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State of the Buffalo Bills roster, offensive tackles: will significant investment lead to upgrade?

Will the money and draft picks Buffalo threw at the offensive tackle position pan out?

The Buffalo Bills had issues up front in 2018, 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)
  • 2018 playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1057 snaps (99.81% of offensive total), 55 ST snaps (12.53%)
  • Key 2018 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.

Ty Nsehke

  • Contract status for 2019: signed two-year, $10 million contract; $4.8 million cap hit in 2019 ($6.2 million dead cap)
  • Age: 33 (34 on 10/26/19)
  • 2018 playing time: 14 games (5 starts), 403 offensive snaps (39.51%), 47 special teams snaps (11.57%) for Washington
  • Key 2018 statistics: 5 penalties, 0 sacks allowed for Washington

Nsehke was brought in to compete for the right tackle job when Buffalo at the beginning of free agency. He has great experience at both right tackle and left tackle and is a contractual lock to make the roster. Can he secure a starting spot for the first time in his career?

Cody Ford

  • Contract status for 2019: signed four-year rookie deal worth $7.5 million; $1.365 million cap hit
  • Age: 22 (23 on 12/28/19)
  • 2018 playing time: 14 games (14 starts) for University of Oklahoma
  • Key 2018 statistics: Third-team All-American, first-team Big 12

Buffalo’s second-round pick, Brandon Beane insists he was trying to trade up into the first round to nab the former Oklahoma Sooner. He’s a mauler and finisher at the right tackle spot but could fit better at right guard. It’s unclear if he’s going to start right away, but you don’t typically see first-round targets ride the pine for very long.

LaAdrian Waddle

  • Contract status for 2019: signed one-year, $2 million deal ($400,000 dead cap)
  • Age: 28
  • 2018 playing time: 16 games (3 starts), 342 offensive snaps (30.56%), 69 special teams snaps (15.23%) for New England Patriots
  • Key 2018 statistics: 2 penalties, 2 sacks allowed for New England Patriots

His contract and playing time in the spring indicate he’s not in the running to be a starter on the 2019 Bills, but he has a definite shot (maybe the inside track) to make the squad as a backup tackle. He’s a legitimate NFL player with 31 NFL starts, something Buffalo didn’t have in spots on their offensive line a year ago.

Conor McDermott

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $645,000 cap hit (0 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 26 (27 on 10/19/19)
  • 2018 playing time: 5 games, 22 snaps (2.08% of offensive total), 23 ST snaps (5.24%)
  • Key 2018 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.

Ike Boettger

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit (0 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 24 (25 on 10/5/19)
  • 2018 playing time: 4 games, 76 snaps (7.18% of offensive total), 7 ST snaps (1.59%)
  • Key 2018 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)
  • 2018 playing time: 12 games (5 starts), 138 snaps (13.03% of offensive total), 45 ST snaps (10.25%)
  • Key 2018 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.

De’Ondre Wesley

  • Contract status for 2019: $570,000 cap hit ($0 dead money)
  • Age: 26 (Turns 27 on 7/28/19)
  • 2018 playing time: On and off Bills and Colts practice squads
  • Key 2018 statistics: N/A

Wesley is a developmental camp body, but it’s hard to say he’s developmental when he’s 27 and entering his fifth training camp. He made the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 2015 and hasn’t been on a 53-man roster since.

Positional Outlook

Buffalo added Nsehke, Ford, and Waddle to the group to elevate everything. If Dawkins struggles, we could see Nsehke flip over to the left side and push Dawkins to left guard. It’s tough to get a read until the pads go on and we are at least in full-contact.

The Bills set themselves up at a position of weakness with possible solutions this offseason and they did it in multiple ways; the draft, low-end free agency, and big-money free agency. They didn’t sign the top free agent right tackle to plug in, but you’d think at least one of them will pan out and they have the depth to survive if he doesn’t.

The biggest question remains who will get the starting spots and how all of the line fluctuation is going to shake out. It’s the top storyline heading into camp. I’m of the belief that Cody Ford is not going to start the season at right tackle in a mild upset.