'I’m happy to be back.' Cole Beasley may find important role to keep drives alive for Bills

ORCHARD PARK - Cole Beasley readily admitted Wednesday that his departure from the Buffalo Bills last March was a little sloppy.

The wide receiver was a lightning rod for controversy amid the storm that was the pandemic, and his decision to not get the COVID-19 vaccination alienated a segment of the fan base. And then he did himself no favors by engaging many of the people who disagreed with his stance on social media.

Case in point: Even his seven-year-old son had to bear the brunt of some people’s anger over the outspoken way Beasley defended his way of thinking.

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“There were some times last year where I would get some stuff from people and it would be a little frustrating just because, before, it wasn’t like that, so it was a change,” Beasley said following his first full practice since rejoining the team on Tuesday. “There was a time last year, and it really killed me. There was a kid that came up to him and told him that he couldn’t come to his birthday party because his mom didn’t like me. He had no idea what was going on.”

Beasley’s opposition to the vaccine wasn’t the sole reason why the Bills decided to release him with one year remaining on the free agent contract he had signed with the team in 2019, but it was part of it.

Cole Beasley has a chance to play Saturday night when the Bills host the Dolphins.
Cole Beasley has a chance to play Saturday night when the Bills host the Dolphins.

“As we know, the last two years were difficult on everybody,” Beasley said. “There was a lot of things that I wish I could have done differently. I just wanted to right a lot of wrongs around here and be with teammates and just get back to football. So we talked about a few of those things and got it sorted out.”

“We” meaning general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott, both of whom wanted to make sure that if they decided to bring Beasley back, the issues of the past would remain there because there is no room for distraction as the Bills pursue their third consecutive AFC East division title and, perhaps, their elusive first Super Bowl victory.

“Cole wears his emotions on his sleeves,” Beane said. “And in a roundabout way we talked about things. No one’s perfect. Deep in his heart, Cole’s a good person. And I think ultimately we appreciated who he was when he was here.”

What Cole Beasley could bring to Buffalo Bills offense

Cole Beasley could give Josh Allen a viable weapon to keep drives alive.
Cole Beasley could give Josh Allen a viable weapon to keep drives alive.

What the Bills appreciate now is that with their passing game sputtering in the second half of the season, Beasley - one of the most effective slot receivers who has ever played - could give Josh Allen a viable weapon that could help get things moving back in the right direction.

Beasley caught 231 passes in his three years with the Bills, 82 in each of the last two years. With Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis working on the outside, Beasley almost always gave Allen a check down option if Diggs or Davis wasn’t open. And in many instances, because Beasley was so adept at finding open space, he’s who Allen would seek on third down to keep drives alive.

That’s what has been missing in the Bills offense because Isaiah McKenzie simply hasn’t excelled in that role since he took over as the Bills primary slot receiver following the Week 4 injury to Jamison Crowder.

“When it comes to zone coverages, he knows where defenders should be at,” Allen said of the 33-year-old Beasley. “He know leverages, he knows what windows that I’m looking at, and he’s just got such a good feel. If he’s not seeing me he’s gonna find a window where he can see me.”

Cole Beasley's road back to Buffalo

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley says he never intended to retire.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley says he never intended to retire.

Beasley said he never wanted to retire, but he didn’t really have a choice because his free agent market was not active.

“There were opportunities, just not the ones that I really wanted,” he said. “Was I surprised a little bit? Yes. But it is what it is. I’m happy to be back here. I feel like this is the place I belong. Being somewhere different for a little bit, it just didn’t feel right to me. So I’m glad to be back here with all the guys I’m familiar with and I missed them to death so it’s awesome.”

Somewhere different meant Tampa Bay. He was signed by the Buccaneers to their practice squad in September and he saw action in two games but was released. Beasley was fine with that because he knew the fit wasn’t right.

He continued to work out, and played a lot of basketball which has always been a key part of his training. Finally, right around Thanksgiving, he called Beane to ask if he’d be interested in a reunion.

“Cole reached out a couple of weeks ago,” Beane said. “He just said, ‘Listen, I know I retired, but I’m still open to playing. I know you guys have had some injuries there and whatnot. I don’t know if the door’s closed or not, but I’m interested if you guys are interested.’”

How Cole Beasley fits on Buffalo Bills roster

Bills quarterback Josh Allen greets receiver Cole Beasley before a practice in 2021.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen greets receiver Cole Beasley before a practice in 2021.

Beane said he’d be in touch, warning Beasley that he’d have to figure out the logistics of the roster. When it was decided that the practice squad was the right spot, Beasley said he’d be fine with that.

Now, the Bills can elevate Beasley to the game day roster three times before they’d have to either sign him to the 53-man roster or release him. Assuming he’s ready to go Saturday when the Bills host the Dolphins in a critical AFC East showdown, that would commence an audition of sorts to determine whether he could be helpful in the postseason.

“You look to add players that you think can help your football team so that’s the situation here,” McDermott said. “I think Isaiah has done some good things, Crowder before that did some nice things also. We’re seeing if we can improve some of what we’re doing offensively in this case.”

Beasley isn’t sure what the plan will be, but if he’s called on Saturday night, he has no doubt he can contribute because that’s all he has wanted to do ever since the Bills cut him.

“It’s hard to sit there and watch people playing a game you love when you still have the drive to do that,” he said. “I was retired, but I didn’t want it that way. So it was hard just watching football every week and especially seeing the guys.

“I missed warm ups, like that’s some of my favorite times, just with the guys in the locker room getting ready for the game. I just missed that so much. And then just playing the game itself, but you definitely think about a lot of things and it puts things into perspective for you. It’s a humbling experience for sure.”

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Cole Beasley's role may help Josh Allen keep drives alive for Bills