The retirement of veteran guard Richie Incognito obviously would throw a significant wrench into the Buffalo Bills' plans to overhaul their 29th-ranked offense.
It's not so much that the Bills won't be able to find a viable replacement for Incognito, who confirmed his intention to quit to The News' Vic Carucci. It's that they would lose their highest-caliber offensive lineman a year before they were expecting to replace him.
Incognito's mobility, even at age 34 last season, was a big asset in the Bills' blocking scheme for LeSean McCoy. Buffalo ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards. Incognito made the Pro Bowl for a third straight season. After McCoy, Incognito was the best player at his position on the Bills' offense last year.
Coupled with the retirement of center Eric Wood, the Bills now need to build offensive line continuity almost from scratch.
The Bills' pro-personnel department no doubt will leap into action to at least investigate the remaining veteran guards on the free-agent market.
The top ones on the market arguably are ex-Pro Bowler Jahri Evans (Packers), Luke Joeckel (Seahawks), Trey Hopkins (Bengals), Shawn Lauvao (Redskins) and Andrew Tiller (Saints). Evans played well for Green Bay last season but he will be 35 in August and may prefer a top title contender at this point in his life. After him, it's a list of journeymen. Joeckel is a former second-overall pick from 2013 who has been a disappointment so far in five seasons. He started 11 games last year at an inflated cost of $8 million. His big problem is he has not shown he can stay healthy.
Given Incognito's age – he turns 35 in July – interior offensive line already was a strong consideration for the Bills in the middle rounds of the draft. That's even more of an emphasis now.
The Bills' top two needs after quarterback still are receiver and linebacker. One has to think those would be two target positions in the second- and third rounds in a ideal draft. The depth of the draft is pretty good at guard this year. So they could find a good option in the fourth round at guard. The Bills also have met with Arkansas center Frank Ragnow this spring. He's a third-round prospect and could play guard, as well.
Veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse was signed in free agency to compete with incumbent Jordan Mills at right tackle, and the Bills surely want to stick to that plan. Newhouse started six games for the Giants at left guard in 2016. Russell Bodine, signed from Cincinnati in free agency, is the Bills' prospective starter at center. Ryan Groy is his competition. But if the Bills loved Groy at guard, they likely would have given him more of a shot there last season.
Incognito graded out 12th among all NFL guards in Pro Football Focus' rankings last season. He was seventh in 2016. Veteran Vlad Ducasse returns as the starter at right guard.
Incognito's retirement will save the Bills $3.75 million in salary cap space. He was going to count $5.9 million for the final year of his contract. Now he's expected to count no more than $2.15 million, the amount of bonus money he has pocketed on his restructured deal. It's uncertain if the Bills will try to recoup the $1 million he got last month.
Story topics: Richie Incognito