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Re-signing Richie Incognito would solidify Buffalo Bills interior O-Line

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If the Bills are able to re-sign free agent left guard Richie Incognito this offseason, they will almost certainly return all three of their interior offensive line starters for the 2016 season.

This time a year ago, the Buffalo Bills were re-tooling their offensive guard position around starting center Eric Wood, in an effort to both improve their highly-paid center's play, as well as to simply improve their production up front after a fairly miserable 2014 campaign there.

Those efforts turned out fairly well. Their left guard of choice, veteran free agent signee Richie Incognito, was a calculated risk that ended in a Pro Bowl nod. Wood went to the Pro Bowl, too, the beneficiary of more consistent play for both himself, and those around him. And while the right guard position remained unsettled a bit, thanks in part to some extenuating circumstances for rookie starter John Miller, Buffalo's interior offensive line was still noticeably better in 2015 than they were the year before.

Our State of the Bills Roster series continues today with a look at that interior offensive line - not only from a 2015 review standpoint, but where the group stands entering the 2016 season, as well. Long story short: the Bills need to re-sign Incognito, and they need more from Miller.

Eric Wood

  • Age: 29 (30 on 3/18/16)
  • 2015 earnings: $4.85M
  • 2016 cap charge: $6.725M ($3.125M savings if cut)
  • Playing time: 1,075 snaps in 16 games active (100% of total)

The Bills made Wood one of the NFL's highest-paid centers prior to the 2014 season, and that finally started to pay off a bit in 2015, when Wood played every snap on offense, was far more consistent on a week-to-week basis, and ended up playing in the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Stability at the left guard spot helped his cause, although a revolving door at right guard perhaps kept him from reaching even greater heights. It may be fair to characterize Wood's contract as a bit rich, but it's very difficult to envision the Bills changing things up in the pivot, given Wood's consistency and their desire to establish continuity up front.

John Miller

  • Age: 22 (23 on 8/12/16)
  • 2015 earnings: $605K
  • 2016 cap charge: $725K ($215K savings if cut)
  • Playing time: 647 snaps in 12 games active (60.2% of total)

Two things to keep in mind regarding Miller, the 2015 third-round pick who immediately became the Bills' starting right guard: his development was hindered by two injuries and a death in the family, which took him out of the lineup repeatedly early in the season; and the team really likes him, and clearly wants to keep developing him as a starter moving forward. That said, while Miller enjoyed a few moments of above-average play in his rookie season, he was mostly a liability, consistently losing one-on-one matchups for stretches and inconsistently leveling out the negative plays with positive ones. Miller isn't going anywhere any time soon, but the Bills need him to be better.

Kraig Urbik

  • Age: 30 (31 on 9/23/16)
  • 2015 earnings: $2.15M
  • 2016 cap charge: $2.63M ($1.78M savings if cut)
  • Playing time: 432 snaps in 16 games active (40.2% of total)

More than $2 million might seem like a lot of money for a backup linemen, but Urbik was worth the investment in 2015. When asked to step into the lineup at right guard for Miller, Urbik made the line better, owing to his higher level of consistency. It wasn't needed, but Urbik's ability to play center in a pinch adds to his value. Buffalo might be tempted to cut Urbik and pocket nearly $1.8 million in cap savings, but a wiser move might be to hedge their bets and keep a valued reserve around.

Ryan Groy
  • Age: 25 (26 on 9/30/16)
  • 2015 earnings: $180K
  • 2016 cap charge: $600K ($600K savings if cut)
  • Playing time: 24 snaps in 5 games active (2.2% of total)
Cyril Richardson
  • Age: 25 (26 on 12/27/16)
  • 2015 earnings: N/A
  • 2016 cap charge: $525K ($525K savings if cut)
  • Playing time: Spent 2015 season on practice squad
Ronald Patrick
  • Age: 24 (25 on 11/1/16)
  • 2015 earnings: N/A
  • 2016 cap charge: $450K ($450K savings if cut)
  • Playing time: Spent 2015 season on practice squad

These three players did not play much in 2015 - only Groy saw time on the active roster, after being signed with five weeks to play - and are project-type depth players heading into 2016 training camp. Groy has a history with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, Richardson was a 2014 fifth-round pick out of Baylor, and Patrick is an option at center.

Free agents

Richie Incognito

  • Age: 32 (33 on 7/5/16)
  • 2015 earnings: $1.1M
  • 2016 cap charge: Unrestricted Free Agent
  • Playing time: 1,075 snaps in 16 games active (100% of total)

From Week 1 to Week 17, Incognito was Buffalo's most consistent offensive linemen, turning in solid to above-average performances on a weekly basis. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but probably should have been selected there outright, as he was the best run-blocking presence on an offensive line that paved the way for the NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing attack. Incognito was a wild card for the Bills entering the 2015 season, but now he's among the team's biggest priorities this offseason. They've said they want to re-sign him, Incognito has stated on multiple occasions that he'd like to return, and it's hard to imagine that the Bills will be looking elsewhere for a left guard in 2016.

Offseason outlook

All indications are that the Bills would be more than happy to head into the 2016 season with Incognito, Wood, and Miller holding down the starting jobs on their interior offensive line again. The only potential hurdle that would prevent them from doing so is not being able to re-sign Incognito, a pending free agent.

The only questions beyond Incognito's status, then, are whether or not Miller can improve significantly in his second season, and how much money the team is willing to spend to hedge their bets and build depth behind that starting trio (relating directly to Urbik's deal). But in terms of the big picture of the roster, this positional group does not seem like one that will see significant personnel changes this offseason, especially at the top of the depth chart.