Ignoring for a moment the clamorous fashion with which Buffalo guard Richie Incognito has recently fired his agent via Twitter and now, in a conversation with Peter King on Tuesday, revealed his intention to retire, let’s state the completely obvious: Should Incognito follow through on those plans, the Bills are in a great deal of trouble.
No NFL team has had their offensive line pilfered quite like the Bills had this year, who lost Pro Bowl center Eric Wood to retirement back on January 26, and traded stalwart tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals on March 12. The only linemen on the current roster who have played significant NFL snaps are Russell Bodine, Vladimir Ducasse, John Miller, Dion Dawkins, Jordan Mills and Marshall Newhouse—as it stands right now, this is a unit without a true anchor.
While plenty of NFL teams have had moderate success cobbling together portions of their offensive line, it’s impossible to argue that the Bills will be content with this starting lineup fronting a run-first offense and potentially protecting a first-round selection at quarterback.
It would also be impossible to argue that a soon-to-be 30-year-old LeSean McCoy is thrilled with the prospect of another 287 carries in this current setup. Let the trade chatter, and the mention of McCoy's middle of the road dead money amount ($5,250,000) begin.
While Buffalo could not have been hinging their hopes on the continued above-average play of a soon-to-be 35-year-old guard, Tuesday’s developments had to have at least rattled the front office. In retrospect, it was interesting to see how insistent they were on forcing Incognito to take a pay cut in the first place given the remaining resources at hand. Of their potential starting five, the most optimistic general manager could see three “ascending” players. Is that enough to build around?
As an organization, the Bills have drafted just two offensive linemen—Miller and Dawkins—since 2015 (current general manager Brandon Beane drafted one in the second round of his first draft in ’17). But while this year’s draft offers a buffet of starting-caliber offensive linemen, the Buffalo plan felt set up to allow the Bills to grab their quarterback of the future. At least from the outside looking in, Buffalo is in relative striking distance of the five best prospective passers—Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield—and has some sensible connections in the top five (Giants general manager Dave Gettleman being one of them).
Teams often don’t see the same glaring needs we do on the outside, so to hysterically draw a line between the Bills and Kolton Miller, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson or Will Hernandez is probably irresponsible. But it also feels equally as scatterbrained to imagine safely developing a rookie, or Nathan Peterman, or A.J. McCarron behind the current line.
Good teams churn quickly, and maybe Buffalo will feast on the waiver wire during training camp and plug holes with a few experienced veterans that will inevitably lose summer battles with incoming rookies. The latest NFLPA cap estimate shows the team with $15,454,956 to spend, or enough to get their rookie class signed and still get creative on a few non-guaranteed contracts.
But the closer we get to the regular season, Buffalo seems like a paradox. They are either a power running team without a brand-name, bullish offensive line, a rebuilding team fostering a new or very inexperienced passer with Ducasse as their most decorated pass blocker, or a team with a plan that has yet to be revealed.