Bills land big fish – agreeing to three-year contract with wide receiver Curtis Samuel


Staff member

If you were waiting for the Buffalo Bills to make a big splash in free agency, it came late Thursday afternoon.

The team agreed to a three-year contract with wide receiver Curtis Samuel, according to a post on social media by his agency, Athletes First. The deal is worth $24 million, with a maximum of $30 million through incentives and $15 million in guarantees, according to the agency.

Samuel, 27, adds some world-class speed to the Bills’ offense. He ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.

He’s also a player the Bills undoubtedly know well. Samuel was a second-round draft pick, No. 40 overall, of the Carolina Panthers in 2017 – current Bills general manager Brandon Beane’s final draft as a member of the Panthers’ front office. Current Bills offensive coordinator Joe Brady also served in the same role in Carolina in 2020 – Samuel's last season with the Panthers before signing with the Washington Commanders as an unrestricted free agent.

That just so happened to be the best of Samuel's seven NFL seasons, as he had 77 catches on 97 targets for 851 yards and three touchdowns. His reception and yardage totals, as well as his 79.4% catch percentage were all career highs. He hasn't reached 70% in any other season.

"I think Curtis has been huge for the type of success we've had. ... I think so much of what Curtis does doesn't necessarily show up in the stat book and I think that shows the type of player he is," Brady told the Charlotte Observer of Samuel in 2020. "You see explosive runs from Mike Davis and you see Curtis making huge blocks. He's such a dynamic weapon that he's willing to just do anything to help the team win."

Samuel, a Brooklyn native, is a dual-threat player who adds an interesting element to the Bills' offense. He caught 185 passes for 2,087 yards and 14 touchdowns in 53 career games for Carolina, which included 32 starts. He also rushed 72 times for 478 yards and five touchdowns during that time.

Samuel signed a three-year contract worth up to $34 million with Washington after the 2020 season. He played 38 games in Washington, making 26 starts, and caught 132 passes for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed 49 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns for the Commanders.

Adding more explosiveness to the offense has been a focus this offseason for Beane and head coach Sean McDermott.

"You've got to be able to get the ball, either thrown down the field, or you've got to be able to complete it short, and then have it run down the field," McDermott said last month at the combine. "Whether it's via (yards after the catch) or throwing the ball down the field and completing it on deeper passes. The game is changing a little bit, too, though with defenses going into more split safety looks and more zone versus man. It's kind of forcing quarterbacks or offenses to be a little bit more patient at times. So, the value of (yards after catch) is important then. If you're going to throw it short, you better be able to take it from 5 (yards) to 15, or to 50."

According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Samuel averaged 9.08 mph within the first second of his routes in 2023, making his "burst" third fastest in the NFL among receivers who ran at least 300 routes. The Bills' receivers collectively had an average "burst" of 7.95 mph last season, which ranked just 29th in the league.

All that explosiveness hasn't always translated to the field for Samuel. He ranked just 83rd in the NFL last season in yards after the catch, with 260. His career yards per reception is just 10.7, and he's struggled with drops at times, with a 7.6% drop rate (although, it should be noted, that was just 2.2% last season). The hope has to be that going to a better offense with Josh Allen, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, unlocks a level of consistency that has eluded Samuel. It will be up to Brady to use Samuel correctly.

Samuel spent his first two NFL seasons with Cam Newton, but since then has lacked consistency at quarterback, so playing with Allen should be a real treat for him.

The Bills have now added two wide receivers in free agency – Samuel and Mack Hollins – and lost two, releasing Deonte Harty to create cap space and free agent Gabe Davis signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Samuel's addition does not remove receiver as a draft need. It does, however, give Allen and the offense another intriguing weapon to team with Stefon Diggs, Khalil Shakir, Dalton Kincaid and James Cook at the skill positions.

Samuel had a decorated college career at Ohio State, winning a national championship in 2015 and being named an All-American in 2016.