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Free-agent center options for the Buffalo Bills to sign

Whether it’s a backup or a Mitch Morse replacement, there are a few names on the market

The Buffalo Bills have room to address the center position in free agency, if that’s something they care to do. Their OL coach, Aaron Kromer, might want to put his stamp on the unit. Mitch Morse, in the final year of his deal (and with a history of concussions), might be a cut candidate, something that would save $7.5 million against the cap.

Or maybe the Bills just want a new backup center. With Ryan Bates a potential starter and Jon Feliciano now released, the team doesn’t have a clear-cut reserve option at this point in the offseason.

We can likely rule out Ryan Jensen as an option. Having just played out his four-year, $42 million contract, Jensen just made the Pro Bowl in 2021. He turns 31 this year, but should still make $10 million per year, too expensive for the Bills even if they cut Mitch Morse. The same goes for Bradley Bozeman, a starting LG/C for the last three years on the Baltimore Ravens, who’s 27 and set for a massive contract as he hits free agency for the first time.

So those two aside, here’s a rundown of the center options on the market, whether you think the Bills need a change in command or just some new depth.

Potential starters

Brian Allen

A player Aaron Kromer would be very familiar with, Allen was a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams, playing for the team while Kromer was their OL coach.

Allen became a starter in his second season, but tore his MCL and meniscus after nine games—an injury that (along with being the first NFL player to catch COVID-19) held him out of the 2020 season rehabbing. He returned in 2021, started 16 games, and helped the team to their Super Bowl win.

With his lower draft status, lower number of games played, and injury history, Allen’s asking price should be relatively reasonable, maybe $4-6 million per year. But the 26-year-old Allen might be a bargain at that price.

Matt Paradis

You might recall that, in the same offseason that the Bills signed Morse, the other big-ticket free-agent center was Paradis, who’d had a strong career with the Denver Broncos up to that point. He signed a three-year, $29 million contract with the Carolina Panthers in that offseason.

Paradis did play out his whole contract, starting 41 consecutive games for the Panthers until he tore his ACL at the midpoint of the 2021 season.

If he’s ready for training camp, Paradis is still an effective starter, and since he’s three years older than Morse, he’d certainly be cheaper at this point. A contract similar to Alex Mack’s, in the range of three years and $16 million, might be appropriate for Paradis.

Ben Jones

A ten-year starter in the NFL, first with the Houston Texans and then with the Tennessee Titans, Jones has never made the Pro Bowl. But he’s durable, starting 128 of a possible 129 games in the past eight seasons. Now he’s entering his age-33 season, but he was still one of the linchpins of the Titans’ offensive line in 2021.

His most recent contract extension was for two years and $13.5 million in 2019. So his value is in the neighborhood of $5-7 million per year, probably on another two- or three-year deal.

Justin Britt

Britt started his career in a few different roles for the Seattle Seahawks before eventually settling in as their full-time center. He played six seasons with them, until a torn ACL halfway through the 2019 season that also took him out of the 2020 season as well.

He’d been playing on a three-year, $27 million contract at that point, but the Seahawks released him after the 2019 season ended. In 2021, Britt returned to action with a $3.2 million deal in Houston. He established himself as their starting center, but knee issues continued to linger. He missed six games of the year with the ailment.

As a 6’6” starting center with known knee problems, entering his age-31 season, Britt would probably be the cheapest starting option on the market. A $3-5 million contract might do the trick for his next agreement.

Ted Karras

A former sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots, Karras became their starting center in 2019, then spent a year with the Miami Dolphins as their starting center in 2020, before returning to New England for another starting season. About to turn 29, Karras is appealing to teams/fans because of his age, his center/guard positional versatility, and the fact that he’s seen to have a lower cost than some of the other leading options. Each of the last two years, Karras played on a one-year, $3 million contract.

Depending on a team’s valuation, Karras could be signing a contract worth anywhere from $5-10 million per year.

Lower-cost backup options

Nick Martin

A second-round pick of the Texans, Martin’s career started on the wrong foot (no pun intended) when a training camp injury led to season-ending ankle surgery before his rookie season even began.

Returning as a sophomore, he started 14 games at center before an ankle injury ended his season in 2017.

From 2018 to 2019, he continued to start at center, playing 16 full games in each season. Early in the 2019 season, he signed a three-year, $33 million contract extension. In 2020 he continued his starting role, but the Texans released him in the offseason in a cost-cutting move. Fans were pleased with that decision, as Martin was seen as overpaid for his level of performance (as well as guilty of occasional botched snaps).

On the rebound from his release, Martin signed a one-year, $1.125 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. He barely saw the field in a backup role behind Andre James, and now he’s a free agent again.

So Martin might have the most “upside” of the backup centers, given his extensive starting experience and his age (still only 28). Overall, he shouldn’t cost too much money, but he’ll make more than the veteran minimum.

Tyler Larsen

For the first four years of his career, Larsen bounced around the league as a back-of-the-roster or practice-squad type player. He had a breakthrough with the Panthers, starting five games for them in 2016 and ten in 2017. They signed him to a two-year, $4.3 million extension onto his veteran minimum deal in 2018. For the next three seasons he was on the roster for 45 games, although he only started three of them.

Larsen signed a $1 million contract with Washington in the 2021 offseason, and ultimately appeared in nine games but was carted off the field with an ankle injury in December.

A 30-year-old backup player coming off a season-ending injury, he’ll probably cost close to the veteran minimum if he’s ready to play by training camp.

B.J. Finney

Undrafted out of Kansas State, Finney’s spent almost his entire six-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, except for signing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Seahawks in 2020. Seattle traded him at midseason for Carlos Dunlap, and the Cincinnati Bengals released him at the end of the season, allowing Finney to return to the Steelers in 2021.

Finney’s career is mainly as a spot starter, with 73 game appearances and 15 starts. A center by trade, he’s played all three interior line positions.

Given that he averaged a $3.5 million salary from 2019-2020, and his veteran minimum salary in 2021 may have been offset by leftover dollars from Seattle’s contract, I think a $3 million salary is possible for Finney.

Mason Cole

A third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, Cole was their starting center as a rookie in 2018 because A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL in training camp. When Shipley returned to action the next year, Cole was benched, though he did start two games as an injury fill-in at left guard.

With Shipley moving over to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, Cole was once again the starting center, playing in 14 games. He didn’t impress the Arizona Cardinals, who traded for Rodney Hudson, then traded Cole to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick. Cole would appear in 14 games, starting seven, for Minnesota.

His rookie contract over with, Cole hasn’t really established himself as a reliable starter in the league. Teams will likely be looking to sign him to a deal worth $2-3 million per year, putting him in “high-quality backup” territory.

Scott Quessenberry

About to turn 27, Quessenberry (younger brother of David Quessenberry) is a 6’3” 310-lb center on the Los Angeles Chargers. He mostly played sparingly in his four seasons, with his biggest role in 2019 when injuries promoted him to a starting center for nine games. Overall, he was active for 63 games, starting ten in his career. Quessenberry will likely cost the veteran minimum on his next contract.