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Buffalo Bills team building: Tremaine Edmunds or offensive linemen?

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General manager Brandon Beane made a choice. Was it the right one?

The article advocating that Buffalo sit Josh Allen until the offensive line is fixed brought out a lot of comments from many different angles. One of the lines of thought repeated by several people was that the Buffalo Bills should not have drafted QB Josh Allen with the offensive line being as bad as it is. Several people opined that the Bills should have done something to address the glaring weakness not only so the team can win games, but also to ensure that Allen isn’t killed while trying to become a franchise QB.

Last year, the offensive line wasn’t terrible, but general manager Brandon Beane traded away left tackle Cordy Glenn, then left guard Richie Incognito was released (after signing a team-friendly deal to remain and) after he blew a gasket, and then center Eric Wood had to retire early in the offseason due to a health issue. All of these departures were known before the draft. It is worth noting that while Wood’s departure was assured before free agency, Incognito’s episode began in earnest after free agency had begun.

Beane and head coach Sean McDermott had seen enough of Ryan Groy to believe that he could hold the fort at center. Much-maligned guard Vlad Ducasse had started most of the 2017 season at right guard and the offense functioned. Reserve guard John Miller took a step back in 2017 to the point that he couldn’t even beat out Ducasse. Rounding out the offensive line, rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins played well enough in place of an injured Glenn that Beane felt comfortable trading away the veteran to move up and take the aforementioned quarterback. Right tackle Jordan Mills was a liability, but the offense still functioned.

From Beane’s perspective, heading into free agency, he had Dawkins-Incognito-Groy-Ducasse-Mills. Good? No, but not completely terrible either. In free agency, Beane opted to fill the hole he created by shipping out defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, as the defensive line was historically bad in the middle of the season. In doing so, he didn’t have the money to spend on a positional group that looked to be more stable. Heading into the draft, however, Beane was looking at Dawkins-Ducasse-Groy-Miller-Mills as his starting offensive line. While he may not have realized it was going to be as bad as we witnessed against the Cincinnati Bengals, it clearly wasn’t good. With free agency essentially done, Beane only had the draft, and he made decisions based on his view of how to build a football team.

Many have argued that the cornerstones of a successful NFL team are a franchise QB, LT, and pass rusher. Beane had a serviceable LT, a good DE in Jerry Hughes, and nothing at all at QB. Beane chose to prioritize acquiring a franchise QB. He hopefully found one in Josh Allen, though it is far from certain. Drafting Allen required expending a lot of draft picks, but it is hard to criticize Beane for doing what he thought he had to do to select “his” guy. (It will be easy to blame Beane for selecting the wrong guy if Allen doesn’t work out, but that’s a couple years down the line.)

Beane didn’t try to fill Incognito’s left guard slot until the fifth round, when he chose Wyatt Teller. He didn’t have much of a chance to draft a guard before then, as no guards were picked between DT Harrison Phillips and the start of the fifth round. He could have “reached” in the fourth for Cole Madison, the only guard to come off the board between Phillips and Teller. He could also have taken one of the three centers (Mason Cole, Brian Allen, and Scott Quessenberry) who were selected between Phillips and Teller. Would any of them have stepped in and helped the Bills to avert the disaster witnessed on Sunday? Likely not.

The only way that Beane could have addressed the offensive line earlier than the fifth round would have been to pass on trading up for LB Tremaine Edmunds. Center Billy Price was on the board at 21, when the Bills would have been on the clock. With no second round pick (Allen trade), the Bills would have had to add a future pick to have moved up from 65 to draft a guy like Will Hernandez early in the second round. Those moves would almost certainly have people feeling better about the offensive line, even though trading up for Hernandez would have cost at least a 2019 third to go with pick 65.

But, the Bills wouldn’t have Edmunds in the center of the defense, leading what had been a problem area for Buffalo. True, it still figures to be a problem area given that Buffalo has meager LB talent outside of Edmunds. This is where the collaboration between the general manager and head coach most likely tipped the scales. They both wanted a QB for the offense, so they selected Allen. They also needed a leader for the defense, Buffalo’s version of Luke Kuechly. Acquiring both this year meant giving the offensive line a lick and a promise.

With all that said, don’t be surprised to see Beane pull off a couple of deals for interior offensive linemen over the next couple days instead of waiting to see who hits the waiver wire. Buffalo wouldn’t have to outbid anyone if the team sends a late-round pick to a franchise that was going to cut a guy who would have been their fourth interior OL anyway.