Following a campaign in which the Buffalo Bills amassed their most wins in a single season (13) since Jim Kelly captained the wagon back in the early ’90s, the Bills enter 2021 with eyes centered on them… for all the wrong reasons.
Just weeks from kickoff, the Bills are facing a slew of COVID-19 related issues, most publicly from 2020 second-team All-Pro Cole Beasley's refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While that has become a hot topic in and of itself, we’ll leave that be for now.
Beasley has since been placed on the team's COVID/Reserve list along with wideout Gabriel Davis as a result of close contact with a trainer who recently tested positive for the virus. The buck doesn’t stop there, as pass-catcher Isaiah McKenzie, similarly to Beasley, was fined $14.6k for refusing to wear a mask inside the team’s Orchard Park, New York facility just days ago. Per the league, his refusal to wear a face-covering inside the team’s “training room, indoor facility, and weight room,” was a direct violation that attracts unvaccinated players a serious penalty.
The two wideouts both took to Twitter to express their frustrations.
As prevalent as the virus has become in our everyday lives, its unwelcomed arrival into NFL locker rooms has placed teams around the league on edge. With seemingly no clear avenue for clarity as to the ideal way to handle the virus, it’s a day-by-day battle for organizations as they fight to keep their rosters safe during these unprecedented times.
"It's unfortunate when players get fined," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "That being said, these rules have been agreed upon and in place and well-communicated for some time… so it's important for us that we focus on being safe and healthy—that's No. 1 and that's always been No. 1—and then No. 2 is doing our best to stay focused on the goal and the purpose of why we're here—which is to win football games."
All in all, the Bills have found themselves in the stickiest of situations out wide. With no clear outlook currently as to who will start behind Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders when they host the Steelers in Week 1, names in the form of Jake Kumerow, Marquez Stevenson, and potential recent signee Steven Sims Jr. could play a massive role. While Diggs and the free-agent addition in Sanders will serve as Allen’s first two reads early and often in his progression—even with Beasley and Co. in uniform—depth has become of the utmost importance for a high-flying offense in Buffalo if any combination of Beasley, McKenzie, or Davis were to miss any amount of time.
Appearing in just six games last fall, Kumerow became a fan-favorite following his division-clinching touchdown reception against Denver in Week 15. The 22-yard catch was Kumerow’s lone reception of the season, but came at an opportune time, earning the praise of quarterback Josh Allen and a potential role moving forward into this fall.
“He’s my favorite receiver,” Allen said facetiously. “He is the definition of a gamer… like get in the game and do whatever it takes. … He's a big body receiver who uses his physical tools... he's just a guy that you root for.”
Stevenson is a quick-twitched, versatile wideout with the ability to go the distance each time he has the ball in his hands.
A sixth-round pick in April, Stevenson has found himself behind a litany of talent in front of him on the depth chart, but there’s no reason to deny the possibility he could fill the shoes of special teams ace Andre Roberts if McKenzie has to miss time for any unforeseen reason. Sims could be cut by the end of the Bills’ third preseason game against the Packers or could hang on and challenge Kumerow and Stevenson for what looks to be the final two roster spots at wideout. With multiple years of experience in Washington, Sims is as agile as they come and could offer punch in the slot if Beasley is shelved.
While much remains up in the air, the Bills have drawn attention for all the wrong reasons over the last few days. With multiple starters’ immediate futures on the boundary currently unknown, the current roster’s depth and the aptitude of McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane will be tested leading up to the opening whistle.