The Buffalo Bills are in need of an overhaul along the offensive line. The team has two starters with expiring contracts—right guard John Miller and right tackle Jordan Mills—and a host of underwhelming returning players who played at a replacement level last season.
Arguably, Buffalo could be looking for at least three—and potentially four—new starters along its offensive line for next season. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is the closest thing to “safe” along the offensive line, and he may even be asked to switch positions depending on the additions Buffalo makes.
Last week, we made the case for signing a veteran center in free agency rather than drafting one to start right away. This week, we’ll profile the top options at the position as voted by you, the readership at Buffalo Rumblings. In our hypothetical look at the center market if the Bills were to cut Russell Bodine, the overwhelming majority of you (485 voters out of 811 total votes) wanted the Bills to sign Matt Paradis, who has played with the Denver Broncos for the past four seasons. (The second-place finisher in that poll, Kansas City Chiefs center Mitch Morse, will also be profiled in a separate article.)
Paradis would seem to be the golden goose of the free agent class, at least at his position. The former sixth-round draft choice has far exceeded the expectations that come with that label throughout his professional career. Here is some background information on the man whose Twitter handle (@two_dice) also serves as a (somewhat accurate) pronunciation guide for his last name, which is pronounced PARE-uh-diss.
Often times, offensive linemen can look like they rank among the league’s best in certain schemes, then appear to be awful when that scheme changes. This really goes for any position, as only a handful of elite players can truly transcend scheme to dominate.
The Bills have a new offensive-line coach, Bobby Johnson, so it’s hard to peg the kind of blocking scheme he’ll favor. Johnson has never risen above the level of assistant offensive-line coach, but two of the more noteworthy offensive-line coaches Johnson has worked for used similar concepts in their teachings.
Johnson was Buffalo’s assistant offensive-line coach in 2010 and 2011, working under noted offensive-line guru Joe D’Alessandris, who predominantly utilized a zone-based blocking scheme. While working with the Indianapolis Colts last season, Johnson worked with Dave DeGuglielmo, who also used a zone-heavy blocking scheme. In 2014, Johnson was the assistant offensive-line coach with the Detroit Lions, where offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn ran what was characterized as “a combination of man- and zone-blocking principles,” so Buffalo’s new tutor along the offensive line definitely has a background in multiple schemes.
How does this relate to Paradis? In Denver, he broke into the starting lineup while Gary Kubiak was head coach. Kubiak is known for utilizing a zone system based on that of Mike Shanahan. Paradis thrived in the system, calling protections and almost never losing on pass blocks.
According to the Washington Post, Paradis has not committed a pre-snap penalty since committing a false start during his rookie year in 2015. He has only allowed four sacks in four seasons, and none have come since the 2016 season, where he allowed three. In 2017, C.J. Anderson ran for over 1,000 yards in spite of the fact that Broncos quarterbacks Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch were just dreadful, combining for a 58.7% completion rate, 19 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. In 2018, undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay ran for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus loves Paradis, ranking him the number-one free-agent option along the interior offensive line in 2019. Before he broke his leg during Denver’s Week 9 loss to the Houston Texans, Paradis had earned a grade of 79, which was second among all centers (trailing only Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles). The analytics outlet has never graded Paradis lower than a 74 in his career, and he topped out at a 90.2 during the 2016 season (the year after Peyton Manning retired).
Locker Room Problem?
Chad Forbes tweeted that Paradis has “small-man syndrome,” going as far to say that the soon-to-be free agent is “hated” in Denver’s locker room. This tweet drew swift and strong rebukes from all corners of the Broncos’ twitter, eliciting responses from respected writers (Woody Paige), current teammates (Connor McGovern), and former teammates (Russell Okung and Jordan Norwood, among others) to shoot it down.
Conjecture could allow us to speculate about whether the report has some truth to it due to the fact that only one of his current teammates went on record to refute the report, but stretching that way would be a feat befitting an Olympic gymnast. The Broncos voted Paradis an offensive captain for the 2018 season, so his teammates clearly respected his leadership.
What Will He Cost?
Glad you asked. There’s really no way to definitively determine a player’s worth on the open market, as different factors (need, age, scheme fit, talent, cap space, etc.) all influence a club’s willingness to offer top-dollar in negotiations. The Bills begin this offseason with approximately $78 million in cap space, according to Spotrac. The largest cap hit for a center in 2019 belongs to Alex Mack of the Atlanta Falcons. He signed a five-year contract worth $45 million in 2016, which was his age-30 season. Paradis will turn 30 this year, so this might be one of the more helpful contract comparisons.
Mack’s contract called for a low cap hit initially ($4.05 million in year one of the deal) before ballooning in the second year ($8.3 million in 2017) and beyond. Other center deals don’t seem to follow the same pattern, as fellow 30-year old signee Max Unger’s contract would indicate. He signed a three-year deal worth $22.5 million heading into his age-30 season in 2017, as well. Unger’s 2019 cap hit with the New Orleans Saints is $8.7 million, up from a starting point of $7.4 million in year one of the extension he signed with the Saints in 2017 (he was acquired via trade with the Seattle Seahawks in the deal which sent Jimmy Graham to the Northwest).
Mike Pouncey is another center who signed a new deal at age 29, which is Paradis’s current age. after spending the first seven years of his career with the Miami Dolphins, Pouncey signed a two-year deal worth $15 million with the Los Angeles Chargers prior to the 2018 season. His cap hit in 2019 is $9.25 million.
In terms of recent free-agent contracts, there are two recent deals that aren’t necessarily comps in terms of player age, but they may be used by Paradis and his representation in terms of the overall money combined with his own success in the league. Ryan Jensen signed a four-year deal worth a total of $42 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. Jensen was 27 years old when he signed the contract. That deal guarantees Jensen $22 million in the first two years, and his 2019 cap hit is $10 million. Rodney Hudson signed a five-year contract with the Oakland Raiders worth $44.5 million prior to his age-26 season in 2015. His 2019 cap hit is $10.017 million this year, the final year of his contract.
What do all of those deals mean for Paradis? Potentially, they mean nothing, as the market isn’t necessarily dictated by past contracts; however, it means that in order to sign the top center on the market, a team will probably need to make a three- to four-year commitment, with an average salary-cap hit of right around $10 million necessary. Of those contract comps, the total guaranteed money ranges from $13 million (Pouncey) to $28.5 million (Mack), so a total of around $20 million guaranteed would be expected.
My expected offer to sign Paradis would be four years, $43 million, with $24 million guaranteed. If those amounts were to be distributed evenly among the life of the contract, that would give him an annual cap hit of approximately $11 million, with $6 million per year guaranteed. Obviously, teams could finagle those numbers via roster bonuses, workout bonuses, and other various incentive packages, but for practical purposes, Paradis will command an average annual value of anywhere from $9 million to $12 million per season.