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Top Options for Bills now That Ryan Bates has Signed Bears' Offer Sheet

They may not be able to match the contract he signed as a restricted free agent.
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For the Bills and their millions of associate Mafia members, now is no time to panic.

Yes, there is a strong possibility the team will be losing an ascending starter it developed for three years to the Chicago Bears. No, the potential departure of versatile offensive lineman Ryan Bates is not the end of the world.

Here's where they stand and what their top options are in the wake of the restricted free agent signing an offer sheet from the Bears, according to multiple reports, after being courted by a number of teams, including the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings:

■ Match the offer

This certainly will take some more creativity by general manager Brandon Beane, who was forced to clear major salary cap space for their pursuit at the start of the new league year of free agents Rodger Saffold and Von Miller, among others.

Though backloaded, the Miller contract still makes it difficult for them to absorb a big cap hit this season from anyone else. That's really the only complication.

The Bears are believed to have structured the offer with a huge cap hit for 2022 to make it more difficult for the Bills to match, meaning the only way they can pull it off is to make more moves to lower this year's cap hit.

The top option, if they go that route, is to reduce the the cap hit of $17.9 million they stand to absorb this season from the contract of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. They can do that with an extension or a restructure.

Same for cornerback Tre'Davious White, who will count $16.4 million against the cap.

Adjusting their contracts might make good sense regardless of their plan with Bates, considering they will account for more than $34 million of the cap this season without any further action, according to Over The Cap.

■ Seek another free agent

Two of the players who started games for them at guard last season may be the first place to start.

One of the major cost-cutting moves Beane made at the start of free agency was to release right guard Daryl Williams. This wasn't really performance-based. Williams had been signed to play tackle, which in the NFL almost always means more money compared to a guard's salary. Williams, though, was moved inside to guard after just three games in 2021, with rookie Spencer Brown taking over at right tackle.

Williams continuing on at the three-year, $24 million extension he signed right before the start of last season was too much to pay for a guard, the team determined. So he was released to clear $6.3 million in cap space.

He's still a free agent, and might accept a lesser contract to come back and compete for a Super Bowl.

Also still out there is Ike Boettger, whose contract expired at the end of the 2021 season without a new agreement with the Bills. He thus became an unrestricted free agent.

Boettger started 17 games for them over the previous two seasons, including 10 last year, before landing on the injured reserve list with a ruptured Achilles tendon in December, after which the Bills went with Bates and Williams as their starting guards the rest of the way.

Other options with extensive starting experience include Trey Hopkins, Ereck Flowers and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

An extreme longshot is former Bill Richie Incognito, who will turn 39 this summer. Although his career is likely over, it's important to note that he made the Pro Bowl in both of his previous seasons with the Bills under offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who departed after the 2016 season but is back for a second stint after Bobby Johnson left for the New York Giants.

■ Wait until the NFL Draft

Tackles Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown, center Mitch Morse and Saffold at left guard make the Bills formidable at every position except the right guard spot vacated by Williams.

A competent rookie could be installed at one of the guard spots without much risk of adversely affecting the operation of the unit, which has to act like one for the offense to experience true success.

Plugging two rookies in might be pushing it. But one is not generally a problem, especially because of the talent at all the other positions and the addition of one of the league's top offensive line coaches in Kromer.

If Bates does leave, there won't be hard feelings.

"That's really the way the game works," Beane said last week. "He's earned that right, just like unrestricted free agents have earned the right to go to free agency. He's earned this right to do this, and so we'll just see how it goes.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to