If you're reading this article, then you follow the Buffalo Bills closely enough to know that they're a bit of a mess along the offensive line heading into the 2015 offseason - and that the bulk of the concern comes at the guard position, where the Bills were atrocious last year.
We've already talked about the Bills' tackles, and we'll get to those aforementioned guards soon. It's a widely-held expectation that the Bills will be working hard to upgrade their front this offseason, with the guard position likely to be overhauled, and perhaps a new player or two brought in on the edge, as well.
If there's one Bills offensive lineman that's glossed over in discussions about that group, it's center Eric Wood (though not always). Now four years into his career as the Bills' starting center, and with a new, run-oriented offense in the pipeline via new offensive coordinator Greg Roman, has anything changed regarding Wood's fit in Buffalo? Should it?
- Age: 28 (29 on March 18)
- 2015 cap #: $6.0M ($600k savings if cut)
- 2014 snaps: 1,059 (99.7% of total)
Talking about offensive linemen is often incredibly difficult to do with any sort of hard context, which is why sites like Pro Football Focus are so valuable. Even if you don't buy into their grading system to the point that you're willing to spew numbers at bewildered passersby to prove your points, the fluctuations in how a player is graded from year to year can add quantifiable context to discussions about these types of players.
Wood, a 2009 first-round pick out of Louisville, has been the Bills' starting center for the last four years. An injury-shortened 2011 campaign was by far his best, as he finished in PFF's Top 10 in both pass protection and overall at his position. He slipped dramatically as a run blocker from 2011 (No. 17 ranking) to 2012 (No. 32), however, but that didn't stop the Bills from giving him a long-term contract extension prior to the 2013 season.
2014 was probably an outlier year for Wood in pass protection; he had the first negative PFF grade of his career in that department following three straight seasons of No. 7, No. 11, and No. 8 rankings at his position. Greg Roman and Aaron Kromer should not be concerned with him as a pass protector; when the players on either side of him are settled, Wood is more than fine in that area of his game.
Things are a bit more concerning in the run department. Wood was solid there in 2011 (ranked No. 17 among centers), but if the past three seasons are any indication (No. 32, No. 27, and No. 31 rankings, respectively), Wood might not ever emerge as one of the league's better run-blocking centers. Still, one would expect that if things improve to his left and to his right, that Wood might inch closer to his league-average starting point from four seasons ago.
Let's be clear here: if Wood is above-average as a pass protector and average in the running game, Roman and Kromer can absolutely work with that. But based on his struggles last season, regardless of their cause, Wood has a bit of ground to gain to get back to that level, especially in the run game.
Wood is right in the thick of a four-year, $25.4 million contract extension that he signed prior to the start of the 2013 regular season. He's also one of the team's most popular players, so it's not as if he's going anywhere. Plus, even considering all that we talked about above, there were extenuating circumstances to consider around him, particularly the terrible play of the guards. We'd be remiss not to mention that Wood is a team captain, and one of the more respected voices in Buffalo's locker room. That matters a great deal, especially with new coaches coming in.
Still, it's fair to wonder, within the context of a power-running offense, if Wood is the best long-term option for the team in the pivot. He is certainly a starting-caliber interior NFL lineman, and the Bills are so starved for those right now that Wood is a clear standout on the team's depth chart, but it's worth keeping Wood in the back of your mind heading into the offseason. He'll be expected back at his position, but has he done enough, in your mind, to warrant being a certainty to remain the team's starting center for the foreseeable future?