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Whaley: Offensive line a 'loss' in otherwise winning offseason for Bills

PHOENIX – The Buffalo Bills have been able to put check marks on multiple glaring needs this offseason: running back (LeSean McCoy), tight end (Charles Clay), veteran quarterback (Matt Cassel), fullback (Jerome Felton), wide receiver (Percy Harvin), and the retention of edge rusher Jerry Hughes.

There is, however, one glaring omission: Offensive guard.

The signing of Richie Incognito might very well fill a hole at guard, but he has been out of football for more than a year and he did not exactly qualify as a highly coveted free agent. The fact is, the Bills were the only team that wanted him since he was reinstated in February, 2014, from a suspension related to a bullying incident with the Miami Dolphins that put his playing career on hold during the 2013 season.

The Bills clearly wanted to add more help at the position when the NFL’s free-agency/trading period began on March 10, and they took two big swings … and had two big misses. The first was an attempt to acquire Bryan Bulaga, but he chose to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers. The second was an attempt to trade for Jhari Evans of the New Orleans Saints, but they instead chose to move Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“To put it bluntly, everybody’s celebrating our victories, but we’ve had some losses in this free agency” period “and it happened to be on the offensive line,” General Manager Doug Whaley said Tuesday during the NFL meeting here. “We had targeted two guys and we just couldn’t get them. Unfortunately for us, it looks like we didn’t try, but we did try and just weren’t successful.”

At only $5.28 million under the NFL salary cap, the Bills don’t have any room left for more major acquisitions. Doing so would require major restructuring of a major contract, probably the one belonging to defensive end Mario Williams, although Whaley said the team is looking to do an extension of the one-year, $4.75-million deal belonging to Cassel to make it cap friendlier.

To find additional help at guard, the Bills are going to have to turn to the April 30-May 2 NFL Draft, in which they have six picks (one in the second round, one in the third, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh).

“We’re tapped out,” Whaley said. “We’re at the point now where we’ve got to save” cap space “for the draft choices and for injury replacements next year. So anything we do from now on will basically be minimum” salaried “guys.

“We believe the draft’s very deep in O-line, D-line, running backs, and wide receiver. We’re very confident that, with the guys we have on campus now, with Chris Williams coming back, Cyril Richardson, Incognito, Kraig Urbik, and then if we add one or two in the draft, we’ll have some very good competition and hopefully someone will rise to the job and take the job.”

When coach Rex Ryan looks at the Bills’ offensive line, he draws confidence from “two good young tackles with phenomenal ability” in Cordy Glenn on the left side and Seantrel Henderson on the right and the fact newly hired Aaron Kromer, a former offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, will coach the group. Ryan said the priority is to put the “five best players” on the field, and said moving Glenn to left guard and Henderson, who had a strong rookie season in 2014, to left tackle was a “possibility. Incognito would likely take the No. 1 job at right guard, vacated by Erik Pears, who left in free agency.

“However, you better make sure you have your tackles first,” Ryan said. “Would it make sense to have Henderson at left tackle and Cordy Glenn at right tackle? That’s a possibility. We’ve got to get the best combination of five out there and in an ideal world for me, we’d have Urbik as a sixth man.”

Ryan and Whaley touched on other topics.

Ryan on the back story of the trade that sent linebacker Kiko Alonso to Philadelphia for McCoy: “We were all sitting there, we were having organizational meetings. We had all of our coordinators,” running backs coach “Anthony Lynn was present and you had Doug Whaley, you had team president Russ Brandon, you had” owners Terry and Kim Pegula, vice president of football operations “Jim Overdorf was there. And we were sitting around making our plans for free agency, what our team looks like, what we wanted to look like. And all of a sudden we get this call from Philadelphia, and that was when the trade started. And probably 30 minutes later, the trade was done.”

Whaley on the status of free-agent linebacker Brandon Spikes: “We’re going to reach out to him again. We’re going to have a meeting after we get back from this and see if there’s guys out there that we can probably get that we can still afford and we’re going to reach out to Brandon and see where he’s thinking and if it fits with where we think he is a player for us. I would say he would have to come in and compete for a job. He may say, ‘I’m more accomplished than that.’”

Ryan on the quarterback situation: “It’s probably not an ideal situation right now. You’ve got four guys competing instead of just going in and you’ve got the clear-cut number one. But we’re not at that position. Nobody’s established that yet, but we’ll certainly try to speed up that competition, if you will. We’re looking at different things (like) actually having two fields going at one time for rep wise, putting the young quarterbacks” Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Tuel “on one field and more Cassel and EJ” Manuel “on one. But we’ve got to develop EJ, there’s no question about it. But we’ve got to find ways and at the same time, give everybody the reps where you can make an accurate evaluation of them.”

Ryan on the Bills’ depth at running back: “When we made the LeSean McCoy trade with Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon and, uh, uh, you know the fast dude.” Bryce “Brown, is it? I’m not going to learn his name until he holds onto the football. And if he does, he’ll have a chance to play but until we feel comfortable about it, he won’t.”

Whaley on if the Bills would consider adding a quarterback in the draft: “Right now, unless something falls into our lap that is unbelievable, it would have to be draft. If it comes to that, and we think the guy’s worthy of that value where we take them, yes. Where we are with the uncertainty at that position, you always have to entertain the possibility of bringing someone in and that gives you a shot in the arm.”

Whaley on the critical role Overdorf played during the free-agency/trading period: “Everybody’s giving” Whaley and Ryan “kudos, but the all-star is Jim Overdorf. It’s one thing for us to say, ‘Yeah, let’s get Shady,” McCoy, “let’s get Percy. Yeah, that’s the easy part. But to make it work, Jim Overdorf gets five gold stars for everything we’ve done this offseason.”

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