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90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: OL Ryan Bates

Is he the starting right guard; is he the top interior reserve?

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have spent big over the last two years to improve the talent along their interior offensive line. After treating the guard spot like an afterthought for the first few seasons of the Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane era, the philosophy seems to have shifted to prioritize the interior line.

In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one of the Bills’ top interior linemen — a veteran whose versatility is as valuable as his actual play.

Name: Ryan Bates

Number: 71

Position: G/C

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 302 pounds

Age: 26 (27 on 2/14/2024)

Experience/Draft: 5; signed with the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2019 NFL Draft

College: Penn State

Acquired: Traded by Eagles to Bills for linebacker Eli Harold on 8/9/2019

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Bates enters the second year of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed prior to last season. For the 2023 season, Bates carries a cap hit of $4.875 million and a dead-cap number of $6.525 million should the Bills choose to release him. If they trade him, that dead-cap number falls to $2.625 million spread over the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

2022 Recap: Bates earned the job as the team’s starting left guard at the end of the 2021 season, and even though he signed an offer sheet with the Chicago Bears in the offseason, Buffalo chose to match the offer and bring him back. They moved him to right guard, and he wasn’t quite as good as he’d been the year prior. Pro Football Focus graded him out at a 61.8 for the year. He allowed just one sack and committed only three penalties, however, in his 15 starts. Bates also started both of Buffalo’s playoff games.

Positional outlook: Bates is locked in one of the most intense training camp battles of the offseason for the Bills, as he and rookie O’Cyrus Torrence have gone back-and-forth in terms of which player starts with the first team. Ike Boettger, David Edwards, Nick Broeker, Connor McGovern, Kevin Jarvis, and Greg Mancz are the other guards, with Mitch Morse as the other center on the roster. David Quessenberry is listed as both a tackle and a guard, and Tommy Doyle played guard last year.

2023 Offseason: Bates is healthy and he’s participated in all team activities to date. He didn’t start Buffalo’s preseason opener — that honor went to Torrence — and he played as the second-team center instead.

2023 Season outlook: Many pundits thought that the camp competition was winding down between Torrence and Bates, as the veteran had outpaced the rookie in reps with the first team of late in practice. Then, head coach Sean McDermott came out and opened up the questions all over again by starting Torrence against the Indianapolis Colts in Buffalo’s preseason opener. Perhaps it was nothing more than giving the rookie a chance to shake the jitters nice and early, or maybe he wanted to see Bates at center after removing Morse, so rather than slide him from one spot to another, he had him play the pivot with Torrence next to him to allow the rookie to experience both of the team’s top centers. The preseason might not mean much, but looking at the starting lineup can sometimes be a tell as to what way a coaching staff is leaning in a competition — especially when they don’t give the veteran the “respect” of starting that first preseason game.

Bates is an incredibly valuable piece for the Bills given that he’s played everywhere along the line at some point, and if it’s even between him and Torrence, it wouldn’t surprise me if the tie goes to the rookie rather than the veteran. Given Bates’ status as the backup center, it would allow for less shifting in the event of an injury to Morse if they could plug Bates in rather than slide him over from the guard spot. Granted, if Bates is one of the best five, he needs to start, but Torrence has looked good in practice and he had a strong showing on Saturday against the Colts. Bates’ job may be in jeopardy, but his roster spot is not.