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State of the Buffalo Bills roster, centers/guards: is anybody safe?

Thanks to injuries, retirements, and ineffectiveness, the Bills’ interior offensive line was poor.

The Buffalo Bills have a problem along the offensive line. The Bills lost three of the five starters from the 2017 season opener coming into the 2018 season. Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, and Eric Wood all started that victory over the New York Jets to kick off the 2017 season, and none of the three were with the team to begin off-season activities in 2018.

The Bills already had in-house replacements for Glenn and Incognito, permanently making Dion Dawkins the left tackle and re-inserting John Miller into the lineup at guard. They signed Russell Bodine to play center. They thought that the offensive line would allow the team to run a smash-mouth, run-oriented offense.

Narrator: Well, they thought wrong.

The Bills struggled to move the ball at all, partly due to poor quarterback play for most of the season, but also due to issues with protection. Buffalo’s leading rusher was Josh Allen, the team’s rookie quarterback. The top two running backs on the depth chart, LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, combined to carry the ball 276 times for 899 yards—a brutal 3.26 yards-per-carry average.

There is no sense in pretending that the Bills are fine on the offensive line. They definitely need an influx of talent. As for the players on the roster at present, here is what the team has heading into the 2019 off-season.

Wyatt Teller

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $633,530 cap hit ($190,593 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 11/21/19)
  • Playing time: 8 games (7 starts), 475 snaps (44.85% of offensive total), 27 ST snaps (6.15%)
  • Key statistics: 5 penalties, 0 sacks allowed

The second of Buffalo’s fifth-round draft picks this year, Teller slid into the starting lineup and was adequate in his first taste of NFL action. While it is certainly impressive that a rookie fifth-rounder was able to crack the starting lineup, the ineffectiveness of the unit as a whole is the greater reason for the coaching staff’s willingness to give Teller a chance. Also, the team dropping out of contention allowed Teller to slide in and gain experience. His spot in the starting lineup is by no means assured next year, but Teller has shown enough to warrant a spot on the roster in 2019.

Vladimir Ducasse

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $2,083,334 cap hit ($83,334 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 31 (32 on 10/15/19)
  • Playing time: 10 games (9 starts), 563 snaps (53.16% of offensive total), 28 ST snaps (6.38%)
  • Key statistics: 4 penalties, 0 sacks allowed

Ducasse began the year as the team’s starting left guard, moving over from the right side after Richie Incognito was released in the off-season. Ducasse was himself this year, mixing in solid play with poor moments throughout the season. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Teller after the bye week. With only $83,334 guaranteed to him next season, the Bills could certainly decide to part ways with the veteran; however, with all the turnover expected on the offensive line, it’s also entirely possible that the coaching staff decides to keep him around as insurance.

John Miller

  • Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 24 (25 on 8/12/19)
  • Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 883 snaps (83.38% of offensive total), 45 ST snaps (10.25%)
  • Key statistics: 4 penalties, 1 sack allowed

Miller has had quite an interesting career with the Bills. After an abysmal rookie season, he bounced back to have a solid second campaign only to lose his starting job to Ducasse last year. Miller came back into the starting lineup this year and was inconsistent yet again. As an unrestricted free agent, it’s unlikely that he’s back with the team next year, although it is possible that the team considers retaining him for another year at a low cost to help maintain cohesion along the line.

Ryan Groy

  • Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 28 (29 on 9/30/19)
  • Playing time: 15 games (6 starts), 528 snaps (49.86% of offensive total), 56 ST snaps (12.76%)
  • Key statistics: 1 penalty, 0 sacks allowed

The man who played well enough to warrant a contract extension in 2016 after Eric Wood’s injury played very poorly in 2018 after Russell Bodine’s injury. Groy looked over-matched and was underwhelming throughout the year. I was a proponent of his at the beginning of the year, but watching the line struggle and watching Groy struggle mightily as well makes me think that he will be elsewhere next season.

Russell Bodine

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $2.875 million cap hit ($500,000 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 26 (27 on 6/30/19)
  • Playing time: 10 games (10 starts), 588 snaps (55.52% of offensive snaps), 5 ST snaps (1.14%)
  • Key statistics: 3 penalties, 0 sacks allowed

Bodine signed with the Bills in the off-season, after having started all 64 games of his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals prior to this season. Of course, he missed the second half of the season due to a leg injury—the first time he has missed time due to injury as a professional. Bodine was not great, but he was much better than Groy. If the team decides to move on, Bodine can be cut at a savings of $2.375 million in 2019, but I imagine that he’ll be back next season.

Positional Outlook

As with the offensive tackles, the Bills’ interior line needs a lot of work. The argument can be made that none of the players on Buffalo’s roster here would start on other teams. I expect that Groy is gone, and the Bills will look to retain either Ducasse or Miller, but not both. The move to make may be to re-sign Miller, preferably to a two-year deal loaded with incentives based on playing time, and cut Ducasse. Even if the team decides to allow Miller to leave, I would still cut Ducasse. If the team wants a veteran option, there are plenty available via free agency. Two of them, Matt Slauson and Mark Glowinski, played last year for newly-hired offensive line coach Bobby Johnson with the Indianapolis Colts.

Buffalo needs to add draft picks and free agents to the mix here regardless of whether they choose to retain some of their own players or not. Johnson saw how much a guard can transform an offensive line in Indianapolis, as Quenton Nelson helped turn the Colts from one of the worst units in the league to one of the best. Buffalo would be wise to follow the Colts’ lead in building the offensive line in order to maximize their potential for success in 2019.