In 2018, the Buffalo Bills started the year with Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, and John Miller as their interior offensive linemen. The backup center was Russell Bodine. Wyatt Teller was the backup at left guard.
What do all of those players have in common? Not one of them remained with the team in 2019, as the Bills went with a full-scale redesign along the offensive line rather than a slow and steady approach. The Bills added plenty of veterans to the mix, giving quarterback Josh Allen a much better unit up front than the one he had as a rookie.
With the 2020 season looming, the Bills face another turning point regarding their offensive linemen. Will they stay the course and keep together a unit that managed to stay relatively healthy for essentially the whole season? Or, will they retool the offensive line yet again?
In our latest look at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, we look at the interior offensive linemen—as group that was a point of strength for the Buffalo offense.
Contract status for 2020: Unsigned; unrestricted free agent
Age: 28 (29 on 8/7/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 16 starts, 1063 offensive snaps (99.4%), 61 ST snaps (14.7%)
Key statistics: 2 penalties, 20 penalty yards, 1 sack allowed, 9 sack yards allowed
“Mr. Undrafted” was an unlikely addition to the roster, the last offensive lineman to sign with the Bills last offseason. After languishing in free agency for longer than expected, Spain inked a one-year deal worth only $2.05 million. Spain outplayed that contract significantly, as he appeared on more snaps than any member of the Bills’ offense. He was consistently among the team’s best offensive linemen all year long. As an unrestricted free agent, it will be interesting to see how his market develops this year—it’s unlikely that he’ll have to settle for a “prove-it” deal for a second consecutive year, and just how much he’ll command may determine whether he returns to Buffalo or not. A top-ten guard salary in terms of annual average value (AAV) is at least $10 million per season, and a top-20 salary comes in between $7 million and $10 million annually. If Spain is looking for that kind of money, it might not come from the Bills.
Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of four-year contract ($11.625 million cap hit; $10.25 million dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 27 (28 on 4/21/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 16 starts, 908 offensive snaps (84.9%)
Key statistics: 3 penalties, 24 penalty yards, 2 sacks allowed, 18 sack yards allowed
Morse was a tremendous upgrade from his predecessors at the position, and he was able to start all 16 games for only the second time in his career. While he did miss some time in games due to minor injuries, none of them were severe enough to keep him from appearing in a contest. His contract is obviously tremendous, as it reset the market for center contracts in the league. At the time he signed it last March, it was the richest contract ever given to a center; now, his overall contract value is the fifth-highest in the league. For helping to settle one of the most important positions on the field, Morse has been worth every penny.
Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of two-year contract ($3.75 million cap hit; $750,000 dead cap charge if cut)
Age: 27 (28 on 2/10/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 16 starts, 947 offensive snaps (88.6%), 56 ST snaps (13.5%)
Key statistics: 6 penalties, 60 yards, 3.5 sacks allowed, 24 sack yards allowed
This one was a wild card last year, as Feliciano wasn’t held in terribly high regard during his tenure with the Oakland Raiders. Most saw “Mongo” as a depth piece, but after he earned the starting right guard job coming out of the preseason, he was a tremendous contributor up front. Feliciano is the guy who brings the “nasty” to the Bills’ line group, as he is always involved in some sort of tussle with opposing players. He plays hard through the whistle, and he is always willing to stand up for his teammates on the field. Feliciano’s current contract is a bargain, and while I don’t expect the team to rework it given the other needs they have, it wouldn’t surprise me if they give him an extension once the roster is more settled.
Contract status for 2020: “Contract limbo”—Buffalo holds a club option for 2020 that would pay Long $4.125 million; if the team declines the option, he is owed $700,000 (two roster bonuses of $350,000 each for 2020 and 2021)
Age: 29 (30 on 11/9/2020)
Playing time: 14 games, 0 starts, 174 offensive snaps (16.3%), 54 ST snaps (13%)
Key statistics: 0 penalties, .5 sacks allowed, 3 sack yards allowed
This is the second “big decision” the team has to make at guard, though I imagine this decision depends entirely on what happens with Spain. If the Bills are interested in re-signing Spain and they can come to terms on a contract, then it makes sense to decline Long’s option. If they can’t re-sign Spain, then the team should exercise Long’s option in order to preserve depth along the line. Long was an expensive reserve last season, but the team had the cap space and it was wise to invest in the offensive line given the struggles there in 2018. Just because the team had a good run of health and didn’t need to cash in on the insurance policy doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea to have the insurance policy there in the first place. At worst, Long is a good fallback option to start in Spain’s place if he leaves.
Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of rookie deal ($660,000 cap hit; $0 dead money if cut)
Age: 25 (26 on 10/5/2020)
Playing time: 2 games, 0 starts, 54 offensive snaps (5.1%), 4 ST snaps (1%)
Key statistics: N/A
The inactive guard on game days, Boettger is a solid developmental piece with plenty of experience in the offensive system. Even if Spain and/or Long leaves, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bills sign or draft some competition for Boettger.
Buffalo has a major decision to make regarding Spain, who was one of their best, most consistent linemen this season. He played on a one-year deal often referred to as a “prove-it” contract, and he most certainly proved that he is due a raise. The decision, then, is whether the Bills will be the ones to pay him that raise. The team has multiple in-house options to replace Spain in Spencer Long and Cody Ford (if the team decides to move the second-year man from right tackle, that is), but one could argue that neither option is as good as Spain is.
The team also has to decide what to do with Long, whose club option would pay him $4.125 million this season if exercised. It’s unlikely that the team would pay Spain enough to convince him to return and pay Long that much to be a backup, but it’s also unlikely that the team decides to make Long a starter—unless, of course, they decide Spain is expendable and Ford is really a right tackle, which would leave Long to slide in at left guard.
Buffalo’s versatility along the entirety of the offensive line puts them in a good position overall here. They can (and should) make an attempt to re-sign Spain, and if they can’t come to an agreement, then they need to decide a direction along the line. At worst, the Bills will be able to choose between two quality options in the hypothetical scenario where Spain leaves, and that’s without even considering outside additions. With Morse and Feliciano written in the starting lineup with Sharpie®, the team is in great shape overall.