Most Buffalo Bills fans will unanimously agree that the team's guard play last season was underwhelming. Erik Pears, Cyril Richardson, Kraig Urbik and Chris Williams all struggled throughout the season, and the Bills have already signed Richie Incognito to help bolster the interior line. Rex Ryan has been fairly open about making upgrades at the position, and once Greg Roman was hired at offensive coordinator, Mike Iupati immediately became a popular name for fans to discuss as a potential free agent target.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com mentioned on Thursday that the Bills are, indeed, interested in Iupati, confirming the speculation that fans had since Roman was hired.
Since being drafted in 2010, Iupati has lived up to expectations of a first round pick in San Francisco. It is no coincidence that Iupati's three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl (2011-2013) matched up with Frank Gore's last three trips to the NFL's all star game. As a cornerstone on the offensive line of Roman's run-oriented offense in San Fran, Iupati would clearly fit into what the Bills will be trying to accomplish under Roman, as well.
While 2014 was a relatively disappointing year in San Francisco, Iupati was still rated as the No. 2 run blocker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. An established veteran like Iupati would provide an immediate upgrade to the Bills' offensive line.
While 2014 was a successful year for Iupati as a run blocker, he struggled mightily in pass protection. PFF had him rated as the No. 55 guard in the NFL as a pass blocker, and he was credited for six sacks allowed during the regular season. That is a high number for a guard, especially one that will command an expensive contract in free agency.
Speaking of: as the top guard on the free agent market, it is expected that Iupati will command north of $7 million annually. In addition to being linked to the Bills, he has also been rumored as a target for Miami, Tampa Bay, and Washington. With their recent acquisitions and pending free agents, the Bills may be hard-pressed to make the financial commitment needed to secure Iupati.
Despite the report from La Canfora, signing Iupati might be a luxury the Bills cannot afford. There may be more affordable options available options to pursue, such as Clint Boling or Justin Blalock.
While the Bills did not invest heavily in free agent guards in the past (i.e. Andy Levitre), that perspective may have changed with Ryan at the helm. In an unpredictable offseason, it would not surprise me if the Bills made the necessary financial commitment and secured Iupati to a long-term contract - but would it be wise to do so?