State of the Bills Roster: Offensive Tackle

Over the past several days, we've embarked on the long process of breaking down the Buffalo Bills' roster position-by-position. With our breakdown of the offensive skill positions out of the way, we'll start talking about the Bills' beleaguered and overwhelmed offensive line as our State of the Bills Roster series trucks on.

There are two offensive tackles on the field for your run-of-the-mill offensive play in the NFL. Buffalo played seven different players at their tackle positions last season, including left guard Andy Levitre. Of those seven players, four saw playing time at both left and right tackle. This position lacks top-level talent and significant depth, and aside from quarterback is quite easily the Bills' most pressing need offensively. Should be a fun review, eh?

What the new regime might be looking for
I think I know this one! The word "talent" comes to mind. That's not to say that the Bills' current tackles don't have talent; on the contrary, they're quite talented. In most cases, however, the majority of that talent remains untapped. Unfortunately, nearly every player currently on the roster has proven to be rather injury-prone, as well, which brings into harsher light how desperate the Bills are for talent, as well as depth, at this position.

I'm not sure how much this position will change from a personnel standpoint, but if it goes unaddressed, the Bills are in heaps of trouble heading into the 2010 season - even if they stumble onto a competent quarterback.

Current personnel
Right now, the Bills employ eight offensive tackles. We'll leave it up to you decide how many of these players are NFL-caliber.

Brad Butler. He missed the majority of his rookie season with injury; though he made it through the '07 season unscathed as the starting right guard and only missed three games in '08, Butler suffered another setback this past season after his move to right tackle. Butler appeared in just two games before a knee injury ended his season. The "injury-prone" label will stick, and no one's really sure if he should be playing right tackle in the first place (it was his position in college). Sadly, he is probably Buffalo's best tackle, and given his contract length and moderate salary, he should be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. His role is really what's up in the air.
  Contract status: 3 years remaining. Owed $4.65M in base salaries.

Demetrius Bell. Bell "earned" the starting left tackle job last season after the release of Langston Walker, and he spent the season battling injury before ending the year on IR. Blessed with solid athleticism and that dreaded 'p-word' - potential - Bell can hardly be considered a reliable starting option heading into 2010. Given the dearth of talent at the position, it'd be asinine to jettison Bell, because a good coach could still mold him into a quality player. But in no way should he be considered anything more than project depth at this point.
  Contract status: 2 years remaining. Owed $1.025M in base salaries.

Jonathan Scott. Scott, who started at both right and left tackles while dealing with his own injuries (mostly ankle injuries), is the only free agent on this list. He was one of the last players onto the roster a year ago, and while he was highly touted coming out of college, he hasn't reached a playing level that his talent says he should be at. He might be back; he might not. I doubt Bills fans will care either way.
  Contract status: Restricted Free Agent

Kirk Chambers. Valued by the previous coaching staff for his versatility, Chambers is good enough to acquit you in a pinch, but that's all he'll ever be - versatile depth. I anticipate that he'll stick around in that capacity, because steady veterans aren't a dime a dozen in this league.
  Contract status: 2 years remaining. Owed $1.45M in base salaries.

Jamon Meredith. Should we call this guy "Bell Lite"? Meredith was signed off of Green Bay's practice squad after Butler's injury, and saw way more playing time than he deserved. He does have talent - he's quite the physical specimen, in fact - but his temperament and physicality are both lacking. Again, he's a project that may or may not strike the fancy of Buffalo's new coaching staff.
  Contract status: Undisclosed. Not listed as a free agent by BuffaloBills.com.

Andre Ramsey. Yeah - this guy saw snaps at left tackle, too. I'm just glad Brian Brohm is still alive. Ramsey is a fringe prospect who kicked around the practice squad for a while. Given the need for talent here, I don't see how Ramsey sticks on the depth chart.
  Contract status: Undisclosed. Not listed as a free agent by BuffaloBills.com.

Nick Hennessey. Not much to see here. Was routinely passed over for outside talent despite the injuries last year, and is highly unlikely to return to the roster.
  Contract status: Undisclosed. Not listed as a free agent by BuffaloBills.com.

Jason Watkins. This is a project player that might stick around. Buffalo signed him to a contract earlier this month, and he'll probably be around for training camp. Beyond that, again, who cares?
  Contract status: Signed reserve/future contract on 1/5/10.

Who stays? Who goes?
Butler will stay. He's got a cheap contract and can swing in to guard. Bell will probably stay, too, as a developmental tackle; it should be noted that that doesn't guarantee him a roster spot in the least. Chambers stands a good shot at sticking on the roster, but the rest - Meredith on down the list - are very firmly in 'long shot' territory.

If I were a betting man (and no, I'm not)...
Given the fact that the Bills have needs pretty much everywhere, Butler might be given a shot to re-claim his starting right tackle spot with a mid-range veteran free agent or a rookie. Left tackle is a critical need, and I anticipate the Bills will scout top-end tackle talent very thoroughly leading up to the draft. Bell and Chambers are top front-runners as depth options, unless the Bills address this position heavily. The rest? Good luck finding work elsewhere.

Names to keep an eye on
This year's crop of offensive tackles is not of the quality at the top of the class as previous classes, but there are good players here. Anthony Davis and Russell Okung will top draft boards, and the Bills could certainly do worse than either at pick No. 9 in the first round. Bryan Bulaga and Bruce Campbell are options to keep an eye on as well, with Bulaga's stock rising quickly. If the Bills take a different position at the top of the draft, keep an eye on names like Charles Brown and Selvish Capers as second-round prospects worth exploring, though neither is considered an instant starter. Capers' draft stock is currently plummeting after a rough week at the Senior Bowl.

There isn't much available in terms of free agency; most of the top names are restricted free agents, and would require draft pick compensation to acquire in nearly every case. Don't expect any flashy names to be added via free agency at this position.

Previous installments of the State of the Bills Roster series: QB, RB, WR, TE.
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