By trading Evans for a fourth-round draft pick, the Buffalo Bills are putting their trust in a young group of receivers, who are suddenly minus their respected leader and five-time captain.
Two teams who have spent much of the past decade going in different directions completed the trade on Friday in the midst of the NFL’s first week of preseason games.
“We’re excited about getting Lee Evans,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said a day after Baltimore opened the preseason with a 13-7 loss to Philadelphia. “He’s a proven player in this league, and a quality person who will fit in well on our team.”
Evans is a seven-year veteran, who is a downfield threat with two 1,000-yard seasons. He is expected to immediately step into the No. 2 role in Baltimore to improve a receiving attack after the Ravens released Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap last month.
“He’s a quality veteran receiver who stretches the field and gives us significant downfield presence,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He’s the type of person you want on your team. He brings leadership and maturity to the locker room.”
Evans’ best game last season came against the Ravens, when he had 105 yards receiving and three touchdowns in Buffalo’s 37-34 overtime loss.
For the Bills, they were able to free up the $3.25 million in salary Evans was scheduled to make in the second-to-last year of his contract. And the move also frees up room in allowing Buffalo to provide additional playing time to a revamped group of receivers.
“We have six or seven really promising young receivers. We’d like to see those guys develop and we want to give them that opportunity,” Bills general manager Buddy Nix said, before the team traveled to Chicago to prepare for its preseason-opener on Saturday. “Unless somebody got hurt, you were going to have a good player that you were going to have to let go.”
The trade was not well received by Bills veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who questioned the move in several posts on his Twitter account.
“Sad day for the bills,” Florence wrote. “Are we trying to win now or later????”
The trade allows the Bills to be second-guessed as to how losing their most productive receiver improves what’s been an inconsistent offense on a team that’s coming off a 4-12 season and missed the playoffs for an 11th straight year.
Despite showing modest gains on offense under quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last season, the Bills still finished 25th in yards gained and 28th in points scored. Buffalo scored more than 20 points only four times.
Evans is coming off his worst season, in which he finished with 37 catches for 578 yards and four scores, while also missing the final three games with an ankle injury. Despite his sagging numbers, he still played a significant role in the Bills’ passing attack by attracting coverage his way and opening room for other receivers.
Nix predicted a mixed reaction from Bills fans regarding the trade.
“There’ll be about half of them that like it, and half that won’t,” Nix said. “That’s the way most of the decisions are.”
Without Evans, the Bills are relying on Stevie Johnson to take over the No. 1 spot after the fourth-year player enjoyed a breakout season last year. He led the team with 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Roscoe Parrish, a six-year veteran, returns to play in the slot after missing the final half of last season with a broken wrist.
Also in the group is David Nelson, who emerged as a third-down specialist last year. And then there’s 2010 fourth-round draft pick Marcus Easley, who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. Easley had just resumed practicing this week after missing 10 days with a hyper-extended knee.
Also in the mix is Craig Davis, who is attempting to jump-start his career after four injury-troubled seasons with San Diego. A 2007 first-round draft pick, Davis signed with the Bills on Aug. 5.
Evans, selected in the first-round of the 2004 draft out of Wisconsin, posted a note on his website thanking Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Bills fans for their support. But after seven non-playoff seasons in Buffalo, Evans was also eager to be heading to Baltimore.
“This is a very exciting time for me and my family, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity,” he wrote. “I can’t wait to get started.”
His best season came in 2006, when he had 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns.
Evans ranks third on the Bills’ career list with 5,934 receiving yards. He’s also fourth with 377 receptions and fifth with 43 touchdowns.