Aaron Rodgers wishes he had Jake Kumerow back, but Bills are glad he's with them
ORCHARD PARK – Jake Kumerow knew he was going to get an opportunity to make something happen on a play that was actually designed with him in mind.
He wasn’t sure when it would happen, but having practiced the route the week leading up to last season’s Dec. 19 game in Denver, the Buffalo Bills wideout knew there was a chance offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was going to call his number at some point.
“I knew it was coming eventually with coach Dabes because he calls it all,” Kumerow said Tuesday following practice at One Bills Drive. “So I knew that eventually if it wasn’t that game, maybe it would have been the next game, or maybe in the next season, you never know. But I figured that he’s gonna call it one of these times and I’ve got to just do my job and run down the field, catch the ball and that’s what I did.”
Here’s when he called it.
The Bills were leading the Broncos 14-7 in the final two minutes of the first half of a game they would eventually win 48-19. They were facing second-and-goal from the 22 when Kumerow lined up in the slot on the left side of the formation in a three-wide look, just the 13th offensive snap he had played all season.
What made this play unique is that the normal slot receiver, Cole Beasley, was actually lined up outside of Kumerow in the formation which probably confused the Denver defense.
Sure enough, Josh Allen took the snap, saw how Denver was playing the route, and he knew exactly where he was going with the ball. Kumerow also read the coverage correctly and just ran straight down the seam unguarded as Allen threw an absolute laser of a touchdown pass for what remains the only reception Kumerow has made in a Buffalo uniform.
“It was a bullet from Josh, and I just recall being excited to hear the play called in the huddle and knowing that I had a chance to get the ball,” Kumerow said. “We practiced it 10 times and you know it’s the same old thing – same size field, same ball, so I figured just go run my ass off and good things will happen.”
Five days later, the Bills waived Kumerow on Christmas Eve – some thanks for that touchdown – and two days later he was signed by the Saints, though he never got into a game.
The Bills needed a roster spot for linebacker Tyrel Dodson’s return from injury, but it was a move the Bills didn’t feel great about and coach Sean McDermott admitted that Tuesday.
“I can tell you this, though, when he left towards the end of the year last season, he was missed,” McDermott said.
Which is why McDermott was glad to be able to get him back when the Saints removed the 29-year-old from their practice squad on Jan. 18 and the Bills signed him to a reserve/future contract a week later, right after the AFC Championship Game loss to Kansas City.
“Just in the locker room, the vibe of the team,” McDermott said, speaking about what was lost when Kumerow left. “Certain people get talked about a lot, right, like the head coach, the main positions – receiver, quarterback, middle linebacker, that’s what gets talked about. But there’s a lot of glue on this team that flies under the radar, guys that connect the team, guys that make us who we are, and I would say (Justin) Zimmer and Kumerow are a big part of that. So to have the chance to get him back here was a big opportunity for us.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will vouch for that. In fact, he has, on a couple occasions. Last summer when the Packers cut Kumerow, Rodgers was furious.
Kumerow, undrafted out of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2015, had spent two years getting played like a yo-yo by the Bengals – on and off their practice squad more times than you can count. He spent about two weeks with the Patriots in 2017 and then he landed in Green Bay at the very end of that season.
He didn’t contribute much in 2018 as he got into five games, but in 2019 he played in 14 games and caught 12 passes for 219 yards and a TD on 328 snaps. Heading into 2020, Rodgers and Kumerow were working well together and it looked like he was going to have a more permanent role in the offense.
“Jake Kumerow has been such a solid performer for us for the last couple years,” Rodgers told Sirius XM NFL Radio near the end of training camp. “I love his reliability. I think he’s a fantastic, steady player who’s very heady on the field, he makes plays. He plays with a lot of confidence, and he’s a guy you love having on the squad.”
The next day, without consulting Rodgers, the Packers cut him.
Rodgers still hasn’t forgiven Packers GM Brian Gutekunst and the release of Kumerow was revisited last week when Rodgers met the media in Green Bay for the first time after what had been a tumultuous offseason.
Without mentioning Kumerow by name, Rodgers was talking about him when he said the team last year had cut the second-best receiver on the roster.
“It means a lot, you know,” Kumerow said when he was asked about the most recent endorsement from Rodgers. “He’s one of the best, if not the best of all time doing this, doing his thing, so it means a lot to hear that from the guy. But I’m glad to be here in Buffalo and I’m glad to be playing with Josh because the kid’s elite. I’m glad to be a part of this offense, glad to be a part of this organization.”
Kumerow, though, may have an even tougher battle making the Bills roster than he did the Packers. With Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis and Emmanuel Sanders locks to make the team, that leaves, at most, two spots available on the 53-man roster.
Kumerow is battling players like Isaiah McKenzie – who may also be a lock given his versatility and kick return ability – plus Brandon Powell, 2020 sixth-round draft pick Isaiah Hodgins, and 2021 fifth-round pick Marquez Stevenson.
“Every single year I come in it’s the most competitive and the next year is going to be even more competitive, that’s just how it is, it’s the nature of the league,” the 6-foot-4, 209-pounder said. “You got guys getting drafted, you got guys getting traded, guys getting picked up in free agency and, including me, I’m one of those guys. It’s always competitive, especially at the receiver position and I would say it’s the most competitive it’s ever been so I’m looking forward to the competition.”
The coaching staff has a difficult decision to make and Daboll knows it.
“I think Jake’s a good football player,” he said. “You want to see guys that are maybe behind the top guys (perform in training camp). You give a guy a day of rest and another guy gets dinged up, you see where those guys fall in. He’s done a good job for us, really as a receiver, but he’s done a good job in the kicking game, too. It’ll be important when we start preseason games for him.”
And hey, if the Bills end up cutting him, maybe Rodgers can talk the Packers into re-signing him.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.