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State of the Buffalo Bills roster: Offensive tackles

To re-sign or not to re-sign?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills had the best offensive season in franchise history during 2020, surpassing most of the records set by the 1991 team that made it all the way to Super Bowl XXVI. While much of that success was due to the growth of quarterback Josh Allen, he couldn’t have done it without the support of his teammates, especially the big fellas protecting him up front.

Buffalo struggled in the running game, but their pass blocking was superb for much of the season. Part of the reason they succeeded was because of the health and success of their starting offensive tackles. While one of those players is under contract for 2020, one of them is not, setting up another decision for general manager Brandon Beane in a year sure to be full of salary-cap constraints.

In our latest look at the State of the Bills roster, we discuss the offensive tackles, a group that includes some extremely versatile players, some intriguing youngsters, and some solid veterans.

Daryl Williams

Contract status for 2021: Unrestricted free agent
Age: 28 (29 on 8/31/2021)
Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1,048 offensive snaps (96.15 percent),73 ST snaps (16.44 percent)
Key statistics: Three sacks allowed, nine penalties against

Of all the offseason free-agent signings Beane procured heading into the 2020 season, the one-year, $2.25 million contract given to Williams might have been the best “bang for the buck.” Williams started every regular season game at right tackle, and all three playoff games. While the 28-year-old tackle had struggled with injuries and performance issues over the last few years with the Carolina Panthers, Williams performed so well this season that the Bills often left him alone to stop opposing edge rushers. That was huge, as the team was able to scheme help to the interior, where they struggled a bit more. Williams allowed more sacks (four) in the postseason than he did in the entire regular season (three), and he was penalized far too often. That’s about the only negative sentence I can write about his year. He also played more snaps than any other Buffalo player on offense. Given the dearth of quality offensive linemen in the league, Williams is sure to command a solid deal on the open market, and while I’m certain that the Bills would love to have him back, he “proved it” on that “prove-it” deal last year, and he might have priced himself out of range for a repeat performance.

Dion Dawkins

Contract status for 2021: Signed; first year of four year, $58.3 million extension signed last offseason ($11.395 million cap hit; $21.68 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 26 (27 on 4/26/2021)
Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1,032 offensive snaps (94.68 percent), 89 ST snaps (20.05 percent)
Key statistics: Four penalties, six sacks allowed

Dawkins was the third player drafted under head coach Sean McDermott, and he’s the second player to receive a big contract extension from that draft class. While it was a bit of a let down that Dawkins didn’t catch a touchdown pass for the third consecutive season, it wasn’t for lack of trying, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll drew up some plays where Dawkins had a chance (including a wild wheel route in the playoffs that would have been insane had the Bills hit it). Dawkins is an anchor along the line.

Ty Nsekhe

Contract status for 2021: Unrestricted free agent
Age: 35 (36 on 10/27/2021)
Playing time: 15 games, 85 ST snaps (19.14 percent), 54 offensive snaps (4.95 percent)
Key statistics: N/A

The veteran was a part-time starter in 2019, but with Williams playing so well at right tackle, the team didn’t rotate like they did with Nsekhe and Cody Ford last season. As a result, Nsekhe played sparingly and, at 35 years old, it’s unlikely that he re-signs with the club. However, if the Bills value him, a deal at the veteran’s minimum could be appealing to both sides, as Nsekhe would stay in a familiar location and the Bills would have a safety net if they are unable to upgrade the offensive line the way they’d like. I think he’s gone, but I won’t be mad if he’s back on a one-year deal.

Ryan Bates

Contract status for 2021: Signed; final year of his rookie contract ($850,000 cap hit; $0 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 2/14/2021)
Playing time: 16 games, 93 ST snaps (20.95 percent), 82 offensive snaps (7.52 percent)
Key statistics: One penalty

Bates is an offensive line version of a unicorn, as he could fill in at any spot if you needed him to do so. The problem is that you don’t necessarily want him to fill in at every spot. Bates saw some run as the team’s sixth tackle this year, and the Bills tried to draw up some plays for him to catch a touchdown pass. He’s a solid, inexpensive backup who is almost a guarantee to make the final roster thanks to that versatility.

Trey Adams

Contract status for 2021: Signed reserve/future contract on 1/27/2021 ($780,000 cap hit; $0 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 3/4/2021)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

Adams once was viewed as a potential top-five draft choice, but a poor senior season followed by a disastrous showing at the pre-pandemic NFL Scouting Combine caused him to go undrafted last year. Adams spent the year on Buffalo’s practice squad and he signed a reserve/future contract for next year, so he’ll have the offseason to prove that his year in an NFL Strength and Conditioning program has helped him to mature physically and, more importantly, mentally.

Jordan Devey

Contract status for 2021: Signed; one year, $990,000 ($990,00 cap hit; $0 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 33 (34 on 1/11/2022)
Playing time: One game, two offensive snaps (.18 percent)
Key statistics: N/A

I had no idea that Devey is as old as he is and I pay attention to this team like it’s my job. The veteran is listed as a tackle here for balance purposes, but he has started games at tackle, guard, and center professionally. He is versatile, which is one of the Bills’ top wants with their reserve offensive linemen, so he has that going for him. With the line in such a state of flux, the Bills could do worse than Devey as the eighth offensive lineman if they can’t re-sign some of their other players.

The Bills have a pair of big decisions here that center on veterans Williams and Nsekhe. Obviously, the team would prioritize re-signing Williams if cost were no issue, but cost is going to be an issue, so they’ll have to decide whether they want to clear the cap space to bank on him repeating his success or bring in a replacement. Nsekhe is probably gone, but he is a solid player capable of making some starts in a pinch, and those are hard to find. The Bills could also move Cody Ford, who shifted to guard this year, back outside to play at right tackle like he did as a rookie. Buffalo has its left tackle of the present and future signed long term, but his bookend has been a revolving door, as the Bills have started four players (Jordan Mills, Ford, Nsekhe, Williams) across from Dawkins in his four seasons in the league. We’ll see if the Bills look elsewhere at right tackle or re-sign some players of their own.