive tackle Quindarius Thagard, East Carolina offensive lineman Garrett McGhin and West Alabama safety Abraham Wallace.
Stephens, 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, played in college at Florida, finishing with 15 catches for 261 yards and three touchdowns for the Gators.
Thagard, 6-2 and 287 pounds, started for two years at UAB, making 61 tackles, four sacks and one pass defensed.
Wallace (5-10, 192) started his college career at LSU for two seasons, then spent one year with Texas Tech in 2017 before playing his final year with West Alabama. He had 60 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one-half sack.
McGhin (6-6, 316) was a three-year starter for East Carolina. He played guard, center and tackle in his college career, displaying the versatility coach Sean McDermott likes in his players. The Bills used McGhin at right tackle during rookie minicamp.
The Bills also released running back Keith Ford. They now have the maximum 90 players on their roster, 91 when counting International signing Christian Wade, who is given an exemption.