The Buffalo Bills rotated veteran Ty Nsekhe with rookie Cody Ford at right tackle last year. Ford steadily improved throughout the season but, for the most part, Nsekhe was the better of the two players on the edge. However, given the veteran’s advanced NFL age (he turns 35 in October) and his cap number ($5.2 million), the Bills could opt to release him.
If the team were to do that, they’d have a few options. They could slide Ford into a full-time role at the starting right tackle, leaving Ryan Bates as the backup tackle. They could also draft another player to serve as Ford’s backup. Or, the Bills could sign a free agent either to continue rotating with Ford or to replace the 2019 second-round draft choice as the right tackle.
If the Bills were to go the free-agent route, there are some players who could immediately come in and serve as an upgrade. Here are a few intriguing names who could offer some combination of depth, an upgrade, or overall salary-cap relief.
To be clear, this is a pipe dream—Conklin is expected to command huge money on the open market, and with the Bills already set to attempt to re-sign their own left tackle in Dion Dawkins, it would be a little crazy to commit what Spotrac expects to be around $15 million annually to another tackle. However, if you’re going to release your above-average semi-starter at right tackle, you’d better replace him with someone good. Conklin is much, much better than good. At just 25 years old, Conklin is already considered to be one of the league’s premier offensive linemen. Last year, he ranked as Pro Football Focus’s sixth-best right tackle, and while he was penalized seven times and allowed four sacks, he still was part of a Tennessee Titans team that improved drastically on offense once quarterback Ryan Tannehill took over from Marcus Mariota. If Buffalo were to sign Conklin, that would signal a huge change up front, as the team would presumably move Ford to guard. They also would show a true commitment to protecting quarterback Josh Allen. This is unlikely to happen (in fact, I’d almost be willing to guarantee that it doesn’t), but Conklin is the best available player on the market.
Want to take a risk on someone else’s failed first-round pick? Ifedi was selected by the Seattle Seahawks at pick No. 31 in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he’s struggled mightily since entering the league. He’ll only be 26 when the season starts, so perhaps a change of scenery would do him good. Ifedi was penalized a whopping 13 times last season, and he also allowed seven sacks. In his career, Ifedi has committed 44 penalties—28 of which are false-start penalties—in just 60 games. That is...well, it’s horrendous. There’s no other way to put it. The Bills would be banking on Ifedi’s natural talent being put to better use in their system than it was in Seattle’s if they were to roll the dice here.
Former Carolina Panthers player...check. Versatility along the line with experience at multiple positions...check. Williams is a former fourth-round choice who is coming off an absolutely atrocious 2019 season. The Panthers bounced him back and forth between two positions, playing him at left tackle and at right guard, and that lack of consistency could have contributed to his poor play. Williams allowed 12 sacks this year after missing nearly all of the 2018 season thanks to a torn MCL and dislocated patella that actually occurred in training camp, but he tried to rehabilitate his knee rather than having surgery. He was carted off the field in Carolina’s first game of the 2018 season. In 2017 (his last full season at right tackle) he was among the league’s best at the position, which could be an indication of what he can do if given the chance at that kind of stability again. It’s almost too easy to predict Carolina players heading north to Orchard Park at this point, but if the Bills choose to part ways with Nsekhe, Williams is a natural fit.
If the Bills are looking more to add young players who can fit the mold of versatile backups, then Clark could be a sneaky-good fit. He played in 35 games for the Indianapolis Colts from 2016-2018, starting 12 of them (some at right guard and some at right tackle) before spending this year as the Ike Boettger of the Colts—he was on the 53-man roster, but he was inactive for every game this season. Clark was a member of the Colts’ offensive line when current Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson was the assistant coach in 2018. The former third-round pick has plenty of potential, and if the Bills choose to keep Ford at right tackle and re-sign Quinton Spain, they may be looking for a swing-tackle type more than a starter. They could do much worse than Clark.
If the goal is to have a solid veteran tackle to work in with Ford, why not re-sign one of the guys who was supposed to do that anyway last year? Waddle was having a good training camp before a quad injury ended his season before it began. At just 28 years old, Waddle has plenty of tread left on his tires, and he also has a wealth of starting experience. He’s played in 60 games, making 31 starts in his career. That kind of experience would absolutely help the Bills, and even if the team decides to keep Nsekhe (which, for the record, I’m very much in favor of them doing), it would be worth asking what Waddle wants to stay in Buffalo this year.
Which free agent right tackle should the Bills sign this offseason?
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Other; specify in comments
None; just keep Ty Nsekhe