New Bills tight end Kroft is ex­cited to be in Buf­falo

He likes the clear vi­sion of staff, man­age­ment

The Buffalo News - - NFL - By Jay Skurski

The next time Buf­falo Bills fans see the team’s new tight end, they may want to say thank you.

With­out Tyler Kroft, af­ter all, the team would be on an 18-year play­off drought. The hero­ics of Andy Dal­ton and Tyler Boyd in the Cincin­nati Ben­gals’ vic­tory over the Bal­ti­more Ravens on the fi­nal week of the 2017 sea­son are well re­mem­bered. The re­sult of that game, of course, clinched a play­off spot for the Bills, who de­feated the Dol­phins a few min­utes ear­lier.

While Dal­ton-to-Boyd will never be for­got­ten for Bills fans, the Ben­gals wouldn’t have pulled out a win that day with­out Kroft. He fin­ished the game with six catches for 53 yards and a pair of touch­downs.

“I’ve seen the video of ev­ery­one watch­ing in the locker room,” Kroft said of the now-fa­mous scene that un­folded. “Be­ing a com­peti­tor, be­ing a player, see­ing all those grown men get to their goal … I got chills watch­ing it. That’s what foot­ball’s about, those kinds of games.”

Now, Kroft has a big op­por­tu­nity to help the Bills in a more di­rect fash­ion. Af­ter sign­ing a three-year con­tract that can be worth up to $18.75 mil­lion, he has a chance to step into the start­ing role at tight end, which was va­cated when Charles Clay was re­leased this off­sea­son.

“Com­ing in, ob­vi­ously the op­por­tu­nity is there,” Kroft said. “Last sea­son got cut a lit­tle short, but I wanted to build off the year prior and con­tinue to grow, ba­si­cally prove that I can play and start in this league.”

Kroft was on his way to do­ing that in 2017. His big game against the Ravens capped a sea­son in which he started all 16 games and fin­ished with 42 catches for 404 yards and seven touch­downs. In­jury robbed him of the chance to build on that in 2018. Kroft ap­peared in just five games be­fore a bro­ken bone in his foot ended his sea­son.

He’s not com­pletely healed from the in­jury, putting his par­tic­i­pa­tion in spring prac­tices in jeop­ardy, but he should be 100 per­cent by the time train­ing camp ar­rives.

The Bills ev­i­dently weren’t too con­cerned with Kroft’s health, tar­get­ing him early in free agency.

“When you look at his game and we looked in par­tic­u­lar at the year when he be­came the starter, when (Tyler) Eifert was down, and how he stepped up and took hold of that op­por­tu­nity,” coach Sean McDer­mott said. “What he’s able to do in the pass and the run game. In meet­ing him when he came in, he and his wife, again an­other good in­ter­ac­tion. A guy that’s pos­i­tive.”

Kroft grew up in Down­ing­town, Pa., about 30 miles out­side Philadel­phia. That’s not far from McDer­mott’s home­town, giv­ing the coach and player a con­nec­tion.

“I know his high school coach a lit­tle bit,” McDer­mott said. “All the re­views we had heard about him were pos­i­tive.”

Kroft also had a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship with quar­ter­back Matt Barkley and cen­ter Rus­sell Bo­dine from their time to­gether in Cincin­nati. Kroft liked ev­ery­thing they had to say about Buf­falo, but ul­ti­mately was sold by Gen­eral Man­ager Bran­don Beane and McDer­mott.

“Hon­estly, it was more the staff and man­age­ment, how ev­ery­one’s pulling in the same di­rec­tion,” he said. “There’s a clear vi­sion of what they want to do. Com­ing here, hon­estly, we’ve been blown away. It’s been a great ex­pe­ri­ence so far. It seems like Buf­falo’s on the up, and I’m ex­cited to be a part of it.”

Kroft sounded like a player who fits the Bills’ mold dur­ing his re­cent in­tro­duc­tory news con­fer­ence. He used words like “blue col­lar, tough­ness and hard work­ing” to de­scribe grow­ing up in South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, traits McDer­mott val­ues.

“He said that ex­act mind­set’s up here, too,” Kroft said. “That’s some­thing we got pretty ex­cited talk­ing about.”

While Kroft’s con­tract runs for three years, the Bills es­sen­tially made it a one-year deal with op­tions for the 2020 and ’21 sea­sons. That’s be­cause Kroft can be re­leased af­ter the 2019 sea­son with just $1.6 mil­lion in dead money against the 2020 salary cap.

There is also the pos­si­bil­ity the team will add a tight end in the NFL draft later this month, per­haps with a top-100 pick. If that’s the case, it would add sig­nif­i­cant com­pe­ti­tion for the start­ing tight end job.

Kroft’s pri­mary role with the Ben­gals was as a blocker.

“I think I’m a three-down tight end. To me, they’re equally im­por­tant,” Kroft said of his role in the run and pass games. “In Cincin­nati, I was asked to block more. That was my job, so I’m go­ing to do what I have to do for the team. That’s kind of what I pride my­self on, is do­ing what I have to do for the team to be suc­cess­ful.”

With the Bills want­ing to put in an of­fense that takes ad­van­tage of quar­ter­back Josh Allen’s arm strength, the op­por­tu­nity for Kroft to ex­pand that role fig­ures to be there.

“Ev­ery­thing I’ve seen of him, I liked a lot,” Kroft said of Allen. “I don’t know ex­actly what my role is go­ing to be here un­til the sea­son comes, but tight end is tra­di­tion­ally un­der­neath, so they can take the top off the de­fense and it’ll open it up for me be­cause they have to re­spect how well Josh throws the ball.”

Derek Gee/Buf­falo News

Tyler Kroft signed with the Bills be­cause the op­por­tu­nity to be­come the start­ing tight end “is there.”

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