Go Bills Blog #4: The Re-build of the O-Line

When it comes to making the offensive and defensive lines top priority, coaches and GM’s often talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. We often see personnel managers focus on the sexy positions of quarterback, wide receiver, running back, etc. and do patch work when it comes to the big uglies. Yes, franchise quarterbacks are difficult to come by, so to pass over a legitimate franchise caliber player at that position would be detrimental. On the flip side, imagine investing in a brand-new Bugatti La Voiture Noire, (Quarterback Josh Allen) and not adequately insuring it (2018 Bills O-Line).

Undoubtedly, Brandon Beane made it the team’s top priority to enhance the offensive line, and rightfully so. Building through the trenches is key to success in the NFL. In fact, the 2018 Bills had the lowest combined salary among offensive lines in the league. Fun Fact… Newly-signed Mitch Morse will be earning more than the combined total of last year’s starting five.

Offseason Offensive Line Additions
C-Mitch Morse: 4 yr $44.5 mill
The cream of the free agent crop, Morse is known for his top-tier pass blocking ability and overall leadership. The perfect compliment to a young quarterback.

T-Ty Nsekhe: 2 yr $14.5 mill
Nsekhe has the versatility to play any guard or tackle spot, though is currently penciled in as the starting right tackle. The long winding career road for Nsekhe hits its apex with a big money contract in Buffalo.

T-LaAdrian Waddle: 1 yr $2 mill
His wife, @MrsWaddle68 on Twitter has garnered quite the following in Buffalo. Hopefully her better half will do the same and claim a spot on the Bills line. LaAdrian has bounced around the league, most recently with the Patriots, but he is versatile and big. A combination Beane has shown to love.

G-Spencer Long: 1 yr $2.65 mill with two team options
Long is mean, big, and nasty. Oh, and versatile. Is anyone catching on to the theme here? He can play either guard position and can be a solid fill-in at center as well.

G-Jon Feliciano: 2 yr $8.3 mill
Stop me if you have heard this one before… Feliciano is big, mean, and nasty. He has started only 8 games in 3 seasons, but was brought in to battle for one of the starting guard spots. At the very least he will be a solid reserve guard.

G-Quinton Spain: 1 Year $2.05 mill
Quite the bargain at just over $2 mill for a guard of Spain’s caliber. In four seasons he started 48 games, including 2 in the playoffs. You can all but pencil him for starting at one of the guard positions.

Returners: T-Dion Dawkins, G-Wyatt Teller, T-Conor McDermott, G-Jeremiah Sirles, G-Vlad Ducasse, G-Ike Boettger, C-Russell Bodine

My assumption is that the Bills will keep 9 offensive linemen and given the roster as it currently stands the starting five would likely be:
LT- Dion Dawkins
LG- Quinton Spain
C- Mitch Morse
RG- Jon Feliciano
RT- Ty Nsekhe
Reserves- Wyatt Teller, Spencer Long, LaAdrian Waddle, Jeremiah Sirles

Sirles only sticks around if they Bills do not draft a lineman in the first 4 rounds. If they do, Sirles is likely a goner. Boettger may find himself on the practice squad.

The two words that describe Beane’s philosophy when it comes to the o-line, would be versatility and nastiness. Nsekhe brings both of those qualities, as does Long. As I stated previously, Feliciano brings with him a mean streak as well. Think Richie Incognito, minus the crazy. Depending on the draft and how Dion Dawkins performs in camp and preseason, you may see Nsekhe getting time on Josh Allen’s left side. I won’t pretend to be an offensive line guru, but my preference would be to have Dawkins transition to guard as I am not a fan of his at left tackle. His play last year was uninspiring at times.

Draft
Depending on how the draft falls, the Bills could potentially have three highly-touted o-line prospects at their #9 spot.
T-Jawaan Taylor, University of Florida
T-Jonah Williams, University of Alabama
T- Andre Dillard, Washington State

As is always the case, each prospect has their strengths and weaknesses. Dillard is deemed the best pass blocker in the draft, which would certainly be advantageous for second-year quarterback, Josh Allen. Jonah Williams played left tackle at Alabama, but some scouts view him as only capable of playing on the right side in the NFL. He has the nastiness that Beane likes, and played for Bills offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, at Alabama, so familiarity is there. Taylor has played both tackle positions, possessing the versatility Beane prefers.

Of the three tackles being considered, my preference, in order, would be; Dillard, Williams, Taylor. The Bills may even be able to trade back a few spots, acquire additional draft capital, and still acquire one of the three players.  Dawkins had his struggles last season and Nsekhe is simply a short-term starter due to his age, making it imperative that Buffalo uses an early round pick on a tackle. A quality guard could also be added in the draft. Dalton Risner would be a dream scenario for the Bills in round 2.

Ultimately, the Bills need to shore up the offensive line for not only the intermediate future, but the long-term as well. With a dynamic franchise quarterback now on the roster, the number one priority must be protecting him. A quality offensive-line will make a decent QB good, a good QB great, and a great QB hall of fame caliber. Expect at least one o-line pick in the first two rounds next week. Who will be that player(s)? Only time will tell. Go Bills!

Go Bills Blog #2: Becoming A Bills Fan

Bandwagon fans in sport have been commonplace since the days of the gladiators. Inexplicably, New England Patriot jerseys find themselves in Idaho, Golden State Warrior hats are worn in South Carolina, and Manchester United has a fan group in Ohio. And some fool in Columbus, Ohio, with no direct ties to the city of Buffalo, is a die hard fanatic of the Buffalo Bills. Few would claim being a Buffalo Bills fan has anything to do with bandwagon jumping. In fact, being a lifelong Bills fan may be rooted in some sort of masochistic behavior, but ask any Bills fan across the globe, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bills Fan in Ohio
Odds are that if you are a Buffalo Bills fan, it is due to being born and bred to be one. Western New Yorkers know that Bills football is all-encompassing. The region’s productivity, attitude, and identity are directly tied to how the Bills perform on autumn Sunday afternoons. True story! Studies have shown a significant increase in work productivity the week following a Bills win, as opposed to the contrary when they go down in defeat.

I am not a western New York native. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, which is undoubtedly an AFC North domain. My geographical disposition is to be a fan of either the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals or possibly the Pittsburgh Steelers. Interstate 70 runs directly through the middle of Columbus and is an unofficial boundary. North of the highway is Browns country, south is Bengals territory, while the Steelers are sprinkled sporadically throughout.

How did a young boy in central Ohio find his way to rooting for a football team in Buffalo, New York? It’s actually quite simple, the Bills were on local TV periodically in Columbus during the late 80's and as a 5-year-old I loved their colors. Apparently, it doesn’t take much to strike the fancy of a young scamp. If the all-American team colors were the spark that ignited my lifelong fandom, it was Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas who set the fandom ablaze. The Bills legendary #12 and #34 were quite the dynamic duo in the 80’s and 90’s. I became hooked.

Super Bowl Blues
One of my first recollections of being a Bills fan occurred in my older brother’s room during Super Bowl XXV. I remember anxiously standing with my mother, eagerly awaiting the game-winning boot from Scott Norwood. We all know what transpired from that play. The 47-yard kick continues to live in Bills infamy, as it produced the most cringe-worthy phrase in Buffalo sports history, “wide right”. The phrase cannot be uttered within earshot of a Bills fan without us enduring a visceral and nauseating feeling. Truth be told, I thought Scotty squeezed the kick through the uprights. I jumped for joy and celebrated for a moment with my mom. Once it dawned on me that the ball had sailed only a couple of feet to the right, I cried and sulked back to my own bedroom.

Super Bowl XXV was the first of four defeats in a row for the Bills in the NFL championship finale. I vividly remember watching the following Super Bowl at my cousin’s house. The Redskins shellacked my Bills. The Super Bowl party’s I attended for the XXVII and XXVIII renditions were at a wonderful sports bar, both were battles against the Dallas Cowboys, and both contests had the same outcome, another Bills loss. When the Bills held a 13-6 lead at halftime of Super Bowl XXVIII, I thought, much like many Bills fans did, this was the year. The fourth time was sure to be the charm. After three years of heartbreak, the fourth go around would do the trick. No dice! Four straight losses on the game’s biggest stage have led to an endless supply of jokes and barbs in the direction of Bills fans in the years since.

Experience Bills Football
Regardless, my Bills fandom only grew more pronounced as time went on. The first Bills game I attended was versus the Browns at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium in October of 1995. It was a Monday Night Football affair (the last one at that old stadium, by the way) that found the Bills triumphant, 22-19. My first home Bills contest was in 2003, as the Cincinnati Bengals came into town. The game ended up being a thriller, with the Bills coming from behind to conquer the Bengals in overtime, thanks to a Travis Henry touchdown. I had never felt more at home than I did that beautiful Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

With Columbus being a quick 5-hour trek from Buffalo, I would make a pilgrimage to ‘The Ralph’ on an annual basis. Having attended 10 Bills games in my life, half in Buffalo, the other half in either Cincinnati or Cleveland. The Bills won the first 8 games I spectated, followed by 2 losses. My last attended game being the heart breaker on Monday Night Football against Dallas in 2007.

For that wild night, my buddy Matt (a fellow Bills fan) and I had magnificent seats; Upper level, at the 45-yard line. We just so happen to be perfectly aligned with the spot of the ball where Dallas kicker, Nick Folk nailed the game-winning 53-yard field goal. Something about that kick and that game enraged me. It just seemed so “Billsy”. Which is the term used to describe the unfortunate, yet all too predictable outcomes of Bills games this century. Often times the Bills would be controlling and leading the majority of a game, yet somehow find a way to blow it at the final whistle. That is “Billsy” in a nutshell.

As the Bills became more and more dreadful in the late 2000’s, the trips halted. The financial investment wasn’t wise for a broke college student. I still watched the games every Sunday on TV at the Columbus Bills Backers bar (shout out to Spoonz, my favorite Bills bar of them all 7426 Sawmill Rd, Columbus, OH 43235) but the jaunt to Buffalo wasn’t realistic.

Bills Fan from Afar
In 2011, I relocated out of Ohio and bounced around the Western United States. In the span of nearly 8 years, I moved five different times. I found my way to California, Colorado, Oregon, and Idaho. In researching whatever city I would be moving to next, before even finding a place to live, I would seek out the nearest Bills Backers bar. It was imperative I got my Bills football fix wherever in this country I may be. The Cheerful Bullpen in Portland, Lodo’s in Denver, 6th Street Bar in Eugene, or Taphouse in Boise, all were sure to find me at table rooting on my Bills through the wins and losses.

Now I am in my third decade of being a Bills fan. No matter where In the United States I may be, I rock my Bills gear loud and proud! My recent relocation back to Columbus makes it that much easier to experience the shenanigans of the Bills Mafia and Bills football in Orchard Park. There are few experiences quite as enthralling as a Bills home game. The communal feel, the electricity can be felt all throughout the city, it is intoxicating. Great days are ahead for Buffalo Bills football, making those 5-hour drives to New Era Field that much more invigorating.

Those agonizing Super Bowl losses will only make the first Super Bowl victory taste that much sweeter! The tears will flow. The hugs will commence. And those decades of dreadful Sundays will be a distant memory in the rear-view mirror. It’s only March, yet I am amped as ever for the first football Sunday in September. I know the Bills Mafia is with me! How many days until kickoff? Go Bills!

Go Bills Blog # 1: In Beane I Trust

It was another typical Buffalo Bills offseason in 2017 when we as Bills fans were witnessing yet another introductory press conference for a newly appointed high-ranking team official. It was the appointment of new Bills general manager, Brandon Beane, who was next up in the long line of would-be franchise saviors. He emphatically stated all the passable platitudes. He insisted he wanted to build a winner and he wanted to accomplish this feat the right way. “Trust the process!” became a mantra inside One Bills Drive. As a lifelong Bills fan, I was numb to it all. In the words of the late Al Davis, all I wanted from Beane and head coach, Sean McDermott, was to “Just win, baby!”

Beane came to Western New York with a plan to re-establish this franchise by reconstructing it from the ground floor. To engineer this tall task, Beane’s top priorities were to:
a) Rid the team of its exorbitant contracts to provide salary cap flexibility.
b) Acquire a true franchise quarterback.
c) Acquire additional draft capital.

Nearly two years later, it is hard to argue with the success of the process. In terms of accomplishing his main goals, Beane jettisoned the albatross sized contracts of Marcell Dareus, Cordy Glenn, and Charles Clay, which in turn has provided the much-desired salary cap flexibility. Brandon moved up in the 2018 NFL Draft to acquire the man the organization deems to be their franchise quarterback, in Josh Allen. Beane has amassed a myriad of draft picks via a multitude of trades. He isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on trades of all kinds (player for player, picks for a player, picks for picks, etc). The process has been and continues to be in motion.

The beauty of Beane's approach in his second full offseason is that he hasn’t allowed fan or media scrutiny to drive him away from the process. The Bills miraculously backed into the 2018 playoffs after a mediocre, yet over performing season. It was the first such appearance in two decades. The fan fervor was high, and some of the Bills faithful had hoped and expected another playoff run in 2019. On the contrary, Beane and coach McDermott knew that 2019 would likely be a step backward from making the playoffs. Though they would never publicly admit as much, it was evident that the process was predicated on taking a step backward to ultimately take two or three forward. It is how a team can become a viable contender for the long haul, not just a flash in the pan season of luck.

Beane and company have a clear and coherent approach to construct each phase of the team, rather than merely signing big names to make a splash. The team is being built methodically and with each move thoroughly calculated. He and his staff most certainly won the first week of NFL free agency. They filled holes all throughout the roster, but especially on offense. Offensive line… Check! Serviceable NFL Wide Receivers… Check! Depth at Running Back…. Check! Depth at Cornerback… Check!

The conscientious spending allows the Bills to head into the draft aiming to select the best player available, rather than reach on a pick to address a specific positional need. Furthermore, the methodology grants the team plenty of flexibility from a salary cap standpoint. As of today, the Bills will go into the 2020 offseason with more cap room than any team in the league.

Beane is thoroughly aware that championships aren’t won during the spring. Winning free agency doesn’t mean squat in the National Football League. Winning the NFL Draft is just as futile. But as a Bills fanatic, how can you not appreciate Beane and his staff’s willingness to spend aggressively, yet judiciously? How can you not admire their willingness to leave no stone unturned and to stick to the plan, through both the prosperous times and difficult ones alike?

I am 100% bought in with Beane. I am 100% bought in with McDermott. Building a winning franchise is painstaking and a long winding road, full of peaks and valleys. No GM or head coach is without flaws and faults, but the “McBeane” regime has my attention and support. I trust the process. And so should you! Go Bills!