(WKBW) — As the sting from the end of the 2018 season starts to lessen for the Buffalo Bills, the reality of the offseason begins for the front office and coaching staff. And in doing so, they're putting together a strategy of how to navigate the offseason -- from free agency to the 2019 NFL Draft.
As the weeks pass by teams, get closer and closer to the annual offseason deadlines. In preparation, 7ABC will take an in-depth look at the current roster while evaluating what happened in 2018, what it could tell us as to the team's plans for 2019, and some author recommendations of how to march forward. The grades attached to each player is the result of an in-depth film study done by 7ABC every week through the 2018 season.
Up next, a group of positions that took a drastic turn in production, the interior offensive line:
2018 In Review
*In order of 2018 grade with 200 snaps or more
2018 Season GPA: 2.42 (Snap Count: 563)
2019 Contract Status: ~$2.08 million cap hit, signed through 2019 season
Age: 31 (10/15/1987)
- It's somewhat fitting that the top graded player from the 2018 season was the one to be benched in favor of the youth movement. Though, when you consider that Ducasse is five-plus years older than John Miller and only performed marginally better, it's hard to argue against the Bills seeing what they had in Miller throughout the 16-game season. Ducasse had a strong start to his season, but quickly wore down and had several negative performances that ultimately led to his benching. And considering that one of Brandon Beane's draft picks was sitting on the sidelines waiting for his chance, Ducasse didn't have much of a fight to put up as the team wanted to see which young players could factor into their future. Still signed for the 2019 season, there isn't much harm in keeping Ducasse around for training camp. If they aren't able to add significantly to the position, they have a potential stop-gap starter in Ducasse signed to a low contract. If they add both a starter and depth, the Bills can cut him and save an additional $2 million on the 2019 salary cap.
2018 Season GPA: 2.34 (Snap Count: 883)
2019 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 25 (8/12/1993)
- In 2018, when John Miller had a good game he flashed all the potential he showed in his second season in the league. The trouble for him, though, was that those good performances weren't commonplace in the season. And even though he fought off Ike Boettger from taking his spot in the starting lineup near the end of the season, Miller's slower reaction time against his competition is what contributed to him having such a poor fourth season. Still only 25, there will be a market for Miller in free agency. I wouldn't even be surprised if the Bills looked into giving him a one or two-year deal at a low cost to provide themselves with some flexibility in the offseason. Though, after a less than ideal four-year stretch in Buffalo where he always had to fight for his job and was even benched once, you have to wonder if the young Miller might want to continue his career elsewhere with a fresh start.
2018 Season GPA: 2.34 (Snap Count: 475)
2019 Contract Status: $633,530 cap hit, signed through 2021 season
Age: 24 (11/21/1994)
- The critical piece of the interior line puzzle in 2018, the Bills provided themselves with half of the 2018 season to determine if their fifth-round selection Wyatt Teller had the potential to be a long-term starter for them. Teller, early on, showed the power and the movement ability that the Bills liked about him when they selected him. His first three performances -- one in a substitution role and the other two as a starter -- provided just as much reason for optimism as proof that he had to go through a rookie learning curve. The power he exhibited against some of his opposition showed there was something there. However, in Week 13 against Miami, things started to unravel for Teller. Over the next two weeks, once teams had film on him, he struggled significantly and was one of the liabilities on the field for Buffalo -- getting caught with his head down on some occasions. Teller, over all of his starts, had some difficulties with taking penalties, which is an area he needs to correct moving forward because nothing gets under a head coach's skin more than pre-snap penalties. That said, I like how Teller responded in his final three games of the season, and especially in the season finale against Miami -- a team that dominated him the first time around. Teller was consistently thwarting the efforts of his assignment and showed the same type of promise that we saw in the first three games. If I'm the Bills, like the Levi Wallace situation, I'm giving Teller the opportunity to win the starting job with some competition in the spring and summer months. He showed enough in his eight games to think there could be something there.
2018 Season GPA: 1.94 (Snap Count: 528)
2019 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 28 (9/30/1990)
- It's easy to overlook the center position, but when you don't have a quality player in at one of the most important positions along the offensive line, it can cause everything else to blow up around it. That was the case right from the start of the season at center for the Buffalo Bills. It began with Ryan Groy as the starter, and after just two weeks as the starter, the Bills had no other choice but to replace him in the starting lineup. He stayed on the bench until Russell Bodine suffered a season-ending injury to which Groy had to make a return to the starting lineup -- and the results weren't that much different for the struggling center. Too often, Groy would get pushed back into the pocket at times which would thwart both Josh Allen's passing ability and in run blocking. It also seemed as though there were quite a few miscommunications in Groy's starts, which led to some unblocked attackers to have a free shot at the passer or the ball carrier. Groy is an unrestricted free agent, and with the Bills choosing to re-sign Jeremiah Sirles, I think they're likely to move on from the center this offseason.
2018 Season GPA: 1.90 (Snap Count: 588)
2019 Contract Status: ~2.8 million cap hit, signed through 2019 season
Age: 26 (6/30/1992)
- Despite taking over the starting job from Groy in Week Two, there wasn't a noticeable upgrade from him to Russell Bodine. If anything, the Bills struggled just as much at the center position in all areas. The good thing about Bodine was that he had plenty of experience as a starter in Cincinnati, which helped calm things a bit for the Bills in his first game during Week Three in Minnesota. However, the book is out on Bodine. He struggles to hold his ground against power and can get walked into the backfield regardless of the situation. Groy and Bodine each struggled significantly in their starts in 2018. The position was, by far, received the worst grades of any on the Bills roster last season. The Bills, if they so choose, can walk away from Bodine's contract and save around $2.3 million on the 2019 salary cap -- which likely goes a long way if they decide to sign a big money free agent.
Players with fewer than 200 snaps
2018 Season GPA: 2.45 (Snap Count: 76)
2019 Contract Status: $570,000 cap hit, signed through 2020
Age: 24 (10/5/1994)
- The Bills waited until the final month of the season before they provided Ike Boettger with the opportunity to get some time on the field to gain some in-game experience. What they found was a player that can anchor well, but sometimes struggles with speed and it can lead to surrendering pressure or the running lane. For Boettger, it was too small of a sample size to come to a complete conclusion on what he is and what he can become, but the Bills saw that he could at least play a little and he'll fight for a job on the 53-man roster next summer.
Recommendations for 2019
1) Invest substantial resources into signing a center in free agency
- The Bills have a lot of needs all over their roster, but there might not be a need more prominent than in finding a drastic upgrade at the center position for the 2019 season. The combined play they received from Ryan Groy and Russell Bodine was abysmal -- and poor enough to where they should focus their primary efforts in free agency into landing a center that can walk in and provide some normalcy to the offensive line. We also know the Bills aren't afraid to pay a center handsomely, seeing as how they inked Eric Wood to a sizable contract extension well before news of his career-ending injury came around. Considering how important the center position is to get every player on the line on the same page, handle their assignment, and to be the liaison between the quarterback and the other four linemen, a handsome dollar amount shouldn't be ruled out by any means. The Bills said they'd be judicious in the free agent market but based on what we know and what they gave Star Lotulelei at a vital spot of their defense, I don't think they'd be afraid to swing big on a center in free agency. It is imperative that the center position improves ahead of the 2019 season.
2) Draft or sign a guard -- or both
- The Bills found somewhat of an answer in Wyatt Teller at left guard, but they can't head into the 2019 season without a backup plan if Teller doesn't perform at a similar or higher level during training camp and the preseason. That, in itself, is aside from the point that the Bills still need a starting caliber right guard in their lineup as well, which could pave the way for a middle-tier free agent signing, a mid-round draft pick, or both of those things to provide the Bills with the depth necessary to comfortably head into 2019. The fallback option is with Vladimir Ducasse, who is signed in 2019 and can start if the Bills need him to -- though you'd have to imagine they'd like to either have him in more of a reserve role or not on the roster altogether. It all depends on what the Bills do in free agency. If they can't sign a middle-tier guard to be the starting right guard, then I'd expect a guard to be selected by the team at some point starting on Day Two and to sign a low-tier guard depth and competition. Should they be able to rope in that starting caliber guard in free agency, drafting a guard to develop is still a necessity, but, it becomes a less pressing one for the team. Either way, if Vlad Ducasse is starting in 2019 for the Bills, you know things likely didn't go their way in free agency and the draft.
3) Add a young center to develop
- This addition would be the cherry on top for the Bills in attacking the interior offensive line, but if the Bills add a free agent center, that means that player will be right in the prime of his career. It also says the Bills would ideally like to add youth to the position to develop throughout the 2019 season. It was a bit of an afterthought once the season began, but losing Adam Redmond on waivers to Dallas hurt them -- considering he showed some potential in training camp and the preseason. They like having youth at most positions to bring along slowly. And it doesn't necessarily have to be with a draft pick within the first four rounds, either. If the Bills can get a late round pick of a center prospect that they see some potential in, or they find a priority undrafted free agent after the draft, they need to add someone for development purposes only. It doesn't matter if the player makes the active roster outright, or if they spend the season on the practice squad, it's always good to have a player on the roster that can factor into the long-term plan if all goes well.
**All contract information aggregated from the Buffalo Bills media guide and Spotrac.com