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Buffalo Bills interior offensive line in a state of flux

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Eric Wood’s retirement opens a gaping hole on the offensive line

If I had written this piece a week ago, it would have been quite boring. The Buffalo Bills interior offensive line, though aging, looked to be a group that had two-thirds of its starters set. However, the degenerative neck injury that forced Eric Wood to retire has opened up a tremendous hole in the middle of the offensive line. Buffalo will head into the 2018 NFL season in search of a new center for the first time since 2010, when Wood shifted to the pivot from right guard.

Every interior offensive lineman employed by the Bills in 2017 is slated to count against their 2018 salary cap, though that will probably change with roster cuts and subsequent improvements to the roster. In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills roster, we profile the interior offensive linemen.

Richie Incognito

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $7.575 million cap hit ($6.425 million cap savings if cut post-6/1)
  • Age: 34 (35 on 7/5/18)
  • Playing time: 1,040 snaps (98.86% of offensive total), 62 ST snaps (14.19%)
  • Key statistics: 6 penalties, 3 sacks allowed

Buffalo’s left guard continued his late-career renaissance, making another Pro Bowl and generally continuing his stellar play. While he was penalized more than any other Buffalo offensive lineman, he still managed to hold his own in Rick Dennison’s ill-fated zone blocking scheme. A switch back to more power-based looks under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll should help Incognito to stay near the top of his positional group.

Ryan Groy

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $2.5 million cap hit ($1.5 million cap savings if cut post-6/1)
  • Age: 27 (28 on 9/30/18)
  • Playing time: 53 snaps (5.04% of offensive total), 116 ST snaps (26.54%)
  • Key statistics: N/A

Groy made $28,301 per offensive snap he took in 2017, but the Bills’ investment in him will almost certainly pay off in 2018. With Eric Wood’s retirement, Groy is suddenly the front-runner to become the next starting center of the Buffalo Bills. When Wood missed 7 games in 2016 with a broken leg, Groy stepped in and performed admirably. The Bills will almost certainly add competition for him, but it stands to reason that Groy has the inside track at the starting center gig in 2018.

Vladimir Ducasse

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $1.183 million cap hit ($1.1 million cap savings if post-6/1 cut)
  • Age: 30 (31 on 10/15/87)
  • Playing time: 796 snaps (75.67% of offensive total), 46 ST snaps (10.53%)
  • Key statistics: 1 penalty, 2 sacks allowed

The weakest link among Buffalo’s interior linemen was Ducasse, who took over for incumbent starter John Miller in the season’s fifth week. While Ducasse wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, he certainly wasn’t terrible, either. His spot is one where the team should look to improve, but at such a low salary cap figure, Ducasse will probably be on the roster next season, whether as a starter or a solid backup option.

John Miller

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $910,000 cap hit ($740,000 cap savings if cut)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 8/12/18)
  • Playing time: 256 snaps (24.33% of offensive total), 16 ST snaps (3.66%)
  • Key statistics: 3 penalties

Miller struggled to adjust to a different blocking scheme, and his poor play early in the season led to his benching. As a Doug Whaley draft pick, his hold on a roster spot is tenuous at best, especially given his struggles last season. He is inexpensive depth, however, which could be attractive to the coaching staff in a pinch.

De’Ondre Wesley

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $555,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money on reserve/future contract)
  • Age: 25 (26 on 7/28/18)
  • Playing time: N/A
  • Key statistics: N/A

Adam Redmond

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $480,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money on reserve/future contract)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 5/19/18)
  • Playing time: N/A
  • Key statistics: N/A

Neither Wesley nor Redmond played a down in 2017, but they both signed reserve/future contracts with the team at the end of the regular season. It’s probable that both men are merely training camp fodder, but unseating Miller may not be a difficult proposition. If the team decides to part ways with Ducasse in addition to Miller, that will open up roster spots for newcomers, and Redmond and Wesley could play their way onto the roster. That is a long shot, however.

Eric Wood

  • Contract status for 2018: retired; $10.39 million cap hit
  • Age: 31 (32 on 3/18/18)
  • Playing time: 1,052 snaps (100% of offensive total), 35 ST snaps (8.01%)
  • Key statistics: 4 penalties, 2 sacks allowed

What a shame. This hit me hard on a personal level—Wood and I are the same age, and our kids are the same age—just as I’m sure it hit many of you hard. Any time someone is forced into early retirement due to injury is a shame. When that person is a class act like Eric Wood, it makes it that much harder to swallow. I hope the injury was caught at a time where Wood can continue to live a normal life for as long as nature allows. I also hope that he stays around the team in some capacity, as it is clear that the players rally around him and his leadership. Whatever he chooses to do, I wish him and his family the best in his next chapter. He certainly deserves it.

Offseason Outlook

Buffalo is in the market for some upgrades in the middle of the offensive line. It was already a near-certainty that the team would add a guard to push Vlad Ducasse, but now the team will need to add a center to compete with Groy, as well. There are some free agent options along the interior lines, but that route is always a risky one. For example, Spotrac calculates center Ryan Jensen, currently of the Baltimore Ravens, as being worth $8.9 million per season on the open market. Jensen has ties to Buffalo’s current offensive line coach, Juan Castillo. Andrew Norwell, an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers, is projected to have a market value around $11.7 million per season.

With plenty of holes to fill and limited resource with which to fill them, the Bills would be wise to add players through the draft to the interior offensive line. If the team is only able to find one starter in the draft, then the stronger of the two remaining veterans in Groy and Ducasse may just be the best option for next season. My gut says that the Bills will start Groy at center and find a different guard.