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State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster: interior offensive linemen

A fresh injection of nasty is necessary on the interior O-Line

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills looked like they’d found a winning combination at guard towards the end of the 2021 NFL season. Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford had been benched, and the Bills moved forward with Ike Boettger and Darryl Williams at guard. However, Boettger tore his Achilles tendon towards the end of the regular season, throwing another monkey wrench into the plans up front.

Heading into the 2022 season, the Bills added a veteran guard to complement Ryan Bates, the player who had stepped in for Boettger at the end of the 2021 season. On paper, it looked like a strong offensive line. However, in practice, it was anything but, and the protection unit struggled all season long to protect quarterback Josh Allen.

So, it goes without saying that the offensive line is, once again, a major need for the Buffalo Bills heading into 2023. With question marks arguably at every position except for left tackle, the Bills badly need some talent in the trenches.

In our latest look at the state of the Bills’ roster, we profile the interior offensive line group. As with our look at the offensive tackles, penalty data comes from Pro Football Reference, and sack data comes from Pro Football Focus.

Mitch Morse

Contract status for 2023: Signed; first year of two-year contract extension ($11.16 million cap hit; $5 million dead-cap charge if cut or traded)

Age: 30 (31 on 4/21/23)

Playing time: 13 games (13 starts), 767 offensive snaps (70.69% of team total)

Key statistics: 2 penalties against, 1 tackle, 3 sacks allowed

Morse’s play definitely isn’t questionable, as he performed quite well for the majority of the season. However, he suffered yet another concussion — his sixth known concussion during his eight-year career — and he wasn’t quite the same after the injury. Morse suffered the concussion during Buffalo’s Week 15 victory over the Miami Dolphins, and he missed the following week’s matchup with the Chicago Bears as a result. He returned to face the Cincinnati Bengals for a series in that ill-fated Monday contest, and he played each of Buffalo’s final three games in full. However, he looked a little less physical, a little slower to pull, and a little less effective in those final games than he did for much of the season. He is one of he team’s two best linemen when he’s healthy, and it’s not terribly likely that the Bills move on this season, but the team would save roughly $6 million on the 2023 salary cap by releasing or trading him. I don’t think it happens, but it’s certainly worth watching over the next few weeks.

Greg Mancz

Contract status for 2023: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/23/23 ($944,500 cap hit; $4,500 dead-cap charge if cut or traded)

Age: 30 (31 on 4/23/23)

Playing time (with Bills): 1 game, 23 offensive snaps (2.12% of team total), 4 special teams snaps (.98% of team total)

Key statistics: N/A

Mancz made one appearance last season for the Bills, playing in that September game in Miami where nearly everyone on Buffalo’s roster suffered some sort of heat-related issue during the contest. He was a practice-squad call-up thanks to Morse sitting with an elbow injury, and he ended up playing center after Greg Van Roten left the game himself. Mancz reverted back to the practice squad, was signed away by the Cleveland Browns, who released him soon thereafter, before he was signed by the Minnesota Vikings. He appeared in one game for Minnesota, was released, and re-signed to Buffalo’s practice squad. He’s serviceable veteran depth at a low cap number.

Ike Boettger

Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA

Age: 28 (29 on 10/5/23)

Playing time: 1 game, 6 offensive snaps (.55% of team total), 5 special teams snaps (1.22% of team total)

Key statistics: N/A

Boettger rehabbed his Achilles injury, the second of his career (though to a different side) through most of the season. He finally made his debut against the Bears, playing just a handful of snaps. I imagine that there will be mutual interest in bringing him back on a one-year, non-guaranteed deal to compete for a spot on the 2023 roster. However, I don’t expect that the Bills will look at him in earnest for a starting role.

Rodger Saffold

Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA

Age: 34 (35 on 6/6/23)

Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1,062 offensive snaps (97.88% of team total), 11 special teams snaps (2.68% of team total)

Key statistics: 10 penalties against (7 accepted), 2 sacks allowed

Saffold was supposed to be the big road-grader that this line was missing, but instead, he was a penalty machine who too often whiffed on his assignments. Sure, he was named to the Pro Bowl for his efforts, but let’s be honest here: the Pro Bowl isn’t exactly always a great way to note which players actually performed the best. The eye test tells most of us all we need to know about Saffold, who definitely should not be back in Buffalo next year unless it’s for a fraction of the contract he signed last year — and with no guarantees of reprising his starting role, either. One thing that I will say on the positive end about Saffold is that he was durable, as he led the team in offensive snaps and did not miss a game in a season where it felt like every member of the team was injured at some time or another.

Greg Van Roten

Contract status for 2023: Unsigned; UFA

Age: 32 (33 on 2/26/23)

Playing time: 16 games (4 starts), 355 offensive snaps (32.72% of team total), 79 special teams snaps (19.27% of team total)

Key statistics: 3 penalties against, 0 sacks allowed

The former New York Jets lineman was valued for his versatility, and he put that versatility to the test this season. Van Roten played guard and center at different times, as he was the top interior reserve for much of the year. He certainly wasn’t great, but the Bills could do much worse than a veteran who can play three positions as one of their reserve linemen.

Ryan Bates

Contract status for 2023: Signed; second year of four-year contract ($4.875 million cap hit; $6.525 million dead cap if cut or traded)

Age: 26 (27 on 2/14/24)

Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 947 offensive snaps (87.28% of team total), 62 special teams snaps (15.12% of team total

Key statistics: 3 penalties against, 1 sack allowed

Bates came on strong at the end of the 2021 season, and after general manager Brandon Beane matched the contract given to Bates by Bears general manager Ryan Pace, it seemed like the Bills’ offensive line was going to be an area of strength. I’d argue that Bates was just okay in his debut season at right guard, and if the team can add a plug-and-play option on the right side, it might be to Bates’s benefit to swing back to the left side, where he seemed much better in 2021. Bates can also play center if Buffalo decides to move on from Morse, but again, that’s not something I expect or want to see happen.

Someone is going to have to give me some reasons why Buffalo’s choice at No. 27 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft shouldn’t be Florida Gators guard O’Cyrus Torrence. I can’t think of a better match for the club, as Buffalo obviously needs improved play on the line, and adding a 6’5”, 347-pound right guard who was a consensus All-American seems like the perfect move. The offensive line is clearly an issue moving forward, but I think that the order of need here should be guard, then right tackle, then center.

I’d be perfectly content with Buffalo running Bates at left guard and Morse at center with Torrence at right guard. The Bills could always add another interior offensive lineman later in the draft — someone like Olusegun Oluwatimi, for example — if they’re concerned about Morse’s future with the team. I don’t want to see them add a center early, though, given that they need to find an immediate starter next to Morse more urgently than they need to find a replacement for the second-best or best lineman they currently employ.

As for the depth, hanging on to Boettger seems like a smart move, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team try to retain Van Roten, as well, if the price is right. Mancz is a safe bet to make it through at least August, and depending on what happens throughout camp, he’ll have an outside chance at making the final roster thanks to his ability to play center and guard.

In short, this is a group in need of at least one starter and one long-term backup. I think the team can address both of those needs in the NFL Draft rather than in free agency.