The Buffalo Bills were fortunate enough in 2019 to start essentially the same offensive linemen for all 16 games the team played. (Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe rotated at right tackle, with Ford starting 15 of 16 games.) The last time Buffalo had the same five linemen start in 15 of 16 games was in 2007, when the vaunted offensive line of Jason Peters, Derrick Dockery, Melvin Fowler, Brad Butler, and Langston Walker accomplished the feat, with only Peters missing a start.
Veteran Quinton Spain, signed by the Bills in April, was one of the four men along the offensive line to make 16 starts this year. He actually ended up playing more snaps on offense than anyone on Buffalo’s roster this year, appearing on 1,063 of Buffalo’s 1,069 offensive snaps. That’s an awful lot of snaps to replace if the Bills choose to allow Spain to leave via free agency.
If Buffalo does part ways with such a durable performer in Spain, they have the option of signing a free agent to replace him. While there are plenty of guards available (80 in all, according to Spotrac), it’s debatable how many of them would be a true upgrade to Spain.
If the Bills want to go the free-agent route in replacing Quinton Spain, here are a few names they could consider.
Let’s start with the big fish, shall we? Scherff was picked fifth overall by Washington in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he has established himself as one of the league’s best guards in that time. As an unrestricted free agent for the first time, it’s to his benefit that he doesn’t turn 29 until December. He will probably command a top-level salary, perhaps even a top-ten average annual value, which is at least $10 million for his position. One of the only things preventing Scherff from potentially resetting the guard market entirely is his injury struggles over the past two seasons. His 2018 season ended after Week 9 thanks to a torn pectoral muscle, and while he recovered well enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod this year, he finished the season on injured reserve again thanks to elbow and shoulder injuries. Buffalo has multiple holes to fill, and the argument could be made that their funds would be better allocated to those areas (edge rusher, wide receiver, re-signing their own young players, etc.). However, the team has shown a commitment to improving the offensive line, and they have not shied away from spending big money—look no further than the mega-deal given to Mitch Morse last offseason—in their commitment to protect young quarterback Josh Allen. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
What’s better than signing one of the league’s best guards? Signing one of the league’s best guards who used to play for your biggest divisional rival! Thuney entered the league as a third-round draft choice of the New England Patriots in 2016, and the 27 year old has only improved with each season. This year, he did not commit a penalty—which, of course is shocking, since the Patriots never get away with holding calls...ever. He allowed only one sack, as well, and he would be an absolute upgrade over Spain if the Bills chose to go the free-agent route. While I don’t think he’ll quite hit Scherff’s valuation from Spotrac, which is a four-year, $49.8 million deal, he may come close—think four years and $40 million with around $15-$18 million guaranteed. That might sound steep, but think of how good the interior offensive line would look with Thuney joining Morse and Jon Feliciano.
Perhaps more in the mold of a Brandon Beane signing is the versatile Glasgow, who has started at both left guard and center during his four years with the Detroit Lions. Drafted just 17 spots after Thuney in 2016, Glasgow has been a reliable piece along Detroit’s front five. He has only missed two games in his NFL career, and last year he did not allow a sack while committing only three penalties. If Pro Football Focus grades are your thing, he graded out at a 74.1 last year, which is right in the same neighborhood as Thuney (77.4) and Scherff (75). His intriguing versatility, excellent durability, and solid pulling ability all make him a good option for the Bills if they move on from Spain.
If you know a New York Giants fan, they’ll probably laugh out loud at the suggestion that someone should sign the former first-round pick who proved to be a tremendous bust at left tackle. However, Flowers moved on to Washington this year and was adequate as a guard. He actually graded out higher than Spain did via PFF, earning a 64.2 grade versus Spain’s 55.4 mark. As Flowers is only set to turn 26 this season, it’s possible that another change of scenery could unlock all the athletic potential he has. Forgive me for being a bit gun shy, but the last time the Bills went with an Erik Flowers, it didn’t go so well.
Looking to buy low on a former first-round pick? Well, it depends on your definition of low. Peat graded out at a truly awful 49.7 via PFF, yet he was named a Pro Bowl alternate, the second-straight year he was named to the Pro Bowl in some capacity. Neither the grade nor the title of “Pro Bowl-player” means the same thing to everyone, so it would be up to the Bills’ scouts to determine whether the 26-year-old would be a good fit in Buffalo. Peat also has some experience at left tackle, which could immediately make him a more attractive candidate for a team like Buffalo who values versatility in its offensive linemen. I’m not certain that the team would be upgrading the position over Spain, however, if they were to replace him with Peat.
Maybe you want to see the Bills move on from “Mr. Undrafted” this season, replacing him with one of the bigger-name guards on this list (or on Spotrac’s list, which is eighty names deep). Perhaps you think the Bills should move on, but it just wouldn’t be an intelligent use of resources to do so. Well, you might just follow the advice of Stephen Stills and keep Spain, because if you can’t be with Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff, maybe you should just love the guard you have in Spain, who did not allow a sack while committing only four penalties on the year. Will Spain command a deal similar to that of Thuney or Glasgow? Absolutely not. Might he price himself out of Buffalo’s range? Certainly. Sometimes it’s just better to stick with who you know, and the Bills know exactly what they have in Spain—a reliable performer who could be better in run blocking but does a very good job in pass protection.
Which free agent guard should the Bills sign to replace Quinton Spain?
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- All-22 Analysis: Quinton Spain was solid on the move in 2019
- Contract projection: Quinton Spain will look for a raise in 2020 and beyond
- Cody Ford is a logical in-house candidate to replace Quinton Spain
- Lots of free agent guards for Bills to choose from
- List of guards the Bills could add in the 2020 NFL Draft
- Opinion: Spain is solid, but Bills should move on from the veteran this offseason