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Opinion: What I think the Bills should do at interior offensive line this offseason

Don’t take your eye off it

I’m happy for Ryan Bates and I’m happy for the Buffalo Bills. After being an undrafted free agent out of Penn State signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan Bates was traded Buffalo for defensive end Eli Harold almost three months to the day after his initial signing by the Eagles. He then sat on the Bills’ bench for over two years before he made his first start during the 2021 regular season and never looked back. He solidified the left guard position and earned praise from head coach Sean McDermott for his work alongside franchise left tackle Dion Dawkins. But the Bills have decisions to make still along the interior offensive line, and one pulled hamstring puts them right back in the situation there were in during the early parts of the 2021 season when fans were calling for major changes to offensive line personnel, coaching, or both. So what do the Bills do this offseason along the IOL?

Tender Ryan Bates or sign him to a short-term deal

This one feels like a gimme, but if I didn’t put it in, the comments would be nothing but pointing it out, so here it is. Bates is set to be a restricted free agent. The second-round tender for him for 2022 would be $3.986 million, so a two-year deal might allow the Bills to get him re-signed without an almost $4 million cap charge in 2022. Either way, he’s earned the opportunity to head into training camp as the entrenched starter at left guard and build on what he began to accomplish in 2021. The original round tender is $2.433 million, but since he was undrafted it just gives the Bills right of first refusal.

Restructure Daryl Williams

Every single year, the Bills manage to restructure three or four players into new contracts that lower their base salary in that year. I’ve already outlined that they should approach Cole Beasley about a pay cut, and I’m outlining the same thing here for Daryl Williams, who was a perfectly reasonable right guard in 2021. But a reduced salary in 2022 that is fully guaranteed has been a workaround for the team in the past and it would appear to be logical given Williams’s new role at right guard.

Cut Jon Feliciano

Felicano’s cap hit in 2022 is just shy of $5 million and that’s not bad at all for a starting guard. For a swing backup interior offensive lineman, it becomes a little different value proposition. Feliciano brings an edge and energy to the team that is meaningful, but the Bills will save about $3.5 million off the cap through a release and would have to feel confident the skill set could be replaced at a lower cap figure now that Feliciano’s starting spot has been occupied by Ryan Bates.

Sign A.J. Cann, previously of the Jacksonville Jaguars

Cann has been a reasonable starter for Jacksonville at right guard since they drafted him in 2015, but the opportunity to buy low is present here after he tore his MCL in 2021. He could likely be had for a one-year contract in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, and would provide a nice backup plan on the interior, with Bates potentially becoming the contingency plan at center were something to happen to Mitch Morse. Speaking of Morse...

Extend Mitch Morse

Morse has a cap hit of $11.25 million this season, the final one of the four-year deal he signed with Buffalo in 2019, and he’s earned every penny. He’s been much more available than the biggest pessimists originally feared with his concussion history, and he’s played at a high level. A two-year extension can help lower his cap hit in 2022 and ensure the Bills won’t go into 2023 with a massive hole right in the center of the offensive line.

Draft Cole Strange out of Chattanooga

With shockingly similar measurables to Mitch Morse at 6’6” and just over 300 lbs, Strange has shown the movement abilities and nastiness that make him an intriguing option on day three of the 2022 NFL draft. With Morse signed to a short extension listed above, Strange can provide depth while he develops to eventually replace with Daryl Williams on the right side at guard or Morse at center in the coming years.

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