Evans third-richest WR? Believe it

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills have made Lee Evans the third-highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

How could this happen? Evans has never been to a Pro Bowl. He has gained 850 or more yards only once in his four NFL seasons. Last year, he tied for 45th in receptions and 32nd in yardage.

So the Bills on Thursday awarded him with a four-year extension worth $37.25 million, putting him behind only obvious superstars Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Smith -- five Pro Bowls and three 100-catch seasons between them -- on the salary leaderboard.

And Evans is worth every penny. He is that good.

Casual fans who follow football through their fantasy rosters or perusing box scores might not fathom Evans being a top-10 receiver. He's not flashy like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens or Chad Ocho Cinco and doesn't produce like Reggie Wayne or Wes Welker.

But Evans is as important to the Bills as those players are to their teams. He is a dynamic, deep-ball threat who has been handcuffed in the past by lackluster offensive resources. And he's a credit to the uniform however you can imagine. Evans will never be confused for Travis Henry.

Evans, who has 14 catches for 332 yards and a touchdown, would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Bills would have been forced to put the franchise tag on him. Otherwise, half the NFL would have been in hot pursuit.

The top three free-agent options at receiver would have been Evans, Roy Williams and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. After that, the drop off is steep.

So the ever-prudent Bills made a substantial commitment and locked up one of their big three offensive weapons. Evans is only 27 years old. Quarterback Trent Edwards will turn 25 this month. Running back Marshawn Lynch is 22.

The Evans deal sends a reassuring message to the rest of the team that if you go about your business professionally, you will be rewarded. Evans went to the Bills last year about extending his contract.

Although a deal hadn't been struck by the time training camp opened, he reported anyway. He practiced hard. Talks continued.

Imagine where Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters would be had he not held out. Maybe he would have a new deal, too. Peters has made no progress toward a new deal and still is trying to cast a shadow of the dominating presence he did last year.

Evans went about his business the proper way, and the Bills gave him a proper contract.