Ryan Groy’s professional future was up in the air last week.
The Buffalo Bills’ offensive lineman had signed a contract offer with the Los Angeles Rams as a restricted free agent. The Bills were then given five days to decide whether they wanted to match the deal, or allow Groy to head west, without any compensation in return.
They didn’t need nearly that long, deciding just two days later that they would match the Rams’ two-year contract offer to keep Groy in the red, white and blue Bills uniform.
“I’m super excited to be back. My wife and I love Buffalo,” Groy said during a conference call with the Western New York media this week. “People have always been super welcoming, reminds us a lot of back home in Wisconsin, midwestern people.”
The Bills had offered the lowest tender available to restricted free agents, which would have paid him about $1.8 million on a one-year contract. He was free to negotiate with other teams, however, and because he was not drafted, the Bills would not have been entitled to any compensation if they offered not to match the deal. Groy said “three or four” teams expressed interest, including the Rams, who ultimately offered a contract worth $5 million over two years.
“Once that happened then it was just a waiting game to see if they were going to match,” Groy said. “I truly had no idea what was going to happen as far as if the Bills were going to match or not. I hoped they did and it worked out.”
Groy proved his worth to the Bills – and the rest of the NFL – last season by starting the final seven games at center in place of the injured Eric Wood. It’s understandable if fans were nervous about that – he was, too.
“I would say I had butterflies going into the Cincinnati game just because it was my first true start at center,” he said. “After the first series I was feeling great and I was confident in doing whatever. From that point on it was just building confidence and every game was more and more. It worked out really well.”
As the team’s primary reserve interior lineman, he also worked at guard and even came into the game as a sixth offensive lineman on a few different occasions, lining up as an extra tackle.
“At that point I just wanted to show I could be versatile,” Groy said. “I hadn’t shown I could play center and that’s why after the Seattle game” when Wood got hurt “everybody was worried about me going in and playing. I knew I could play, and I knew I could be successful doing it, but it was part of proving it to the coaches and to the team that I could be that guy and I can play in this league.”
It’s been an impressive rise for a player who entered the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears. After one year there, Groy was traded to the New England Patriots in the summer of 2015, but failed to make the 53-man roster. From there, he signed with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers’ practice squad before the Bills acquired him late in 2015.
“I have never really been an underdog until going into the NFL being undrafted,” Groy said. “All I wanted to do my whole career was prove that I should have been drafted, and prove that I can play in this league and that’s one of the things that is really, I look back on and I smile. I’m glad I reached this point, but this is only the beginning. I’m excited to keep moving forward.”
Groy said he has not yet spoken with coach Sean McDermott to get a better understanding of what his role in 2017 may be. The Bills acquired veteran guard Vlad Ducasse in free agency, so the interior of their offensive line looks to be a strong point of the roster.
“That’s what brings out the best in people is competition,” Groy said. "I think Coach McDermott is trying to push that. I played with Vlad in Chicago for a little bit. He’s a great player. … I’m glad that we have the same group back as last year. We had a good unit.”
With Wood expected to be ready for the start of 2017 and guards John Miller and Richie Incognito back, that means Groy would once again be a reserve, unless the new coaching staff decides to get creative. Even though last year’s starting right tackle, Jordan Mills, was re-signed, it was to a contract that makes it clear the team will explore their options at the position.
Could Groy be one of them?
“I’m willing to try whatever,” he said. “I played a couple games in college at tackle. You know, I would be fine doing it. It just takes practice and reps. It’s not like I am unathletic to where I couldn’t do it. I’m not too short for it, either.”
As last year showed, Groy has been up for whatever challenge has come his way.