The Buffalo Bills offensive line was not very good in 2018. In the middle of that underwhelming group, the center position was a flip-flop of sorts and is even more wide open heading into 2019.
Ryan Groy opened the year snapping the ball, but was replaced after a couple games by free-agent signee Russell Bodine, who had started every game for four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Bodine settled into his role and outperformed Groy until a leg injury forced Groy back into the starting lineup.
Heading into 2019, Groy is a free agent and Bodine should be recovered from his broken leg. But did he do a good enough job to hang onto his starting role, or even a roster spot, in 2019?
Russell Bodine played a pretty competent brand of football in his first year with the Buffalo Bills. Never dominating in the trenches, Bodine was rarely a liability either. It was common to see Bodine helping out his guards with blocks and at times looked like the best protector for Buffalo. With Bodine at center, Buffalo is unlikely to establish a power running game without some true maulers to flank him. A more finesse and speed based game should be an easier style to get going with Bodine and require less overhaul around him (though it would still need some).
Upon review, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bodine was not the dumpster fire that was commonly portrayed. One facet of his game that seemed like a strength was move blocking.
Bodine is a player who will always be described in context of his surrounding talent. As the Cincinnati weak link there seemed to be some unease in allowing Bodine to take on defenders by himself, with schemes seeming to limit his exposure. In Buffalo he is most assuredly not the weak link and often took on defenders by his lonesome. Bodine isn’t manhandled but he’s not winning either. As a power lineman, there’s much to be desired. On the other hand, it could be quite a bit worse and as they say “practice makes better.” With more exposure to one-on-ones in Buffalo, Bodine seems to have improved from his Bengals days that gave me the impression he was a consistent liability.
It’s widely expected that the Buffalo Bills will seek to improve the offensive line this off-season and Russell Bodine shouldn’t be considered safe. Time and energy are finite resources. There are several positions I’d allocate more into fixing than center and if using a strictly triage-based strategy there’s at least three spots on the offensive line I look at before hitting Bodine’s name. That’s not how the NFL tends to work though. With general manager Brandon Beane likely scouring all available players at all positions, there’s no compelling reason not to sign an upgrade if one falls into their lap.
After losing Eric Wood to retirement, the Bills signed Bodine to a two-year, $5-million-dollar deal. Bodine’s signing was a low-end signing to fill an immediate need on the offensive line.
Bodine is entering the final year of his contract and unless the Bills miss out of signing a top-tier center in free agency, like Matt Paradis of the Denver Broncos, the savings of cutting him isn’t substantial for a team with over $80 million in cap space.
2019 cap hit: $2.8 million
Roster bonus: $206,244
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary due: $1.9 million
Dead money from signing bonus: $500,000
Cap savings: $2.3 million if released before workout bonus is earned
Bodine, who is set to be Buffalo’s most expensive offensive lineman in 2019, does have a decent in-house replacement waiting in the wings should the team release Bodine.
The only problem? That candidate, Groy, who is considered a versatile swingman who can line up at guard or under center, is an unrestricted free agent. The results weren’t what the Bills were hoping for out of Groy, who ranked 37th out of 39 qualifying centers with a 46.7 grade according to PFF. Groy allowed three quarterback hits and eight hurries.
The only other option is Jeremiah Sirles, who just signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum to stay in Buffalo in 2019. In 2017 he started a couple games for the Minnesota Vikings at center, but hasn’t played the position in Buffalo. He was underwhelming during his 138 offensive snaps in 2018.
The top option is the 29-year-old Paradis, who played for the Denver Broncos this season. A sixth-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014, he has developed into one of the league’s top centers. PFF graded him at a 79 this year, the second-best grade of any center in the league. Like Bodine, Paradis had his season cut short due to a broken leg, as he was placed on injured reserve following Denver’s ninth game.
The pivot-man on the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line is the youngest of our three top targets at 26 years old. He is coming off a solid season in a high-flying offense—PFF graded him at 69.5, 13th among centers—and he has started 49 games over the last 4 seasons at center. Morse is gigantic for a center, standing at 6’6” inches tall. He committed 4 penalties this season (3 holds and a false start), and he did not allow a sack.
Fulfilling our requirement to speculate on players currently employed by the Carolina Panthers brings us to Kalil, a solid veteran who is nearing the end of his career. At 34 years of age, Buffalo would have to think that he has at least one or two more years left to make this worthwhile. For Kalil, he’d have to think one of two things: either Buffalo is close to competing, or he wants to be somewhere comfortable thanks to his familiarity with head coach Sean McDermott and Beane from their shared time in Carolina. Kalil graded out at 63.6, according to PFF, which was right in the middle of the league’s centers in 2018. Kalil is a free agent, but announced before the 2018 season he was planning on calling it a career, so it’s probably a no-go.
Consider the Bills could re-sign Groy in this scenario, as well.
Elgton Jenkins (Mississippi State)
Garrett Bradbury (NC State)
Michael Deiter (Wisconsin)
Dalton Risner (Kansas State)
While none of these three are projected first rounders, each of them can be plug-and-play starters. It’s a good mix here at the top, with all four bringing something slightly different to the table. (Full analysis here)
Chris Lindstrom (Boston College)
Erik McCoy (Texas A&M)
Lamont Gaillard (Georgia)
There’s a significant step down to this second tier. The trio of players listed are likely to be late Day-Two or early Day-Three picks, who will be best served competing for a chance to become starters.
Tier III players will be late round picks, if they are drafted at all.
So now it’s your turn to weigh in. What should the Bills do at the center position this offseason?
What should the Bills do at center this offseason?
This poll is closed
Keep Bodine, add a free agent
Keep Bodine, add a rookie
Keep Bodine, stay status quo
Bye Bodine, add a free agent
Bye Bodine, add a rookie starter
Bye Bodine, roll with Sirles