The Buffalo Bills’ situation at right tackle was odd in 2020. They signed a free-agent tackle in Ty Nsekhe ostensibly to be the starter and then traded up in the second round to draft Cody Ford, who they plainly stated would begin his career at right tackle. Ford proceeded to spend the offseason bouncing between tackle and guard and then the majority of the season platooning at right tackle with Nsekhe.
Platooning at a starting tackle position is less than ideal. But what should Buffalo do with the position in 2020? There are individual questions that need to be answered this offseason in order to arrive at a conclusion at right tackle. Let’s talk through it logically with a set of conditionals:
1. Is Ty Nsehke healthy enough to be the full-time starter at RT?
This is the first and most important question. If Nsehke isn’t in the position where his body can hold up to 16 starts at right tackle, the process of working through this issue becomes a lot simpler. In that case, Cody Ford would likely stay at RT regardless of any movement at any of the other positions on the line. This question also makes the assumption that Ty Nsehke is a better right tackle than Cody Ford. I believe that, but if you as a reader believe that Ford played better at right tackle, then the same result occurs: Cody Ford would be your starting right tackle.
2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, does Quinton Spain leave in free agency?
Spain is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and after signing a one-year deal with Buffalo this past year, it cannot be assumed he’ll be back with the team. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have made it clear that they want to retain as many players as possible from the 2019 playoff team, but after starting for Tennessee for multiple seasons and ending up with Buffalo late in free agency on a one-year deal, it would appear likely that Spain is looking for a more significant commitment from the Bills or someone else.
3. If the answer to question 2 is yes, do the Bills view Cody Ford or Spencer Long as the “next man up” at guard?
In the event Quinton Spain finds the commitment he was seeking from an NFL team based outside Western New York, who slides (albeit perhaps temporarily given free agency and the draft) into that guard spot? If the Bills view the team option for 2020 in Spencer Long’s contract as insurance against a Quinton Spain departure, they could slide him into the LG spot and try to find a swing interior offensive lineman in the draft or in free agency. If they view Long’s best fit as being a backup who can fill three interior line spots, they could at that point move Cody Ford to left guard, but that means the answer to the question above about Nsehke’s health would have to be “yes.”
So we have successfully created a logical flowchart for how the right-tackle position quandary should be solved. If Nsehke can’t be a full-time starter, the decision is likely settled and the answer is Cody Ford. If Nsehke CAN be a full-time starter, then the question moves to what happens with Quinton Spain. If Spain stays, it will likely be status quo for the Bills at offensive line across the board in 2020. If Spain leaves, question 3 must be answered.
We’re 578 words into this “opinion” article and I haven’t given much of an opinion yet. Instead, we’ve constructed a framework for decision making. But this framework has within it multiple decision points that are based on opinion. I will now give you mine based on what we built above:
1. Ty Nsehke might be able to play 16 full games at RT, but his age makes it imperative we have a young tackle prospect behind him.
Age and size can sometimes catch up with an offensive lineman and, although I am of the opinion that Nsehke will be the best right tackle on the team next year, I believe it would be foolhardy for the Bills not to groom a replacement for the 34-year-old in the last year of his contract. I’d like to see a tackle taken within the first four rounds of the draft—someone who can either platoon with him as Ford did or take a back seat until Nsehke’s time with Buffalo is over.
2. Cody Ford can be a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, so don’t overpay for Spain
Listeners to “The Nick & Nolan Show” on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network have long known my stance on Cody Ford: He was a top-five guard prospect for me coming out of college last year and I took quite a bit of hate on social media for my stance on that after the 2019 NFL Draft. His power and drive-blocking ability jumped off the screen when I was watching him play, his foot quickness gave me concerns that were confirmed by his athletic testing at the 2019 NFL Combine, and I continue to believe that although he can be a passable tackle in the NFL, he has absolute star potential at guard.
Quinton Spain is a starting guard in the NFL and should be paid as such after getting a one-year deal that is notably below market value for starting guards in the NFL. I was shocked he was even available so late in free agency last year and was pleased when the Bills signed him to a deal. There is, however, an asset in Cody Ford that may be underutilized right now, so the Bills shouldn’t get pushed too high in negotiations.
3. Question 3 was answered by question 2
If Spain leaves (and if the Bills don’t get pushed too high in negotiations, he might), Ford represents the best possible replacement on the line rather than Spencer Long. I have great respect for Long’s ability to play all three interior line positions in a pinch and feel the Bills should absolutely opt-in to his contract in 2020 but, as stated above, Ford has the potential to be special in that spot.
If you’re not comfortable moving Ford to left guard, perhaps moving Jon Feliciano to left guard and Cody Ford only one spot over to right guard to keep any ambidextrous footwork concerns off the table is an option there as well.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!