For the past few seasons, the Buffalo Bills have been plagued by an inconsistent offensive line. The inconsistencies of the past are presently haunting the Bills—-especially on the right side of the line. The last few seasons have brought subpar, and at times mediocre, play on the right side at both guard and tackle. Although the Bills got away with possessing stellar play from their left tackle, left guard, and center, if the Bills want to solidify a position of weakness in order to make the playoffs, they have to assess the right side, specifically right tackle, and make important decisions on who will be holding down the position for the short and long-term.
I’ll assess the current situation at right tackle and look at the potential suitors on this roster and discuss if the Bills have to go search for a replacement via trade or free agency. Here we go!
Current Player Analysis
The last few seasons had Bills fans recalling names of Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jordan Mills, Kraig Urbik, and Erik Pears. Two draft picks, two washed-up veterans, and an unproven waiver pick up. Neither of those players have been consistent enough to bring stability at right tackle.
So how have the candidates in 2015 stack up?
The formerly touted high school recruit coming out of 2009, Seantrel Henderson drew NFL comparisons with a combination of Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace when he was just a high schooler. Some scouts went to lengths of proclaiming him the ‘most polished lineman of the past decade.’ However, Seantrel Henderson has failed to live up those lofty expectations ever since.
With injuries and off-field incidents aside, Seantrel Henderson was projected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft off his size, athleticism, and immense potential alone. However, he slipped all the way to the 7th round, and that’s where the Bills decided to take a chance on him.
Seantrel Henderson would proceed to start all 16 games for the Bills at right tackle in his rookie season. In the process, he had a quality performance against the Miami Dolphins in week two when he contained star pass rushers in the likes of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Unfortunately, those performances came few and far between for Seantrel. He has failed to string together solid performances ever since. As a result, Henderson’s play at right tackle has not delivered the consistent play the Bills were looking for in their 7th round investment.
In 2014, Pro Football Focus had Seantrel Henderson rated the second-worst offensive tackle. Henderson struggled in both facets of the game with a -10.2 grade in pass protection and -10.5 in run blocking. In addition, he surrendered six sacks, 12 quarterback hits, and 28 total pressures—-7th most pressures given up by a tackle in the NFL.
Although it doesn’t benefit a rookie when he’s already inserted to a shaky lineup that consisted of Erik Pears and Kraig Urbik. Overall, the offensive line struggled as a unit, so all of the blame can’t be placed on especially a rookie.
However, 2015 brought familiar play. Henderson only started 10 games, but still he couldn’t find his footing. Henderson would eventually allow two sacks, four quarterback hits, 13 hurries, and 19 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His struggles lead to him committing seven penalties, which was the second most on the team behind Jerry Hughes.
It was revealed later in the season that Henderson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, as he lost nearly 20 pounds and dealt with severe stomach pain. The diagnosis would have clearly contributed to Henderson’s poor play. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the 2015 season when Bills fans found out Cordy Glenn had a kidney removed, which attributed to his average 2014 campaign.
Could Seantrel Henderson have a similar type of bounce back that Cordy Glenn experienced? Only time will tell. However, the statistics shows evidently Seantrel has struggled mighty in his first two seasons as a pro. There’s still hope for the former top high school recruit, as he’s only 24 years old, and there’s still time for him to improve and maybe untapped his potential. But, if the Bills want to win now, they may look for a short-term upgrade to unseat, or at least compete with, Seantrel Henderson as the starting right tackle.
After the Bills addressed their need for a top wideout—trading up for Sammy Watkins—-the Bills decided to address their tackle need in the second round with the selection of Cyrus Kouandjio.
The expectation was that Cyrus Kouandjio would beat out fellow candidates Erik Pears and Seantrel Henderson for starting right tackle. That was not the case for Alabama product. He would eventually be overtaken by Seantrel Henderson for the right tackle gig, and has had trouble seeing the field ever since.
Cyrus Kouandjio has only started twice out of the 13 games he has played. In that time, his play hasn’t been impressive, either.
In week two against the New England Patriots, Kouandjio’s first snap of the season resulted in Rob Ninkovich easily sliding by him and sacking a scrambling Tyrod Taylor. In week six against the Cincinnati Bengals, Carlos Dunlap blew by him and sacked a hopeless EJ Manuel. One of Kouandjio’s weaknesses as a prospect was his pass protecting, and his flaw as a pass protector hasn’t gone away.
Where Seantrel Henderson has the size and athleticism of a premier tackle, Kouandjio is much slower on his feet with limited mobility. His lack of short area quickness and change-of-direction together with his body control has hurt him when he was tasked to go up against superior athletic edge rushers. Kouandjio’s strength is utilizing his 6’7″ 322 pound frame in the run game, mauling over opposing defenders and opening up holes in the run game. However, he’ll need to improve as a pass protector if he wants a chance to start at right tackle, let alone see more playing time.
Cyrus Kouandjio will have another shot at proving he can show that he belongs in the NFL. Right tackle will be an open competition once again come training camp, and the time is now for Cyrus Kouandjio to prove he is not a bust. In a run oriented offense, Cyrus Kouandjio will be able to utilize his mauling ability with his powerful frame to flash his dominance in the run game. Greg Roman’s offense fits Kouandjio’s style of play perfectly. With that being said, if Kouandjio doesn’t display any form of improvement in his third season, then it should be time to move on. The Bills could look for a potential replacement in someone who has is more consistent and brings a better all around game. This furthers the fact that the Bills should bring in yet another tackle to push for a starting role entering 2016.
Jordan Mills came to the Bills as a waiver pick up in week seven after bouncing around from the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and the Detroit Lions. He would end the season as the starting right tackle when Henderson was dealing with his illness, while Kouandjio was unable to move him from the lineup. Mills played well enough for the Bills to sign him to his RFA tender this offseason, which alludes to the strong possibility he could be the favorite to land the right tackle job in 2016.
Mills took over in week 13 against the Houston Texans when he, and the offensive line as a unit, contained J.J. Watt and a stifling Texans defense. The offensive line did a tremendous job opening up the running game, too, as the Bills rushed for 187 yards. Mills and the offensive line did a tremendous job in pass protection that game as well when they only allowed one sack and gave Tyrod plenty of time to throw down field to Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay.
Mills started in 34 out of his 39 career games. He’ll be entering his fourth season. Mills has an advantage over Henderson and Kouandjio in the experience department, which should assist him in being the favorite to start out at right tackle. Another advantage Mills has is his previous experience working with Bills offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, in his first two seasons with the Chicago Bears. So putting together Kromer’s familiarity with Mills, while factoring Mills solid play down the stretch last season, Mills arguably has an early advantage over his fellow teammates, Henderson and Kouandjio, before the start of training camp.
With that being said, should the Bills be content with a combination of Jordan Mills, Seantrel Henderson, and Cyrus Kouandjio heading into training camp? Neither of those three necessarily are a safe options to fall back on with the uncertainty around them. Will they provide stiff competition for each other? Most definitely. Jobs are on the line here. Will it hurt to add another tackle to the mix? Definitely not, as the Bills may look to add a veteran presence to push the younger tackles and possibly compete for a starting job.
So if the Bills are looking to add more bodies onto the roster, where should they look? With the trade market looking bare, the free agent route may be the best option. Who’s available? There’s three possible candidates the Bills could look into that can be signed on a short-term deal, yet provide an upgrade for the Bills at right tackle:
Potential Bills Free Agent Targets
A super bowl champion with 82 career games under his belt, Will Beatty is a solid veteran that would bring depth and experience to the offensive line.
At 6’6″ 307 lbs, Beatty is very athletic for his size. He ran a 5.12 40 yard dash at the 2009 NFL Combine, along with recording a 8’11” broad jump. Beatty also displayed his strength with 30 reps on the bench press. Will Beatty was a second round selection by the New York Giants (60th overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft.
During the 2012 NFL season, Pro Football Focus ranked Will Beatty as the second-ranked left tackle in the NFC. Pro Football Focus also ranked Beatty as the third best pass blocking left tackle in the NFC, and the second best in run blocking for left tackles in the NFC (5th in the NFL), making him one of the most balanced and productive left tackles in the NFL.
In Buffalo, Beatty would be the favorite to land the starting job at right tackle. It will be good news for Tyrod Taylor, as he will have a proven veteran blocking him on the right side, which will immediately upgrade the pass protection over the likes of Henderson, Kouandjio, and Mills. With his size and athleticism he is also an underrated run blocker, so he shouldn’t have no problem operating in a run first offense. Additionally, his experience and talent will be invaluable to the Bills. Even if he doesn’t start he’ll provide excellent depth at tackle if there’s an injury or suspension.
The Bills should have no problem fitting him under the cap, either. At 31 years old, Beatty’s best seasons are behind him. However, there’s reason to believe he has another good year or two left in the tank. A one, or possibly two, year deal around the same financial terms Richie Incognito agreed to in 2015—-most likely more money will be thrown at Beatty since he’s a tackle—-will be the ideal match for the Bills to acquire his services.
The former Denver Bronco is a two time AFC champion (2013 and 2015), pro bowler (2013), and like Will Beatty he is also a super bowl champion (Super Bowl 50).
At 6’6″ 335 lbs, Louis Vasquez is an absolute mauler in the run game. His mauling style of play will be a perfect match in Greg Roman’s ground-and-pound offense. Vasquez isn’t a pushover in the pass game either. In 2013, Vasquez did not allow a single sack, which played a major role in Peyton Manning’s record breaking season. Vasquez is solid all-around in both facets of the run and pass game. Vasquez also has experience at center, guard, and at right tackle which makes him a versatile option. Vazquez’s fit in this offense will automatically make him the player to beat out at right tackle.
At 29 years old and with 101 games started, Vasquez has a few good seasons left in the tank and may be a better option than Beatty in the long run if the Bills are seeking stability at right tackle. Vasquez is a tough player who will amplify the ‘bully mentality’ Rex Ryan has brought to Buffalo. Combing his toughness with his success he previously racked up, Vasquez experience will be beneficial for a young Bills team.
Like Beatty, Vasquez should be affordable given the Bills cap situation. The Bills may see more upside here with adding Vasquez over Beatty due to his flexibility to possibly sign a longer deal. There’s a decent chance that there is mutual interest between the two parties already, as Vasquez is a perfect match for the Bills both financially and from a playing standpoint. Snagging Louis Vasquez on the market now will be an absolute steal for the Bills.
Other options out there include former first overall pick in 2008, Jake Long, who has had trouble staying on the field due to his injury history. Another option is Jason Fox, who has been a journeyman in his career but he would still bring in another body to compete for right tackle. Both of them will be affordable, too, if that’s the direction the Bills exploit. Nevertheless, the Bills should definitely look into adding another tackle onto the roster.
Overall, with the available cap space opened up via Cordy Glenn extension, the Bills could explore the possibility of adding valuable depth and experience to an inconsistent right tackle group. Whether the Bills decide to roll with the current crop of players they have, it would be to the Bills advantage to utilize their available cap space in the short-term to address their right tackle problem. The Bills don’t need to swing for the fences on trading for an upgrade at tackle nor overpay for one. However, a stop-gate option—-a player that they can sign and provide average to above-average play—-would be the best case scenario for the next year or two until the Bills can find a long-term replacement in either the draft or free agency.