By Sal Maiorana, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Tribune
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham he is not.
Nor is he Tony Gonzalez, Jordan Cameron, Jason Witten or Julius Thomas.
Scott Chandler will never play in a Pro Bowl, and he won’t populate anyone’s list of the best tight ends in the NFL, but the 6-foot-7, 263-pounder has been a pretty good player the past three years for the Buffalo Bills.
Sunday in New England, Chandler will wrap up the best season of his career — the former Iowa Hawkeye already has achieved personal bests with 50 receptions for a team-high 600 yards — and if he catches three balls against the Patriots, he will take over the team lead from Stevie Johnson, who will probably be inactive for the game.
That’s nice production from a position that has historically been a dead spot in Buffalo, but is that going to be enough to convince the Bills to re-sign Chandler, an unrestricted free agent, in the offseason? It’s an interesting question, especially after the team spent a draft pick in 2013 on Chris Gragg, then signed intriguing street free agent Tony Moeaki (also a former Hawkeye) a few weeks ago.
The 28-year-old Chandler claims he hasn’t thought about the future because, “You put yourself in a bad situation as a player. There’s already enough emotions in the game. It’s not like I’m going to retire this year, so I don’t want to think about that stuff.”
However, it’s entirely possible that the Bills move on from Chandler, especially if his agent demands a contract that doesn’t fit into Buffalo’s salary structure.
In just three full seasons with the team, Chandler has 132 catches, which ranks fourth on the Bills’ all-time list for tight ends. Granted, it’s not a very impressive group. Pete Metzelaars is the all-time leader, and it took him nearly 10 seasons to make 302 receptions. He’s followed by Jay Riemersma (six years, 204 catches) and Lonnie Johnson (five years, 153 catches).
Chandler is the first Buffalo tight end to put up back-to-back 500-yard seasons, he has caught a pass in 31 straight games, and his 14 TDs rank fourth in team annals.
And this year, what makes Chandler’s performance stand out is that he will have played all 16 games after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, which really impressed new coach Doug Marrone.
“We get here and he’s coming off a major injury,” Marrone said. “Here’s a player that is in here working his tail off to get ready; very professional in that regard, a player that came back to camp earlier than expected from the injury. I think he’s been highly productive, he really has. I have a great amount of respect for the job he’s done, not just on the field, but off the field in what he brings to the team. I’m extremely happy with that.”
Still, Gragg was picked in the seventh round, and Moeaki was brought in, and those two players figure to be here when competition begins for roster spots on the 2014 team.
To his credit, Chandler does not fault the Bills for making either move, and if he is re-signed, he welcomes the challenge.
“You think about drafting Gragg, I had a torn ACL, so I didn’t look too much into that because I was thinking, ‘Good, we might need somebody,’ ” Chandler said. “Bringing in a guy like Tony, Tony’s a great football player.”
That’s what the Kansas City Chiefs thought of the man they picked in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Iowa, where Moeaki excelled after taking over for the graduated Chandler. He caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards and four TDs combined in the 2010 and 2012 seasons, but he missed all of 2011 and now all of 2013 due to injuries that were incurred in the final preseason game of both seasons.
“I’ve seen what he can do in college, so if you have a chance to get a guy like that at this point of the season, I don’t care who you’ve got, you might as well go do it,” Chandler said. “I played with him two years in college when he was a young guy coming straight out of high school, big recruit with a lot of expectations, and he fulfilled them. If he can stay healthy, you’ve got a steal.”
Though perhaps Chandler becomes expendable.
“I love Buffalo,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine anything else, but this business is funny. I didn’t imagine myself not being a Charger, and pretty quick I wasn’t a Charger. Then I was a Cowboy and then I wasn’t a Cowboy, I was a Giant and then I wasn’t, was a Cowboy again.”
After all the early tumult in his career, Chandler landed in Buffalo near the end of 2010, saw brief action, then won the starting job in 2011. This is where he made his mark, and he’d love the chance to build on that.
“My wife and I love the city of Buffalo, we love everything about Buffalo,” he said. “This is where my career really started. I had my first catch as a Bill and every catch since as a Bill. Any game that I’ve played that was meaningful was as a Bill. It means a lot to me to have the bull on my helmet and play for the city of Buffalo. I appreciate everything here.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football