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Buffalo Bills free agent target: center Mitch Morse

Who better to help along a young quarterback than a player who just did the same thing with the best young quarterback in the league?

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The Buffalo Bills are in need of some help along the offensive line. They are in the market for new starters at right guard and at right tackle, and they could stand to upgrade the left guard and center positions, as well. Overall, the offensive line was a mess for the 2018 Buffalo Bills, and protecting young quarterback Josh Allen in 2019 and beyond needs to be a top priority.

Over the last few weeks, we have discussed why adding a center via the free agent market is preferable to drafting a center and starting him right away. While it would still behoove the Bills to draft an interior offensive lineman (or two), starting that rookie right away could lead to chaos up front. The protections that a center needs to know in the NFL are many, and having a veteran presence will help to make Allen’s job easier before the snap.

In the poll on our site, Buffalo Rumblings readers voted overwhelmingly to sign Denver Broncos center Matt Paradis in free agency, with 60% of respondents voting for the former sixth-round pick. The second place finisher in that poll was Mitch Morse, the center for the Kansas City Chiefs. He received 226 of the 811 votes cast, good for 28% of the vote.

Here, we dive into Morse’s background, discussing why the former second-round draft choice would be a sweet consolation prize if the Bills were to experience Paradis lost.

Scheme Fit

Morse has played his entire NFL career in Kansas City under head coach Andy Reid, whose preference for zone-blocking principles is well known. Reid’s offensive-line coach is Andy Heck, a 12-year NFL player who played left tackle, left guard, and right tackle over the course of his professional career. If new Bills’ offensive-line coach Bobby Johnson continues to run the zone principles he learned under Joe D’Alessandris and Dave DeGuglielmo as assistant offensive line coach, then Morse would be a perfect fit to run the pivot.

Pass-Blocking Machine

As a 26-year old, Morse is still young, but he has started in the league for four seasons. as the starting center for all four of those seasons, Morse has helped the Chiefs to average 4.7, 4.2, 4.7, and 4.8 yards per rush. In terms of sacks allowed, Kansas City gave up 45 in Morse’s rookie year, then 32 sacks in 2016, 37 sacks in 2017, and 26 sacks in 2018.

For his part, Morse has been absolutely dominant in pass protection throughout his career. According to the Washington Post, he has allowed only 2.5 sacks in 49 career starts. Most impressively, all of those sacks allowed came in 2015, his rookie season. Morse has gone more than 1,500 pass protection snaps since last allowing a sack in Week 7 of the 2015 season. Morse committed 4 penalties in 2018, a career-high number, but he’s only been flagged ten times on his career.

Pro Football Focus loves Morse, though not as much as they love Paradis. Morse graded out at a 69.5 in 2018, which was 13th among all NFL centers for the season. He’s ranked as the third-best interior offensive lineman on the market, trailing only Paradis and Roger Saffold, the veteran guard for the Los Angeles Rams. PFF also said that he only allowed five quarterback pressures all season—for Morse, a total of 543 snaps—in what could be his final campaign in Kansas City.

Durability a Concern?

After playing in 31 of 32 games over the course of his first two seasons, Morse has been bitten by the injury bug over the last two years. He was only able to play in seven games in 2017, then could only suit up for 11 games in 2018. In both seasons, less-heralded players (Zach Fulton in 2017 and Austin Reiter in 2018) were able to step into the lineup without the Chiefs missing a beat.

Morse was sidelined with a foot injury in 2017. He initially hurt the foot in Week 2 and missed Weeks 3-7. He returned to the lineup in Week 8, but he re-injured the foot in Week 12 and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. He fully recovered from the foot injury coming into the 2018 season, but he suffered a concussion in Week 6 that caused him to miss five games. That concussion was at least the third he suffered in four years with Kansas City.

What Will He Cost?

Projecting a contract for Morse may be far more difficult than projecting one for Paradis. Morse is two years younger, but he has missed significantly more time due to injury over the course of his career. Add in the fact that Morse has a well-documented concussion history, and there are plenty of monkey-wrenches to consider.

Corey Linsley, the center for the Green Bay Packers, signed a three-year, $25.5 million contract heading into his age-26 season. The difference here is that Linsley’s contract was an extension to his rookie deal. $15.3 million of the total contract extension was guaranteed. This contract could be the framework by which the Chiefs re-sign Morse, but it’s unlikely that a contract like this one would be what Morse receives on the open market.

Ryan Jensen signed a four-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into his age-27 season; the total value on that contract was $42 million, $22 million of which was guaranteed. For Jensen, all of his guarantees come in the first two years of the deal, so it’s basically a two-year, $22 million contract unless the Bucs want to keep him around (and after Jensen’s absolutely miserable year where he allowed one sack and committed 11 penalties, he’d better have a great 2019).

Weston Richburg is another solid comp for Morse, as the former second-round draft choice with the New York Giants left the East Coast for the West Coast, signing a five-year deal worth $47.5 million with the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 2018 season. At 27 years old, Richburg was guaranteed $28.5 million, which is the highest total guarantee among all centers (tied with Alex Mack of the Atlanta Falcons). Richburg signed that deal coming off of a 2017 season where he was only able to make four starts due to a concussion.

Potential Offer

I think that Morse is going to see a contract similar to Richburg’s in terms of total value, but with a solid “out”-clause structure like Jensen’s. A five-year deal for a young, upper-tier center isn’t out of the picture, and clearly a team will be willing to pay if that team thinks the player is able to contribute regardless of his injury history. Five years, $45 million is the total I’m looking at, with $26 million guaranteed in the first three years of the contract. This would mean lower base salaries in the early years of the contract combined with higher bonus amounts in order to keep the cap hit manageable.