On paper, the Buffalo Bills entered the 2022 season with a strong starting five along the offensive line. The team added a solid veteran guard in Rodger Saffold, they brought back Ryan Bates after he excelled in his first extended playing time the season prior, and their second-year right tackle was looked at as a player ready to take a big step forward. When added to a strong left tackle and center, the offensive line seemed like it would be a strength.
Well, you know what they say about those who assume. The offensive line struggled with consistency all throughout the year, and quarterback Josh Allen ended up running for his life far too often. While it looked like there were five strengths up front entering the season, it feels like there’s one, maybe two, after watching the year unfold.
In our third installment of our State of the Bills’ roster series, we discuss the offensive tackles, a group that contains both the surest bet for success along Buffalo’s offensive line and arguably the biggest question mark moving forward.
All penalty data courtesy of Pro Football Reference. All sacks allowed data courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Contract status for 2023: Signed; third year of four-year rookie contract ($1,318,554 cap hit; $438,072 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 2/28/23)
Playing time: 14 games (14 starts), 848 offensive snaps (88% of team total), 67 special teams snaps (18% of team total)
Key statistics: Six accepted penalties against, two penalties against declined or offsetting, four sacks allowed
Brown was a tremendous disappointment this year, as he struggled in pass protection and run blocking alike. For as big and strong as he is, Brown consistently found himself in poor-leverage situations, and while he definitely brings a mean streak to the line, his inconsistency in protection often leads to disaster. It was Brown who allowed New York Jets edge rusher Bryce Huff to blow by him off the line on the penultimate play of Buffalo’s Week 9 loss at MetLife Stadium, leading to a hit and a forced fumble where Allen injured his throwing elbow. On too many plays, the right side of the line broke down in a way that led to a jailbreak in the backfield, and much of the issue was at right tackle.
Contract status for 2023: Signed; third year of four-year contract ($14,824,870 cap hit; $12.866 million dead-cap charge if cut or traded)
Age: 28 (29 on 4/26/23)
Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 957 offensive snaps (95% of team total), 75 special teams snaps (19% of team total)
Key statistics: Nine accepted penalties against, three penalties against declined or offsetting, three sacks allowed
Dawkins was rated Buffalo’s best offensive lineman by PFF, notching a 73.5 overall grade this season. He is able to handle most teams’ best rushers on an island. That style of blocking combined with Buffalo’s reliance on a downfield passing attack lends itself to some difficulties for a lineman. Dawkins can only hold his blocks for so long, and sometimes, when Josh Allen holds the ball to make a play, it leads to Dawkins holding his man to keep Allen upright. Dawkins’ 12 penalties tied him for the fourth-highest total in the league, but it’s hard to look at him and think that he’s a player who needs to be upgraded on this roster.
Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA
Age: 28 (29 on 8/21/23)
Playing time: 15 games, 125 offensive snaps (13% of team total), 77 special teams snaps (20% of team total)
Key statistics: N/A
Hart was the team’s sixth offensive lineman for most of the year, slotting in as a tight end in jumbo packages more often than not. He was quite good in that role, as the Bills started to find a groove running the ball in the second half of the season. After spending plenty of time bashing him over the past few offseasons, I can’t believe what I’m about to write, but I think that a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum to keep Hart around in his current role would be a good decision. At worst, he’s veteran depth through the preseason, and at best, he continues on in the same role he had this past season.
Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA
Age: 32 (33 on 8/24/23)
Playing time: 16 games (3 starts), 398 offensive snaps (37% of team total), 80 special teams snaps (20% of team total)
Key statistics: Two accepted penalties against, four sacks allowed
The versatile veteran played admirably in spot duty, and while the results weren’t always pretty, he showed that he would gut through any manner of injury while giving the best he could on any given night. The game he had to start at left tackle against the New England Patriots comes to mind, as Dawkins was already out with an ankle injury before Quessenberry suffered an injury of his own early in the contest. He knew that the team was short up front, so he played perhaps at 50%, giving up plenty of pressures and hits throughout the night, but winning on enough reps to keep Allen upright and the Bills’ offense moving. Buffalo could certainly do worse than having Quessenberry on the roster, so if he’s willing to come back at a reasonable rate, there’s reason enough to expect he returns.
Contract status for 2023: Signed; third year of four-year rookie contract ($1,018,931 cap hit; $157,862 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 5/6/23)
Playing time: One game, 37 offensives snaps (3.4% of team total), 4 special teams snaps (1% of team total)
Key statistics: N/A
Doyle played in Buffalo’s 21-19 loss at the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, slotting in at right guard after a slew of injuries left the Bills with no reserve linemen. At some point on the team’s final drive, he suffered a knee injury that turned out to be an ACL tear. While that injury ultimately ended his season, Doyle managed to gut it out until the end of the drive, which is, frankly, remarkable given the circumstances.
Contract status for 2023: Signed reserve/futures contract on 1/23 ($750,000 cap hit; $8,500 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)
Age: 23 (24 on 10/9/23)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A
The rookie spent his entire first season on the practice squad.
Buffalo has a few options here. They could run it back with the same group of players, hoping that Brown is better with another year of professional experience and a full offseason (he did miss a ton of time after having back surgery last offseason). They could give someone like Quessenberry a legitimate chance at unseating Brown, as well, opening up the competition in hopes of lighting a fire under the soon-to-be third-year pro.
The other option is that Buffalo can add competition from the outside, whether in the form of a free-agent signing or a draft pick. The problem with this route, of course, is capital, both in the monetary and draft sense. Buffalo has a limited number of draft choices, with just six picks to work with this spring. There’s also a bit of an issue with the salary cap, so adding a player above the caliber of Quessenberry or Hart will be hard to accomplish with the other, more pressing needs (including one across the offensive line over at left guard).
Ultimately, I think that Buffalo stays the course at tackle for the most part. If they add, I think it’s through the draft, though I’d prioritize a guard over a tackle if I had to pick between the two. There are ways to scheme some help over Brown’s way that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey can try in order to accentuate what he does well and limit his exposure in negative situations (pulling and moving in space on runs, having a running back or tight end chip before they release in pass protection, etc.).
Both Brown and right guard Ryan Bates are good athletes in space, so it’s a bit confusing to me as to why the team didn’t try to run more screen passes to the right side to utilize that athleticism. The Bills shouldn’t go into 2023 with Brown as the unquestioned starter at right tackle — his 53.4 PFF grade was 76th out of 84 qualifying tackles—but I don’t think we should close the book on him, either. Adding a mid-round draft choice for competition would be the route I’d go here.