clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

State of the Buffalo Bills roster: Interior offensive linemen

Some big decisions lie ahead for Buffalo’s big men

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills had a banner year offensively in 2020. Obviously, that means their skill position players performed well, but it typically means that the guys up front on the offensive line did their job, as well. The best offensive linemen are the ones who you don’t notice during a game because, if they play their cards right, they’ll just keep everyone else moving efficiently.

Unless you’re a die-hard Bills fan—and if you’re here reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re just that—you might assume that everything was picture-perfect with the offensive line on the year. The group was excellent in pass protection, allowing only 27 sacks on the season; however, the Bills ranked just 20th in yards per rush.

In our second installment of our State of the Bills Roster series, we look at the interior offensive linemen, a group that was shuffled multiple times this year, and may be headed for more change in 2021.

Mitch Morse

Contract status for 2021: Signed; third year of four-year deal ($10,343,750 cap hit; $5.5 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 28 (29 on 4/21/2021)
Playing time: 14 games (14 starts), 878 offensive snaps (80.55 percent)
Key statistics: Six penalties, one sack allowed

Morse has the fifth-highest salary-cap hit among all NFL centers for the 2021 season. This has led some to speculate whether the Bills would be best moving on and signing another center—perhaps even teammate Jon Feliciano—for less money. Buffalo would save right around $4.8 million by releasing Morse, but then they’d have to sign another player in his place. They could also convert some of his salary to a bonus via restructuring his deal, which would save around $3 million on the current cap while kicking the can down the road a bit. General manager Brandon Beane all but admitted that Morse was a healthy scratch in Week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals, further adding to the mystery around his status. Regardless of what you think about his salary, one thing is clear: Morse ranks among the league’s top centers, and the Bills’ offensive line is better with him. There will be difficult decisions to make regarding the salary cap, but releasing Morse should not be a serious consideration.

Cody Ford

Contract status for 2021: Signed; third year of rookie contract ($2,047,492 cap hit; $1,739,988 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 24 (25 on 12/28/2021)
Playing time: Seven games (seven starts), 383 offensive snaps (35.14 percent), 27 ST snaps (6.08 percent)
Key statistics: Three penalties, zero sacks allowed

Ford’s inconsistent play throughout his two years in the NFL has been about as troublesome as his inability to stay healthy. He is versatile enough to play both guard spots and the right tackle position, though the right guard spot seems to be his best position. Ford played through shoulder issues as a rookie, and he had surgery to repair that injury in the offseason. He missed time this year due to an ankle injury before landing on injured reserve thanks to a meniscus tear. The Bills aren’t going to move on just yet—nasty maulers who can play multiple positions don’t grow on trees, and they’re especially valuable when on their rookie deals—but penciling Ford in to any particular offensive position might be a bit premature. He’ll be in the mix at guard and tackle depending on what happens with Buffalo’s free agents and the NFL Draft.

Ike Boettger

Contract status for 2021: Unsigned; restricted free agent (original-round tender approximately $2.24 million)
Age: 26 (27 on 10/5/2021)
Playing time: 12 games (seven starts), 622 offensive snaps (57.06 percent), 68 ST snaps (15.32 percent)
Key statistics: Three penalties, zero sacks allowed

The former undrafted free agent stepped into a starting role this year for the first time in his career over an extended period, and he performed admirably, especially in pass protection. He was clearly overwhelmed by Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that’s nothing to be upset about, as Heyward is one of the league’s best interior defensive linemen and a two-time All-Pro selection. Complicating matters for the Bills is that Boettger is a restricted free agent, but the $2.24 million original-round tender is probably a bit too rich for a player who they won’t want to pencil in as a starter. Like they did with Isaiah McKenzie last year, they’ll probably non-tender Boettger and roll the dice on re-signing him for less than that tender amount.

Jon Feliciano

Contract status for 2021: Unsigned; unrestricted free agent
Age: 28 (29 on 2/10/2021)
Playing time: Nine games (nine starts), 571 offensive snaps (52.39 percent), 19 ST snaps (4.28 percent)
Key statistics: Two penalties, zero sacks allowed

The heart and soul of Buffalo’s offensive line, Feliciano is a big, nasty tone setter whose versatility is incredibly valuable. In a normal year, he’d be right among Buffalo’s top priorities to re-sign, and he still may be—while I stand by thinking that linebacker Matt Milano should be priority number one, the price might be too much—given that market values elsewhere could price other free agents out of Buffalo’s range. Re-signing Feliciano at an amount similar to what they gave Quinton Spain (three years, $15 million) would give Buffalo insurance against injuries to Morse at a reasonable price for a solid starting interior offensive lineman. Any dollar amount higher than that could be a no-go depending on the cap situation.

Brian Winters

Contract status for 2021: Unsigned; unrestricted free agent
Age: 29 (30 on 7/10/2021)
Playing time: 16 games (nine starts), 616 offensive snaps (56.51 percent), 82 ST snaps (18.47 percent)
Key statistics: Seven penalties, three sacks allowed

The veteran was released by the New York Jets in August, and Buffalo signed him right after Feliciano suffered a torn pectoral muscle in training camp. Winters started for the first half of the season, and he was easily the weakest link along the offensive line. He played poorly enough that he did not re-enter the starting lineup when Ford was lost to injury. The Bills’ best decision would be to move on here.

Jonotthan Harrison

Contract status for 2021: Unrestricted free agent Signed one year, $2 million contract with the New York Giants on 1/31/2021
Age: 29 (30 on 8/25/2021)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

Harrison was on Buffalo’s practice squad this year, and while he was elevated to the game roster thanks to the COVID-19 rules, he was never active on game day. The Bills did not sign him to a reserve/future deal. Harrison signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants.

This is another position in a state of flux, and one that is in definite need of upgrades. With two 2020 starters under contract for next season, it makes it look a little better...but when you consider that one of those players can also slide over to right tackle, where veteran Daryl Williams is a free agent, it muddies the waters again. The salary cap is going to dictate a lot of Buffalo’s decisions here, but this is a spot where I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bills draft talent early. Feliciano should be a priority to re-sign, and if the Bills can only sign one of the Milano/Williams/Feliciano trio, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them re-sign Feliciano, as he can probably be had for the lowest total salary. That would leave the offensive line in solid shape, as Dion Dawkins would join the Feliciano/Morse/Ford combo inside. The Bills may also be able to sign both Feliciano and Boettger for the price that it would take to re-sign Daryl Williams, which might be an attractive possibility for Buffalo in the sense that they could go into the year with a full five up front. No matter how you slice it, the Bills are going to be in the market for an upgrade along the offensive line. Look for them to add a mauler who can clear holes in the run game.