(This is the second in a series on the Buffalo Bills’ key needs entering NFL free agency. The first installment looked at wide receiver. This installment looks at offensive line.)
The question facing the Bills' quest to rebuild their offensive line this offseason isn’t how, but how much?
The Bills have to decide how much they want to spend – in both free agency and the draft – for a unit that was a liability last season.
There aren’t many high-quality offensive tackles hitting the open market, so the bidding will go high.
The top tackles available are New England’s Trent Brown, Carolina’s Daryl Williams and Miami’s Ja’Wuan James.
The Bills will look to improve at right tackle, where Jordan Mills started the past three seasons. His contract is up. So is the contract of starting right guard John Miller. Left tackle Dion Dawkins has two starting seasons under his belt. But the position the Bills target for him in 2019 likely will depend on who they add to the roster in free agency and the draft.
The Bills obviously could bank on getting one starting tackle in the first round of the draft.
The Giants last year made New England left tackle Nate Solder the second highest-paid tackle in the league by giving him a $15 million-per-year deal in free agency. Given the number of teams with big money to spend, Brown will cost more than $10 million a year.
Brown, 26, is the largest left tackle in the league at 6-foot-8, 365 pounds, yet moves well. He went from an underachiever in San Francisco to a reliable, 19-game starter for the Pats. A concern: Did the great quarterbacking of Tom Brady and the great coaching of New England line coach Dante Scarnecchia make him look a better than he’s likely to play somewhere else in 2019?
“He’s able to match up with those guys with his length and his athleticism,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said late last season of Brown blocking speed rushers. “And then he has some advantages over there with his size and his power. He’s a very unique player with his skill set. The size is rare. His athleticism is good but when you combine it with his size, that’s rare, too.”
Williams is a logical right-tackle target for the Bills, given the fact Brandon Beane was part of the front office that drafted him for the Panthers in the fourth round in 2015. The Giants also are expected to be interested, given that current Giants GM Dave Gettleman was the GM of the Panthers in 2015.
As Williams' draft standing indicates, he’s not an elite athlete by NFL starter standards. But he has 35-inch arms, and the Panthers developed him. He’s 26 and was superb in 2017, making second-team All-Pro. Williams missed the last 15 games of last season due to knee surgery.
Given his injury, Williams might not cost a top-10 salary.
The 26-year-old James, a first-round pick in 2014, has given the Dolphins reliable, if not spectacular play. He’s physical in the run game, competent in pass protection. He can pull on run plays. He has shown durability. He has played two and a half of the last three seasons, missing half of 2017 with a hamstring injury.
After those three, the tackle pickings, as far as surefire starters go, are slim.
The safest prospect on the offensive line might be Chiefs center Mitch Morse, a high-quality starter who’s only 27. The Bills signed veteran center Russell Bodine in free agency last year. He was a middling starter last season. The Bills brought in some competition for him last month by signing veteran Spencer Long from the Jets. The suspicion is the Bills are OK with those two fighting it out.
After Morse, the next best starting center is Denver’s Matt Paradis, but he fractured his fibula in November. He had played 3,850 consecutive snaps before the injury. He's a proven upper-tier center. Morse and Paradis might cost in the $10 million-a-year range.
The top guard available is the Rams’ Rodger Saffold, but he will be 31 in June. That might be a bit old for the Bills’ tastes.
The next best options at guard in free agency probably are Tennessee’s Quinton Spain, the Giants’ Jamon Brown and Denver’s Billy Turner. Spain, 27, is a three-year starter for the Titans. Brown, 26, started 16 games for the Rams in 2017, and eight for the Giants in 2018. Both are powerful. Neither is a star. Brown was suspended the first two games of 2018, lost his Rams job upon his return and was released before signing with the Giants at midseason.
The Broncos reportedly are trying hard to re-sign Turner, 27, a former third-round pick of the Dolphins. He has battled injuries in recent years but started four games at right tackle and seven at left guard last season. Another available guard with athletic limitations is A.J. Cann, 27, who started the past four years for Jacksonville.
The lack of elite guards on the market might bode well for Wyatt Teller’s chances of holding onto the Bills' left guard spot, where he started the last seven games as a rookie.
A look at the top offensive line free agents:
Player Team Pos. Ht. Wt. Age
Mitch Morse Chiefs OC 6-6 305 26
Rodger Saffold Rams OG 6-4 323 30
Trent Brown Patriots OT 6-8 365 25
Daryl Williams Panthers OT 6-6 335 26
Ja’Wuan James Dolphins OT 6-6 318 26
Story topics: Bills free agency 2019