Ryan Bates

Bills Announce Winners Of Position Battles

The Bills have been monitoring a number of position battles this preseason and, with tomorrow night’s season-opener approaching, it’s about time we learned who the winners are. Head coach Sean McDermott spoke with the media and let them know just who’s going to be starting against the Jets on Monday Night Football.

The only job that went as was predicted was right guard, where, according to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, rookie second-round pick O’Cyrus Torrence has earned the starting nod over incumbent starter Ryan Bates. Bates got his first action as a full-time starter last season, playing in 15 games, and while he’s performed admirably for Buffalo over the years, Bates has never been considered a top option at the position. Now, the rookie out of Florida will get a chance to line up between center Mitch Morse and right tackle Spencer Brown, while Bates will serve as a primary backup at all three interior offensive line spots.

In a huge shock on defense, last year’s sixth-round draft pick Christian Benford has won the starting outside cornerback position opposite veteran Tre’Davious White, per ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg. Benford did start five games last year for the Bills as a rookie, but the 22-year-old was certainly not a favorite to win the starting job this season.

Buffalo really hoped to see last year’s first-round pick Kaiir Elam take control of the position in 2023. Elam started six games in 13 appearances as a rookie but failed to stake his claim as a permanent starter heading into his sophomore season. Benford also had to beat out incumbent starter Dane Jackson, who started 14 games at the position last year. Everything pointed to one of Jackson or Elam starting with White this season, but Benford beat the odds and will line up with the first-team defense tomorrow.

Finally, on the defensive side of the ball, Terrel Bernard has joined Benford as a surprise winner of a starting gig, earning the honors of starting at middle linebacker next to veteran Matt Milano, according to Skurski. Another draft pick from the 2022 Draft, Bernard beat out presumed favorite Tyrel Dodson for the starting job left vacant by the exit of Tremaine Edmunds in free agency.

Dodson has started five games over his first three seasons in the league but has really only come in on rare occasions on defense or for special teams. Despite not winning the starting job, Dodson should still get plenty of run as he and Tyler Matakevich are the only healthy backup linebackers on the roster. Bernard, though, will be the one to take the field with the first-team defense alongside Milano and third-round rookie Dorian Williams.

There you have it. A couple of surprises join with an expected result to put three young players in the starting lineup for tomorrow night’s game. Torrence will get a chance to start in his NFL debut, while Benford and Bernard will take the step up into starting roles to begin their sophomore seasons.

Restructured Contracts: Garoppolo, Bills, Wilson, Reed

Jimmy Garoppolo continues to help the Raiders carve out cap space. After reworking his deal earlier this offseason, the quarterback has once again restructured his deal, per ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter).

The move will create $17MM in cap space for the organization, making them cap compliant. As Vince Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal notes, the team previously converted an $11.25MM signing bonus into base salary, increasing Garoppolo‘s salary from $11.25MM to $22.5MM in the process. Bonsignore assumes the front office did some work today to reduce that newfound 2023 number.

Shortly after Garoppolo signed a three-year, $72.75MM deal, he underwent surgery to repair the fractured foot he sustained in early December. The Raiders’ first restructuring helped protect the organization in case the QB’s foot injury lingers into the regular season.

More financial notes from around the NFL…

  • The Bills opened a chunk of cap space today. The team opened $4.5MM in cap space by restructuring the contracts of guard Ryan Bates and cornerback Taron Johnson, per Yates. Bates turned into a full-time starter for the Bills in 2022, while Johnson has started 41 games for Buffalo over the past three seasons.
  • Cedrick Wilson Jr. reworked his contract with the Dolphins prior to cutdown day, per Jonathan Jones of NFL on CBS. The veteran wideout lowered his base salary to $2MM while receiving a $3MM signing bonus, equaling his $5MM in guarantees from last season. With incentives, Wilson can earn up to $7.25MM on his reworked contract.
  • The Vikings recently reworked the contract of guard Chris Reed, according to ESPN’s Ben Goessling. The offensive lineman’s base salary is now fully guaranteed at $1.165MM, an increase from the $1.4MM ($600K guaranteed) pact he was previously attached to. This was the second time this offseason that Reed agreed to a reworked contract.
  • Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills restructured his deal recently, converting $2.28MM of his base salary into a signing bonus, per Yates. The new deal also has three new void years, opening around $1.8MM in cap space.
  • The Cowboys restructured Neville Gallimore‘s contract, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. The defensive tackle’s salary was reduced from $2.7MM to $1.5MM, and he can now earn $750K via incentives.

Latest On Bills’ Offensive Line

Dion Dawkins, Spencer Brown and Mitch Morse are locked into Week 1 starting roles for the Bills, but uncertainty clouds the guard spots. And recent developments have Buffalo’s swing tackle role in flux.

If healthy, Connor McGovern is in place as the Bills’ starting left guard. The Bills gave the former Cowboys starter a three-year, $22.35MM deal early in free agency. The fifth-year blocker, however, suffered a knee injury this week. No return timetable has emerged for the team’s top guard investment, ESPN.com’s Alaina Getzenberg notes. Considering the team has already held a long-running right guard battle, McGovern’s availability adds to the confusion here. For what it’s worth, McGovern does not believe this is a serious injury, per the Buffalo News’ Ryan O’Halloran.

Ryan Bates and second-round rookie O’Cyrus Torrence have competed for the RG role. Although the Bills matched a Bears RFA offer sheet (four years, $17MM) for Bates last year, Torrence may be close to overtaking him for the starting gig. The Bills have given Torrence two preseason starts and used him throughout Josh Allen‘s cameo in the second exhibition game. This usage points to a starting assignment coming soon, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia writes (subscription required).

Pro Football Focus graded Bates as a mid-pack guard last season, ranking him 41st at the position. The team chose Torrence 59th overall — the earliest O-line investment for the Bills since the Cody Ford pick (39th) in 2019 — and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. graded the Florida product as the draft’s best pure guard prospect. Torrence made 34 straight starts to close his college career, and Buscaglia adds the Bills have been pleased with his development.

McGovern being unavailable for Week 1 would open the door to Bates (19 career starts) keeping a starting role, though the team also has UFA addition David Edwards as an option. A three-year Rams starter, Edwards signed a low-end Bills deal (one year, $1.77MM) this offseason. A concussion limited Edwards to four starts last season, but the former Super Bowl starter has made 45 first-string appearances. Edwards’ arrival also complicates matters for longtime Bills blocker Ike Boettger, who worked with the third-team O-line during the first two preseason tilts. Boettger (17 career starts) sticking around for a sixth Bills season may hinge on his performance against the Bears tonight, Buscaglia adds.

The Bills have run into hurdles to fill the swing post behind Dawkins and Brown. Brandon Shell retired midway through training camp, and Tommy Doyle suffered a season-ending injury. David Quessenberry, a former Titans starter who filled this role last year, has not impressed this summer, and Buscaglia notes rookie UDFA Ryan Van Demark is battling the veteran for the job. Quessenberry, who turned 33 this week, has 26 career starts.

It would be interesting to see if the Bills will look outside to address this swing issue. Jason Peters, who began his career with the team, said recently he is looking to play a 19th season. Peters, 41, may be a name to watch, per Buscaglia. Peters caught on late with the Cowboys last year, signing on Sept. 5, and played both tackle and guard as the team dealt with injuries.

Bills Have “Open Competition” For QB2 Role

The Bills have an open competition for the backup quarterback job behind Josh Allen, as head coach Sean McDermott confirmed after the team’s first preseason contest yesterday (Twitter link via ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg). Matt Barkley, who remained with Buffalo via a reserve/futures deal he signed in January, will battle free agent signee Kyle Allen for the QB2 gig.

Kyle Allen, 27, spent the 2022 season with the Texans and has also seen action with the Panthers and Commanders. Last year, he started two games in relief of the struggling Davis Mills and did not perform particularly well, completing 59% of his passes for two TDs against four interceptions (Houston lost both contests). In his pro career, Kyle Allen has a 7-12 record as a starter to go along with an 82.2 quarterback rating.

Barkley, who will turn 33 next month, has just seven career starts to his name, the last of which came in 2018. He spent the 2018-20 seasons with the Bills and saw some action as a fill-in for Josh Allen during that time, and after stints on the Titans’ and Panthers’ taxi squads in 2021, he rejoined Buffalo last March. However, Case Keenum operated as Josh Allen’s backup in 2022, and Barkley spent the year on the Bills’ p-squad.

Kyle Allen got the starting nod in yesterday’s 23-19 victory over the Colts and largely struggled, completing eight of 15 passes for 122 yards and an interception. Statistically, Barkley had the superior outing, as he completed 14 of 15 attempts for 172 yards and two TDs, though it should be noted that his efforts came against Indianapolis’ third-stringers. While acknowledging that Barkley may have gained a slight advantage over Kyle Allen, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic notes that Barkley did not have much zip on his throws and would not have been as successful against better defenders (subscription required).

Interestingly, Buscaglia believes the player who will ultimately serve as Josh Allen’s clipboard holder may not be on the roster yet. After Kyle Allen’s unimpressive camp and underwhelming preseason performance, and given the lack of speed on Barkley’s passes, GM Brandon Beane may seek a more compelling option to hold the fort in the event of a Josh Allen injury in 2023. Buscaglia names the 49ers’ Sam Darnold as a possible trade target.

There are, of course, other position battles worth monitoring in western New York. Per Buscaglia, Tyrel Dodson appears to be the favorite to win the starting inside linebacker job next to Matt Milano in the wake of Tremaine Edmunds‘ free agent defection to Chicago. Dodson’s primary competition, Terrel Bernard, suffered a hamstring injury in practice last week and did not play against the Colts. And, although second-year pro Baylon Spector got first-team reps in one practice at the end of July, he has not seen another opporunity with the top unit since then. He worked exclusively with the third-string defense in the preseason opener.

Meanwhile, rookie right guard O’Cyrus Torrence played the entire first half against Indianapolis, though Buscaglia suspects incumbent Ryan Bates will get his chance with the first team when the Bills take on the Steelers in their second preseason contest. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey recently dubbed the competition between Torrence and Bates “really close” (h/t NFL.com), and it appears the battle remains too close to call.

Latest On Bills’ Offensive Line Plans

Competition should take place along the Bills’ offensive front in training camp, but the three-time reigning AFC East champions might not be planning many changes to this unit.

Free agent guards Connor McGovern and David Edwards committed to Buffalo, and O’Cyrus Torrence arrived in Western New York as the No. 59 overall pick. Going into training camp, McGovern is the only outside hire who projects as a surefire starter, per the Buffalo News’ Ryan O’Halloran, who notes four of the five Bills starting blockers from last year should be considered likely to reprise their roles.

The Bills have not re-signed Rodger Saffold, who stopped through in his 13th season. The former Rams and Titans guard remains a free agent. A part-time Cowboys starter until taking over as a regular last year, McGovern signed a three-year, $22.35MM deal early in free agency. He is on track to replace Saffold at left guard. Despite being a three-plus-year Rams starter who lined up at left guard throughout the team’s Super Bowl LVI-winning season, Edwards only scored a one-year, $1.77MM commitment in late March. Edwards may represent a dark-horse starter candidate, but at worst, the fifth-year veteran — who is coming off a season marred by a concussion — should bring better depth for the Bills.

It would seem Torrence has the best case for upward mobility. The Florida alum closed his college career with 34 straight starts at right guard, helping the likes of Kyle Pitts and Anthony Richardson become top-five picks. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. graded Torrence as this class’ top pure guard, slotting him as the No. 42 overall prospect. Torrence’s presence figures to turn up the heat on incumbent right guard Ryan Bates, who worked as a full-season starter for the first time in 2022. Pro Football Focus graded Bates as a mid-pack guard, ranking him 41st at the position. The Bills matched a Bears RFA offer sheet for Bates last year; that four-year, $17MM contract runs through 2025.

On the whole, PFF slotted the Bills as last season’s 23rd-ranked O-line. The Bengals established firm trench control on both sides in the teams’ one-sided playoff matchup, leading to an offseason emphasis for the Bills, who signed inside runners Damien Harris and Latavius Murray. That said, the team did not proceed aggressively at tackle. Spencer Brown is ticketed to stick at right tackle opposite mainstay Dion Dawkins, and the Bills hope the former third-round pick’s return to full strength will make a difference after a down sophomore slate.

Brown underwent back surgery last year, leading to his missing the team’s offseason program and several training camp workouts. As Brown eased into the season, he suffered an ankle injury in Week 6. PFF ended up grading the Northern Iowa alum as a bottom-10 tackle last year. While the ankle issue caused Brown to miss two games, he said he did not feel recovered from the back ailment until near the end of the season.

I never really got comfortable with anything, then back surgery was – I mean, I’ve had some surgeries, but that was top of the list, by far the worst one,” Brown said, via O’Halloran. “… I had maybe eight practices in training camp. The first time I actually hit the ground was in L.A., the third play of the game. … I’d be pulling some plays and I’d be like, ‘Please just hold up on me.'”

The Bills did not draft a tackle, though the team does have insurance options in the recently re-signed David Quessenberry and post-draft addition Brandon Shell. The latter spent last season as the Dolphins’ primary right tackle, filling in for Austin Jackson, and has 72 career starts during his time in with the Jets, Seahawks and Dolphins. The Bills will bet on Brown faring better in his third season, but veteran backups are in place across the line.

Injury Notes: Dolphins, Bills, Hankins, Allen

As we head into what could very well be the season’s first true snow game, the Dolphins and Bills will be preparing to play without a few key players. Miami will be playing without safety Eric Rowe, while Buffalo will head into the matchup without offensive guard Ryan Bates.

Rowe hasn’t been the prominent defensive player he was during his first two seasons in Miami but was forced back into a starting role when safety Brandon Jones was placed on injured reserve. A hamstring injury will hold Rowe out of tonight’s game, pushing the Dolphins to their third-string safety.

With Elijah Campbell also out tonight with a concussion, Miami has only two options to turn to at safety. The team will either have to start undrafted rookie Verone McKinley, who started a game earlier on this year, or veteran Clayton Fejedelem, who hasn’t started a game since 2018 when he was with the Bengals, alongside regular starter Jevon Holland. McKinley did overlap with Holland at Oregon with the two playing a year together in the Ducks’ secondary. The team also has the option of pushing a cornerback like veteran Justin Bethel into the safety role if needed.

The Bills will be without Bates to start a game for the first time this season. Bates suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win over the Jets that knocked him out of the game. Buffalo used two players to fill in for Bates in Greg Van Roten and Bobby Hart. Seeing how Van Roten got the majority of the snaps last week, he’s likely to be tapped to start this week in place of Bates.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the league, these both from the NFC:

  • Cowboys veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins suffered a sprained pectoral muscle early in last week’s win over the Texans, according to Jon Machota of The Athletic. The injury appears to be significant as owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones told the media that, while Hankins may make a return for the playoffs, “he won’t be back before then.” The foreseen absence has led the team to place Hankins on IR. Any starts or playing time for Hankins will likely be taken by a combination of Neville Gallimore, Quinton Bohanna, and Carlos Watkins for the remainder of the regular season.
  • The Cardinals also lost a defensive lineman to a significant injury last week when defensive end Zach Allen injured his hand in the third quarter of Monday’s loss to the Patriots, according to Charean Williams of NBC Sports. Allen underwent surgery on his hand that will keep him out this week against the Broncos. When asked about Allen’s prospects to return this season, head coach Kliff Kinsgbury responded with uncertainty. Allen is headed to free agency at the end of this season and, after a strong showing last year with four sacks, five tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits, Allen improved greatly in his contract year tallying 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 19 quarterback hits. Arizona doesn’t have much depth on the defensive line, so Jonathan Ledbetter will likely earn the start opposite J.J. Watt this week while the Cardinals may need to elevate some reinforcements from the practice squad.

OL Rumors: Fins, Meinerz, Bates, Steelers

Addressing needs at left tackle and left guard, the Dolphins are turning their attention to center. GM Chris Grier plans to bring in competition for incumbent Michael Deiter, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. The Dolphins are looking to keep costs down here, Jackson adds, noting they are not currently on the radar for J.C. Tretter or Matt Paradis. Both have been center starters for the past several years but would qualify as replacements for Deiter rather than competition. Given Tretter’s performance in Cleveland, the NFLPA president looms as one of the top free agents available. Miami’s to-be-determined center will join Terron Armstead, Connor Williams, Robert Hunt and either Austin Jackson or Liam Eichenberg on the team’s reconfigured O-line.

Here is the latest from the offensive line ranks:

  • Although the Patriots hosted Bills restricted free agent Ryan Bates, it does not appear they were competing with the Bears for his services. Unlike the Bears, the Pats did not extend Bates an offer sheet and, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, the team was not overly interested. The Bills ended up matching the offer sheet to retain Bates. The Pats lost both 2021 guard starters — Ted Karras and Shaq Mason — this offseason. While swingman Michael Onwenu stands to take over at one of the positions, it is uncertain who will join he and longtime center David Andrews as the third interior man.
  • Quinn Meinerz did not open last season as a Broncos starter, but the Division III product looks set to do so in 2022. Nathaniel Hackett envisions Meinerz as the team’s starting right guard, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes. “The sky is the limit” for Meinerz, said Hackett, who plans to keep Graham Glasgow‘s midseason replacement in the lineup. That leaves Glasgow’s role uncertain. The 2020 UFA addition has been the Broncos’ starting right guard when healthy over the past two seasons, but he played center for 16 games with the 2018 Lions. Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry has not missed a snap during his initial two NFL seasons, but Pro Football Focus graded the former third-rounder as the team’s worst O-line starter last season.
  • The Steelers signed James Daniels and Mason Cole in free agency. Cole has primarily played center, while Daniels has played the position as a pro as well. Daniels has spent most of his NFL days at guard, and it is possible 2021 Steelers center Kendrick Green becomes the team’s other guard starter. Mike Tomlin is open to moving Green to guard, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes (subscription required). A third-round pick last year, Green started 15 games as a rookie. PFF graded him as one of the league’s worst centers. A move to guard, where he spent most of his time at Illinois, could potentially open the door to improvement and threaten Kevin Dotson‘s starting role. Dotson, a 2020 fourth-rounder, opened the season as Pittsburgh’s left guard starter but missed eight games due to injury.
  • Zach Banner‘s Steelers exit stemmed from his 2020 ACL tear remaining a deterrent, Kaboly adds. Banner opened the 2020 season as the Steelers’ starting right tackle but suffered the tear in Week 1. The 6-foot-8 blocker played seven games last season, but Kaboly adds his knee never returned to form.

Bills To Match Ryan Bates Offer Sheet

After seeing restricted free agent Ryan Bates sign an offer sheet with the Bears, the Bills faced the decision of matching it or watching him leave for no compensation. Today, they have decided on the former course of action, reports NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that the contract is worth $17MM over four years (Twitter link). He adds that the first two years (valued at just under $9MM) are guaranteed. 

[RELATED: Bates Signing Bears’ Offer Sheet]

Bates took over as the Bills’ starting left guard in Week 15 of this season, and held that role through to the end of the year and the playoffs. It was the most significant playing time of his three years in the NFL. Despite the limited workload he’s handled to date, his play down the stretch generated plenty of interest. The Bills tendered him at a rate of just over $2.4MM, leaving the door open to an offer sheet coming into play.

Bates visited with the Vikings, Patriots and Bears before ultimately signing an offer sheet with the latter. Chicago was looking to add to the interior of their line, having lost guard James Daniels to the Steelers earlier this offseason. Now, they will continue to search for a replacement in the second and third waves of the free agent market.

The Bills, meanwhile, are indeed able to retain one of their breakout players from last year. Some felt they should have tendered Bates at the second-round level to assure themselves of draft compensation, but now they have him under contract for the medium-term future.

Ryan Bates Signing Offer Sheet From Bears

After his impressive performance with the Bills down the stretch this past season, guard Ryan Bates was thought to be one of the most sought-after restricted free agents. It’s not surprising, then, that Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune reports (on Twitter) that he “intends to sign an offer sheet” from the Bears. 

Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson tweets that Bates is indeed signing with Chicago. As a result, the Bills now have five days to decide whether or not they will match the Bears’ offer. Bates, 25 was given an original-round tender of $2.433MM by Buffalo. Because he was a UDFA, however, the Bills would not receive any draft pick compensation should they decline to match (as opposed to, for instance, the second-round pick they would be in line for had they tendered him at just under $4MM).

Bates took over the starting left guard spot in Week 15 of the 2021 campaign, and held on to it for the remainder of the season. While his time as a starter was limited to that stretch, his play generated plenty of interest. It was reported last week that Chicago was among three teams – the others being the Vikings and Patriots – who met with the Penn State alum. It became clear early on in that process that an offer sheet was a distinct possibility.

Now, the Bills face a decision which wouldn’t have seemed likely after Bates’ first two (start-less) seasons in the NFL. Much of their next move will, of course, depend on the specifics of Chicago’s offer. In any event, this will remain a key storyline for both teams for the next few days.

Bills RFA Ryan Bates Visited Vikings; To Meet With Patriots, Bears

It appears one of the top candidates for an offer sheet this offseason is Bills guard Ryan Bates. The restricted free agent has visited with the Vikings, reports Chris Tomasson of The St. Paul Pioneer Press (on Twitter). 

Bates, 25, was given an original-round tender by the Bills earlier this week, valued at $2.433MM. As a former UDFA, the Bills would be able to match any potential offers he receives. That could become very relevant, as Tommasson notes that the Vikings “have interest in extending an offer sheet”, after their meeting with Bates reportedly went well.

He adds that Bates has visits scheduled for next week with the Patriots and Bears. The Penn State product was a backup during the first two of his three seasons in the league, as well as much of the 2021 campaign. However, he stepped in as the starting left guard in Week 15, and never looked back.

In his 294 snaps played this year, PFF credits Bates with no sacks allowed and only one penalty committed. His ability to help fortify the Bills’ offensive front has generated not only a desire for Buffalo to hang on to him, but also plenty of outside interest, clearly.

After his visits with New England and Chicago – and any others which take place – there should be more clarity on what other teams are willing to offer him, and how far the Bills are willing to go to match.