The Bills overhauled their interior offensive line this offseason, but did they find the magic mix?
The Buffalo Bills had issues with protection during the 2021 season. After an offseason where general manager Brandon Beane was able to re-sign the entire starting unit from the 2020 season, that wasn’t something that was expected. However, the nature of the NFL is to expect the unexpected, and Beane prepared accordingly.
Just because he locked in all of his 2020 starters didn’t mean that Beane would rest on his laurels. He continued to do what he does best, maintaining a stable of depth along the front line that, eventually, provided the Bills with some relief towards the end of the year.
Now, he’s done the same this offseason, adding and re-signing several players to enter the fray and compete for jobs. In our final look at the offensive side of the ball for our state of the Bills’ roster series heading into training camp, we look at the interior offensive linemen.
Contract status: Signed a two-year extension this offseason through 2024; ($8 million cap hit)
Age: Turned 30 on 4/21/2022
2021 Playing time: 17 games (17 starts), 1,167 offensive snaps (97.41% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 2 sacks allowed, 25 pressures allowed, 2 tackles for loss allowed, 5 penalties against, 28 penalty yards against
Morse had always been a quietly consistent stud along the front for the Bills, as his athleticism and ability to help quarterback Josh Allen set protections have helped the Bills to transform themselves into an offensive juggernaut. In 2021, though, it became apparent that Morse is not only a solidifying force up front, but he’s arguably Buffalo’s best offensive lineman. This past year, at least, Morse was the most consistent, as he remained healthy for a full season for just the third time in his seven-year career. Last year, there were many who assumed that Morse would not finish the four-year, $44 million contract he signed prior to the 2019 season, but he signed a new two-year extension this offseason.
Contract status: Signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $6.25 million contract this offseason
Age: Turned 34 on 6/6/2022
2021 Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 852 offensive snaps (71.96%), 46 special teams snaps (10.04%) for Tennessee Titans
Key 2021 statistics: Pro Bowl, 2 sacks allowed, 4 penalties against, 30 penalty yards against
Saffold earned the first Pro Bowl nod of his career in 2021 after a solid season for the Titans. He was a priority signing for the Bills, despite his age, and he immediately slots in at the starting left guard spot. If the best ability is availability, Saffold is set. He has played in 15 or more games in six straight seasons for the Rams and Titans, including two season with Buffalo’s new offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer.
Contract status: Entering final year of four-year rookie contract ($2,388,741 cap hit; $869,994 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 25 (26 on 12/28/2022)
2021 Playing time: 15 games (7 starts), 485 offensive snaps (40.48% of team total), 73 special teams snaps (16.82% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 2 sacks allowed, 26 pressures allowed, 0 tackles for loss allowed, 3 penalties against, 23 penalty yards against
The jury seems to have rendered a verdict on Ford, and it isn’t pretty. Buffalo’s second-round choice in the 2019 NFL Draft began the year as the team’s starting right guard, but he was benched after just three games where he was a constant source of frustration for the offense and Bills fans alike. He made four more spot starts—the ugly 9-6 road loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the ugly blowout loss at home against the Indianapolis Colts, and wins over the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers—but it was clear that those starts were more a result of a lack of healthy options than some sort of positive report on Ford’s performance. With that said, there were some positive notes from the latter two games. The Bills realize that Ford can’t be relied upon to be the starter at any position up front, and while they would receive marginal cap savings by releasing him, it’s more likely that the team keeps him for the final year of his rookie contract before allowing him to leave next offseason.
Contract status: Signed a 4-year, $17 million RFA deal with the Bears which was matched by Bills ($2.375 million cap hit in 2022)
Age: Turned 25 on 2/14/2022
2021 Playing time: 17 games (4 starts), 294 offensive snaps (29.54% of team total), 83 special teams snaps (19.12% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 0 sacks allowed, 3 pressures allowed, 1 tackle for loss allowed, 1 penalty against, 15 penalty yards against
Just like all of us predicted, Buffalo’s jack-of-all-trades reserve lineman turned out to be the missing piece up front, as Buffalo’s late-season resurgence on offense coincided with Bates entering the starting lineup at left guard. All sarcasm aside, Bates was marvelous in his six starts (two playoff games, as well), and the Bills responded by adding a fantastic rushing attack to an already-phenomenal passing game. The Bills are banking on him building on that success from 2021 into the future, but he’s likely going to have to do it at right guard instead of left following the signing of Saffold. Bates could also be the primary backup at center.
Contract status: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/24/2022 (projected cap hit of $705,000; $0 dead cap)
Age: 23 (24 on 11/2/2022)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A
Capra was born in Folsom, California, which makes me think of Johnny Cash. PFR has him listed as Joey, his middle name, which makes me think of Albert Belle. His last name makes me think of It’s a Wonderful Life director Frank Capra. He was a high school teammate of Tommy Doyle. He was elevated for one game, Buffalo’s 31-14 win over the Carolina Panthers, but he did not appear in the game. Capra played college football at San Diego State, where he started games at left guard, left tackle, and right tackle over his career.
Contract status: Signed a one-year veteran minimum deal this offseason
Age: 27 (28 on 10/5/2022)
2021 Playing time: 15 games (10 starts), 636 offensive snaps (53.09% of team total), 71 special teams snaps (16.36% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 1 sack allowed, 17 pressures allowed, 4 tackles for loss allowed, 2 penalties against, 10 penalty yards against
The former undrafted free agent had worked his way into a full-time starting role, locking down the let guard job midway through the season, when disaster struck. Boettger tore his left Achilles tendon on December 26. While it’s possible that he will be ready to play in September, the Bills can’t bet on it. Kyle Trimble wrote that it’s “reasonable” to expect that he’ll be ready to go for Week 1, so I’ll put my trust in the expert! As long as he’s close to healthy, he could be the top interior reserve. If he doesn’t bounce back, he could be a cut candidate, which would be really unfortunate.
Contract status: Signed a one-year veteran minimum deal this offseason
Age: Turned 30 on 4/23/22
2021 Playing time: 5 games (1 start), 185 offensive snaps (16.03 of team total), 13 special teams snaps (2.80% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: None
Mancz was one of those signings that made sense at the time, as Buffalo didn’t have a backup center. Now that they’ve re-signed Bates plus added several players who can chip in at multiple positions should Bates have to move inside for a Morse injury, Mancz is going to have to excel to make the roster.
The team started five different combinations along the interior line in 2021 and two of those starters — Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams — are gone. Four players return (Morse, Ford, Boettger, and Bates) but one new starter seems to be locked in from outside the team, as well.
In addition to these guys, Derek Kerstetter has NFL experience at guard and could slide in from tackle, if necessary. That lessens the need to keep multiple reserves on the interior and could push another player from today’s list to the wrong side of the roster bubble. (Kerstetter was profiled in our offensive tackle article.)
With Saffold, Morse, and Bates penciled in as the starters and a hopefully healthy Boettger and Ford or Mancz, the Bills will be full on the interior of their offensive line with at least one legitimate practice squad candidate.
As former Bills guard Ross Tucker has said on Twitter recently, Buffalo’s reserves might be better than some starters. It’s a pretty solid group with some fun camp battles to monitor.
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