For the last five seasons, Isaiah McKenzie has played the role of gadget wide receiver and return specialist for the Buffalo Bills.
At the start of free agency, the Bills may have landed his replacement.
The Buffalo News reported on March 15 that the team agreed to a two-year contract with former New Orleans Saints receiver/kick returner Deonte Harty. The deal includes $5 million in guaranteed money and a maximum potential value of $13.5 million, the report noted, a significant investment in a position where the Bills often struggled last season.
Harty’s signing could be an ominous sign for McKenzie’s future with the team, an insider shared.
Isaiah McKenzie’s Time in Buffalo Over?
As Carl Jones of WROC-TV noted, Harty would be slated to play the same role McKenzie occupied but appears to be an upgrade. Though he made just two receptions for 13 yards last season, Harty has shown a knack for getting yards after the catch — a stated area of need for the Bills — as well as a dangerous kick returner.
Harty’s addition could be a bad sign for McKenzie, Jones hinted.
“Interesting get by the #Bills to grab former Saints WR Deonte Harty Brings a *similar* game to the table as Isaiah McKenzie but more YAC potential. I wonder what that means for McKenzie’s role going forward,” he tweeted.
Bills reporter Patrick Moran painted a more grim picture, predicting that he would be released.
The Bills could also have a financial incentive to move on from McKenzie. Nick Wojton of USA Today’s Bills Wire had previously identified the veteran receiver as a potential cap casualty, noting that the Bills would save roughly $2.9 million against the salary cap by releasing him.
Though McKenzie initially won the starting slot receiver job last offseason after the departure of Cole Beasley, he failed to match Beasley’s level of production. McKenzie did end up with career highs of 42 receptions and 423 yards, but struggled at times and saw the Bills bring Beasley out of retirement late in the year when they needed a boost from the receiving corps.
Bills Earn Praise for Adding Harty
Though the Bills had a relatively slow start to free agency, not making any significant moves during the legal tampering period, they earned some praise for snagging Harty on the first official day of the new NFL year. The 5-foot-6 receiver earned All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors as a return specialist in his rookie season in 2019, when he had 36 punt returns for 336 yards (9.4 yards per return average) with one touchdown.
Though he has struggled with injuries through his four seasons with the Saints, he also had a knack for turning in big performances in the playoffs, the Buffalo News report noted. He was the team’s leading receiver in a wild-card playoff win over the Chicago Bears in 2020, and the following week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned the game’s first punt 54 yards to set up a field goal. On the next punt return, Harty went 67 yards to the end zone but saw the return called back due to a penalty.
Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com praised the Bills for the signing, which offers some flexibility after the first season.
“Essentially a one-year commitment based on the structure. The Bills can move on after one season wit just a $1.37 million dead cap charge,” Parrino tweeted. “They’d add a little more than $4 million in cap space if they chose to do so. Nice prove it contract for a WR/KR who ran a 4.35 40 at pro day.”