The Buffalo Bills took what could at least be viewed as a small step toward addressing their biggest area of need Tuesday by signing free-agent center/guard Spencer Long to a three-year contract.
The deal is worth $13 million that could increase to $15 million with playing time incentives, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora.
Long, 28, spent the 2018 season with the New York Jets, with whom he started all 13 games in which he played at center and left guard. Last March, the Jets signed him to a four-year, $28 million contract. However, they decided to release Long on Feb. 5 after watching him struggle, thanks in part to a finger injury that impacted his snapping, and not wanting to pay a $3 million bonus he was owed three days after Super Bowl LIII.
Long retweeted a Bills' tweet with an image of him signing his contract and wrote, "Thank you Buffalo! Had an awesome visit. Can’t wait to get to work."
The Bills are desperate for help on their O-line and are expected to make heavier investments in it when the unrestricted free-agent period begins on March 13. They also figure to target that area during the April 25-27 NFL draft.
The Bills' offensive line sustained two major blows in the aftermath of the 2017 season with the retirements of center Eric Wood and left guard Richie Incognito. The Bills tried replacing Wood, first with Ryan Groy and then with Russell Bodine, a free agent they signed from the Cincinnati Bengals. Groy started the first two games of the season at center before Bodine took over and started the next 10 until suffering a season-ending broken fibula against the Miami Dolphins Dec. 2. Groy returned as the starter for the final four games.
Vlad Ducasse started the first nine games at left guard for the Bills last season before giving way to rookie Wyatt Teller for the final seven. John Miller started all but one game at right guard.
The Bills have three pending free agents on the offensive line in Groy, Miller and Jordan Mills. Jeremiah Sirles was scheduled to be a free agent but signed a one-year extension Jan. 16. Sirles and Long were teammates at Nebraska.
In 2014, the Washington Redskins made the 6-foot-5, 318-pound Long a third-round draft pick (78th overall). After spending most of his rookie season on special teams, he started 13 games for the Redskins at left guard in 2015 after replacing injured Shawn Lauvao. The Redskins finished 10th in the NFL that year by scoring an average of 24.3 points per game.
After the 2015 regular season, Long – whose twin brother, Jake, played tight end at Nebraska but did not pursue an NFL career – started his first playoff game when the Redskins faced Green Bay. He played in a career-high 15 games in 2016, with 12 starts after taking over for injured center Kory Lichtensteiger, and was part of a Washington offensive line that gave up 23 sacks, fourth-fewest in the league.
Knee tendinitis prompted the Redskins to place Long on their injured-reserve list in late November 2017.
In his pre-draft scouting report in 2014, Nolan Nawrocki provided a pretty unflattering assessment of Long, who graduated from Nebraska with a 3.79 GPA and a degree in biological sciences.
"Average athlete," Nawrocki wrote for Pro Football Weekly. "Is tight-ankled and heavy-legged – lumbers to the second level. Labors to cut off the inside rush. Struggles to adjust and pick off linebackers and is not efficient pulling and trapping." However, Nawrocki did sum Long up as a "big, tough, physical, ornery blocker with starter-quality positional traits and intangible qualities."
The Bills also announced Tuesday they re-signed restricted free agent cornerback Lafayette Pitts to a one-year contract.
Pitts finished the 2018 season ranked second on the Bills with seven special teams tackles and was second on the Bills in special teams snaps with 281 (64.01 percent). He arrived in Buffalo in 2017 after playing six games that season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With Pitts' signing, the Bills' lone restricted free agent is tight end Logan Thomas.