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State of the Buffalo Bills roster, offensive tackles: make it better

The Bills can’t keep moving forward with the players currently in the trenches

The Buffalo Bills had issues up front, as the offensive line struggled mightily throughout the season. As a result, offensive line coach Juan Castillo was relieved of his duties (and he wasn’t very happy about it, either). The Bills had to absorb the loss of three stalwarts in the trenches before the season even began. The team traded away left tackle Cordy Glenn, lost center Eric Wood to retirement, then released guard Richie Incognito just prior to the enigmatic veteran engaging in a series of increasingly bizarre incidents.

Overall, the Bills have a ton of work to do along the offensive line. In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills roster, we profile the offensive tackles. Note that some of these players are listed at multiple positions along the offensive line. All statistical data courtesy of The Washington Post.

Dion Dawkins

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $1,140,883 cap hit ($591,178 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 4/26/19)
  • Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1057 snaps (99.81% of offensive total), 55 ST snaps (12.53%)
  • Key statistics: 11 penalties against, 1 catch, 7 yards, TD, 8 sacks allowed

Entering his first season as the planned starting left tackle (Dawkins started there last year in place of an injured Cordy Glenn), expectations for the second-year player out of Temple were high. He did not meet those expectations, as Dawkins struggled often throughout the year. He regressed in pass protection and in run blocking, as did the line as a unit. While he did add a touchdown grab on a pretty sweet trick play dialed up by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, that one great play doesn’t take away from his mediocre-at-best season. Dawkins has already owned the fact that he did not perform to expectations, which hopefully is the first step towards rebounding in 2019. While he is the team’s left tackle at the moment, general manager Brandon Beane would not rule out a position change for the man who has protected the blind side of five different starting quarterbacks in his 32 NFL games.

Conor McDermott

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $645,000 cap hit (0 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 26 (27 on 10/19/19)
  • Playing time: 5 games, 22 snaps (2.08% of offensive total), 23 ST snaps (5.24%)
  • Key statistics: 1 sack allowed

The second-year backup has served as a low-cost swing tackle to keep inactive on game days since the Bills claimed him on waivers from the New England Patriots. McDermott had some chances to play this year, albeit not many. His spot is one that may be upgraded, but at such a low cap cost, he is a solid enough backup.

Jordan Mills

  • Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 28 (29 on 12/24/19)
  • Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1011 snaps (95.11% of offensive total), 53 ST snaps (12.07%)
  • Key statistics: 7 penalties against, 6.5 sacks allowed

Buffalo’s starting right tackle for the past three seasons has one elite ability—his availability. Mills has not missed a game since 2015; however, his play has ranged from awful to acceptable throughout his tenure in Buffalo and, as a free agent, it’s hard to imagine the Bills making any serious push to keep Mills in town. While it’s definitely nice to know exactly who will be on the field at a given time at a given position, there has to be a time where the coaching staff realizes it’s time to upgrade particular spots. It’s time to make it better here by forgetting about re-signing Jordan Mills.

Ike Boettger

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit (0 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 10/5/19)
  • Playing time: 4 games, 76 snaps (7.18% of offensive total), 7 ST snaps (1.59%)
  • Key statistics: N/A

Boettger finished his rookie year by playing both tackle and guard, and he even took some snaps with the starters in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins. In fact, he was the guy who cleared Kiko Alonso out after the latter attempted yet another cheap hit on a quarterback who was mid-slide. For that reason alone, I like Ike. He seems to be a tenacious guy who plays with a bit of a mean streak, which is an obvious prerequisite for being an NFL offensive lineman. Boettger is worth keeping through the next training camp and preseason due to his strength and positional versatility.

Jeremiah Sirles

  • Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 27 (28 on 8/8/19)
  • Playing time: 12 games (5 starts), 138 snaps (13.03% of offensive total), 45 ST snaps (10.25%)
  • Key statistics: 1 penalty, .5 sacks allowed

Speaking of positional versatility, Sirles served as either a primary backup or a player on the field at tackle, guard, and center this season. The ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line is a coveted trait, and Sirles was Buffalo’s nominal sixth offensive lineman, as he was the most common “tackle-eligible” throughout the regular season. (Side note: on the Dion Dawkins touchdown, when the official said “number 73 is eligible,” I turned to my wife and said, “That has to be wrong; Sirles is always the eligible receiver.” The next sound I heard was the agonizing screams of thousands of salty New York Jets fans as I celebrated in MetLife Stadium. I think that’s why the play worked so well—if I knew Sirles was always the tackle-eligible, the Jets must have known, as well, and they may have thought it was a mistake. Sirles was acquired in September, replacing the traded Marshall Newhouse on the roster. While he won’t be a high-priority free agent for Buffalo, if the team were to bring him back to serve in a similar role as this past season, I’d be all for it if the contract is reasonable.

Positional Outlook

This group is one that has one average player followed by a whole bunch of sub-par ones. If Buffalo is going to protect its young quarterback and kick-start a once-dominant rushing attack, it starts up front. The team isn’t going to cut Dawkins, but lighting a fire under him and bringing in some legitimate competition at the tackle position would benefit both the team and the individual players. The team has to make this position better. Jordan Mills should be gone next year, Jeremiah Sirles will most likely be gone, and Conor McDermott and Ike Boettger are not safe. Expect the Bills to spend an early draft choice on an offensive lineman, and perhaps kick the tires on a free-agent tackle, someone like former Carolina Panthers right tackle Daryl Williams. The line needs a lot of help, and there is no better time to start fixing it than the present.