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State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster: Offensive tackles

To add, to stand pat, or to reshuffle?

NFL: JAN 04 AFC Wild Card - Bills at Texans Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills invested plenty in their offensive line last offseason, signing seven players, drafting one, and handing out contracts that totaled just over $87 million. Only one player, Dion Dawkins, even remained on the 2019 roster after playing along the offensive line for the 2018 Bills.

The question, then, is a simple one: Does Buffalo look to add new personnel along the offensive line this spring? Or, does the team instead stand pat? Of course, with versatility being a primary desire for general manager Brandon Beane when it comes to offensive linemen, the Bills could also reshuffle the personnel they have if they so desire.

Today, we take a look at the offensive tackles on the Bills’ roster.

Dion Dawkins

Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of rookie deal ($1,331,030 million cap hit; $295,589 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 25 (26 on 4/26/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 16 starts, 1016 offensive snaps (95%), 60 ST snaps (14.5%)
Key statistics: 7 penalties against, 54 yards allowed, 3.5 sacks allowed, 24 sack yards allowed, 1 target, 1 catch, 1 yard, 1 touchdown

Dawkins has been a great teammate and a steady force in the locker room since the team traded up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select him. While he hasn’t been as good as his predecessor at left tackle, Cordy Glenn, he has been something Glenn was not in his last season with the team—available. Dawkins has not missed a game in his career, and this year, he only missed one snap in a meaningful game (he sat against the New York Jets for much of the regular season finale, but that was by design). He improved this season in terms of penalties taken and sacks allowed, but the total in each category was still higher than you’d like to see in a “franchise” left tackle. He isn’t going anywhere in 2020, but with his rookie deal set to expire at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see what type of salary he commands. For a healthy left tackle who’s still quite young, Dawkins can expect to command a salary in the range of $12-$15 million per season.

Cody Ford

Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of rookie deal ($1,705,413 cap hit; $3,445,401 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 12/28/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 15 starts, 739 offensive snaps (69.1%), 59 ST snaps (14.3%)
Key statistics: 7 penalties, 70 yards allowed, 3.5 sacks allowed, 22 sack yards allowed

One-half of a platoon at right tackle, Buffalo’s second-round choice acquitted himself very well at times. He was outstanding, for example, against the Denver Broncos and Von Miller, one of the league’s best pass rushers. In the playoffs against J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, he held his own, although both players ended up making impact plays on the game. I’m not convinced that Ford’s best position is tackle—I think he’s a guard—and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team move him inside as early as this upcoming season, depending on what happens with some other free agents along the interior line.

Ty Nsekhe

Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of two-year contract ($5.2 million cap hit; $1.5 million dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 34 (35 on 10/27/2020)
Playing time: 10 games, 1 start, 359 offensive snaps (33.6%), 36 ST snaps (8.7%)
Key statistics: 5 penalties, 30 yards allowed, 0 sacks allowed

The veteran was half of a platoon at right tackle in his first year with the Bills, and he was clearly the better half of that platoon. Nsekhe has absurdly long arms, and his ability in pass protection far exceeded that of his rookie counterpart Ford. He suffered an ugly ankle injury against the Miami Dolphins, but he was able to return not only for the regular-season finale, but also to play in the Wild Card game against the Houston Texans. Even though the Bills could save quite a bit on the cap next year by cutting Nsekhe, who turns 35 during the 2020 season, they would be wise to allow him to finish out the contract.

Ryan Bates

Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of rookie deal ($585,000 cap hit; $0 dead money if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 1/14/2021)
Playing time: 8 games, 0 starts, 78 offensive snaps (7.3%), 27 ST snaps (6.5%)
Key statistics: 1 penalty, 5 yards allowed, 0 sacks allowed

Bates was acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason when the team needed tackle depth. He is easily Buffalo’s most versatile offensive lineman, as he is literally able to line up at any spot along the line. The team lists him as an “OL,” but I’m counting him among the tackles for balance purposes. He serves as a great camp body at worst next year and, at best, he’s someone who can be kept as the last offensive lineman on the 53-man roster in case of injury. He was a great find for Beane and company.

LaAdrian Waddle

Contract status for 2020: Unrestricted free agent
Age: 28 (29 on 7/21/2020)
Playing time: N/A; placed on IR after tearing quad on 8/4/19
Key statistics: N/A

The veteran looked to be a lock as the team’s swing tackle this year, and he even had an outside chance at starting at right tackle, before a torn quad ended his season in August. Although the Bills have plenty of depth at tackle, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to attempt to re-sign Waddle at a similar, if not identical, price point as the contract he agreed to last year. He is a high-quality person with the ability to sub in on both the left side and the right side, and depending on what happens with some of Buffalo’s other free agents, he shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. It’s worth mentioning that Beane has been able to trade offensive linemen he deemed to be “excess” in each of the last two offseasons (Marshall Newhouse, Russell Bodine), so Waddle could be used for those purposes, as well.

Victor Salako

Contract status for 2020: Signed reserve/future contract on 1/6/2020
Age: 26 (27 on 11/4/2020)
Playing time: N/A (began year on IR with New York Giants; signed to Bills’ practice squad on 10/31/19)
Key statistics: N/A

Basically all I know about Salako is already written above. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017, but he’s yet to appear in an NFL game. He’s a camp body.

Positional Outlook

Buffalo has a starting left tackle and two starting-caliber right tackles under contract for next season. One of those two starting-caliber tackles is better than the other—but he’s going to be 35, and the other is only 23. For the Bills, they have to answer two questions: What position is Cody Ford going to play over the long haul? And if it’s right tackle, do they sacrifice a year of experience there for one year of ensuring that the five best offensive linemen on the roster can all play at once? With guard Quinton Spain a free agent, it’s entirely possible that Ford kicks inside, leaving Nsekhe to play right tackle full time. That would give the Bills an offensive line, from left to right, of Dawkins, Ford, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano, and Nsekhe.

The problem, then, becomes depth. Bates is a nice versatile piece to have, but he definitely shouldn’t be your team’s swing tackle. If the Bills want to move Ford inside, then it would behoove them to sign a veteran swing tackle, like LaAdrian Waddle, to be active on the bench on game days. Otherwise, the team could possibly end up reshuffling the whole offensive line in the event of an injury (moving Ford to right tackle and bringing in Spencer Long, for example, at left guard if Nsekhe were to be injured again), which is less than ideal. The Bills should work on a long-term extension with Dawkins while taking a good, hard look at Ford to determine whether he’s their right tackle of the future or their left guard of the future, all while perhaps looking to draft another tackle in the event that something goes awry.

The pieces are here for success. The coaching staff just has to figure out how they fit together.