This is the fifth of a 10-part series that examines how well the Buffalo Bills have addressed each position during the offseason. Today’s installment looks at offensive line.
There are all kinds of new faces on the Bills' offensive line depth chart, but you'd better get to know them in a hurry.
By the time the season begins, and even sooner than that, most will be elsewhere.
One of the team's biggest offseason priorities was making sure a couple of familiar faces in that group, the ones belonging to Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito, were smiling all the way to the bank after receiving big contract extensions.
The left side of the line proved to be not only the strongest area of the offense in 2015, but also the strongest of the entire team.
Glenn's play at tackle was consistently effective, especially in the run game, and he wound up with a five-year, $60-million deal that makes him one of the highest-paid players at his position in NFL history. Incognito's mostly dominant performance at guard -- particularly with opening holes for the run -- not only made him one of the all-time best comeback stories, but also earned him a theee-year, $15.75-million contract.
Incognito’s standout season resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance as an alternate. Who would have expected that from the soon-to-be-33-year-old who hadn’t played since Oct. 31, 2013, Incognito’s last game before the Miami Dolphins suspended him for his role in a bullying scandal?
That's the good news.
The potential bad news is the Bills' decision to basically ignore the right side of their line, where questions linger at tackle and guard.
Here's the breakdown at offensive line:
Returning: Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, Seantrel Henderson, Jordan Mills, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Ryan Groy.
Newcomers: Fernando Velasco (FA), Robert Kugler (UDFA, Purdue), Jamison Lalk (UDFA, Iowa State), Marquis Lucas (UDFA, West Virginia) and Keith Lumpkin (UDFA, Rutgers).
Better, worse or the same?: The Bills clearly avoided getting a whole lot worse here by making sure they retained Glenn -- who first received a $13.7-million franchise tag -- and Incognito.
But did they actually get better? No, and they might, in fact, be even slightly worse.
Three spots are rock solid, including center, where, after an up and down 2014, Eric Wood came back with one of his stronger seasons and also made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. After that, it's anyone's guess how well the line will hold up.
Seantrel Henderson’s play at right tackle was adversely impacted last season by Crohn’s Disease, which caused him to experience severe weight loss and miss the final three games. Rather than try to address the position in the draft, however, the Bills' decision-makers chose to put the possibility of replacing him in the hands of challengers already on the roster.
Jordan Mills, whom the Bills claimed off waivers in Week 7 last season, did a decent job starting for Henderson through the final five games of the year. His history with Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer when both were with the Chicago Bears (Kromer as offensive coordinator) helped him get up to speed fairly quickly after Mills joined the Bills.
But does a represent a true upgrade? That's debatable.
Cyrus Kouandjio, a second-round pick from 2014, is also in the mix for the No. 1 spot at right tackle. He has yet to demonstrate that he belongs in the NFL as a backup, let alone a starter, so this would figure to be his make-or-break opportunity.
The Bills' guard situation was so bad in 2014 that they took what proved to be a smart gamble by signing Incognito and another risk by throwing a rookie, third-round draft pick John Miller, into the starting lineup on the right side.
Miller missed three games with injuries, and wore down physically as the season progressed. By the end of the year, he seemed more ordinary than he did during the impressive offseason and preseason he had by demonstrating smarts and instincts that belied his youth.
You have to wonder if the Bills took an even bigger chance on their offensive line this offseason by only adding one low-end free agent, center Fernando Velasco, and a bunch of undrafted free agents.
Here's more food for thought: If the Bills end up running a three-man competition on the right side, it's reasonable to wonder whether that might impact the line's overall continuity and ability of Tyrod Taylor and the running backs to continue to develop their timing/chemistry with the unit.
Next: Defensive line.