To kick things off in March, the Buffalo Bills made a bevy of moves to try and free up some room under the salary cap in 2016. Part of the reason they’re doing so is to help do what it takes to get soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Richie Incognito back under contract for the 2016 season.
Incognito is a key to how the Bills approach the remainder of the offseason and could shape both the approach on free agency and the draft if they are unable to get him back under contract.
For those that missed it due to all the moves the Bills made on Tuesday, ProFootballTalk.com reported that the Bills are growing frustrated with Incognito, due to him not accepting what they’re willing to offer him at this point. The Bills, according to the report, were hoping for a bit of a break from Incognito for giving him a second chance in the NFL. However, Incognito and his agent reportedly don’t see it the same way.
With free agency closing in, and the legal tampering window opening up on March 7 at 4:00 pm, the Bills are at risk of losing Incognito. So what do they do if they can’t get him re-signed?
A look at some options — and some names — that the Bills may have in lieu of Incognito:
1) Stay In-House
- At the current moment, there are three guards on the active roster: starting right guard John Miller, Ryan Groy, and former fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson. Miller struggled mightily as a rookie, but the coaching staff loves him so he’s guaranteed to start. Cyril Richardson moonlighted as the starting left guard during the 2014 season, only to be benched and then released ahead of the 2015 season. Richardson became a member of the practice squad after clearing waivers. And then there’s Ryan Groy, who didn’t start a game last year, but worked into the game when the Bills went to heavy sets for their run game near the end of the year. The Bills could even toss around the idea of shifting Cyrus Kouandjio back inside to see if he could be a better fit there. Of those possibilities, which don’t look ideal by any means, the most game-ready option would be Groy. In other words, the Bills would likely do whatever they could to find a replacement outside the building.
2) Free Agent Market
- If Incognito elects to go elsewhere, then that will open up their checkbooks a bit more on the free agent market. With how much they run the ball, and how important it is to their offensive success, they could sink a substantial contract into the guard position. That’s not to say it will be a contract that shells out more than Incognito would make on the open market, or even close to it, but it would be more than just a deal slightly above the veteran minimum. Four names come to mind, and the priciest among them is Kansas City’s Jeff Allen. Allen is versatile and a younger player compared to the rest of the group. He has experience both at guard and tackle, which means he doesn’t have to be set in stone as the Bills continue to solve their riddle at right tackle as well. Alex Boone would also fit the profile for the Bills, having worked with Greg Roman before in San Francisco and likely being a fairly priced free agent. The Bills had some previous interest in former New Orleans guard Jahri Evans, and then Pittsburgh’s Ramon Foster is an older option that would be a powerful addition to the run game. Of those four options, Boone seems like the best fit.
- Without Incognito, and if they were to strike out in free agency, that pushes the need for a guard way up the list and puts it right in consideration for a Day Two selection. With the success in finding an immediate starter with the John Miller pick, they’ll look to find a smart, pulling guard that can come in and play instantly. Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair will likely shift inside to guard and is right on the cusp of second round consideration. Stanford’s Joshua Garnett will likely be around by the time the Bills pick in the second round and is an athletic type the Bills could go for. Then there’s Arizona State’s Christian Westerman, who could last all the way to the Bills selection in the third round. Ideally, the Bills wouldn’t want to depend on two recent draft picks to handle the guard duty in a run-heavy scheme, so look for the priority to be in free agency to find another starter at left guard.