The offseason begins in earnest for the Buffalo Bills as they seek to build on an AFC East divisional champion team that fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Divisional Round of the playoffs. With a few important unrestricted free agents, the Bills’ list of positional needs is fluid — based upon the return (or lack thereof) for pending free agents like linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer.
But one of the needs that will be hotly debated this offseason is offensive tackle.
Most won’t deny that the position is, indeed, a need for this team. Dion Dawkins is the only tackle that most feel comfortable remaining in his same spot and playing at a good level in 2023. Any disagreement might come on the matter of how significant the need is. The Bills currently have the following offensive tackles under contract for 2023:
- Dion Dawkins
- Spencer Brown
- Tommy Doyle
- Ryan Van Demark
- Alec Anderson
Most would argue that bodies need to be added, and as such, offensive tackle would qualify as a need. But to what degree?
It’s likely that someone’s degree of concern about the tackle position is tied directly to their level of concern about right tackle Spencer Brown. Brown had offseason back surgery and was absent for a large portion of team work in training camp. When the 2022 regular season kicked off, Brown struggled. He was tied for 11th in the NFL in most quarterback hits given up this past year during the regular season, per Pro Football Focus, despite only playing in 14 games. He allowed the most sacks on the offensive line (four) and the most pressures (40) for the entire year. He still flashed as a run blocker, where runs behind right tackle averaged 7.5 yards per carry — the highest of any rushing direction for the team in 2022. But Brown’s struggles as a pass blocker have compounded with the Bills’ search for an upgrade at guard to cause consternation amongst the fan base.
I’m not willing to pull the plug on Brown for sure this offseason. He came into the league as an extremely raw developmental prospect, having played eight-man football in high school and converting from tight end as a freshman in college at Northern Iowa — all before forgoing his final season due to COVID-19 and preparing for the draft. He’s a freakish athlete (it’s not hyperbole to say that, relative to other offensive tackles, he is the best athlete in the NFL) with not a lot of football under his belt who missed out on valuable developmental time in his second season.
But if Brown doesn’t develop, a backup plan would be helpful.
Looking across the free-agent landscape for that type of stopgap tackle proves to be a bit of a dart throw. The Baltimore Ravens’ Ja’Wuan James is coming off his second Achilles tear. Billy Turner, with the Denver Broncos, has stuck around in the league as a serviceable right tackle, but his play has declined in recent years since his peak with the Green Bay Packers. The Bills may opt to bring back David Quessenberry, but his play in 2022 didn’t inspire meaningful hope that he’d hold down the position at a higher level than we saw from Brown this year. A player like Mike McGlinchey from the San Francisco 49ers is likely only a target if the team is 100% ready to move on from Brown, and based on general manager Brandon Beane’s comments in his year-end press conference, I don’t think that’s the case.
Ultimately, it could be a free agent like Jermaine Eluemunor from the Las Vegas Raiders who could come in to serve as that player for the Bills. Only 28 years old and coming off a solid season in Sin City where he played under a one-year, $1.25 million contract, his market could be hotter this offseason than last, but he might still be a vet option worth exploring.
In the draft, Beane will have to weigh the idea that the Bills will be selecting someone who ideally is a backup into the calculation, which means they’re not likely selecting that player high in the draft. But when they’re taking someone in the middle to latter portions of the draft, what hope can the team reasonably have that they can step in for a player who’s been around longer? Drafting a backup plan is an odd science, but if the team elected to go that route, they may look at experienced tackles like Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron (who played in 44 college games) or Stanford’s Walter Rouse (40), both of whom could hear their names come off the board anywhere from the middle of Day 2 of the NFL Draft to the beginning of Day 3.
Ultimately, the offensive tackle need is a difficult one to solve, because it all revolves around the unknown: the probability of Brown developing into a solid starting right tackle in his third year in the NFL. It’s hard to plan for an unknown, but the Bills may want to hedge their bets before Week 1 of 2023.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!