The Bills have a long to-do list this offseason to address some of their shortcomings and areas where their personnel depth could be compromised. First on the list of general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan is to take the steps necessary to keep the left side of their offensive line intact.
Both starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting left guard Richie Incognito are set to become unrestricted free agents in March, but Whaley has no intention of letting either player hit the open market.
"It's a major point of emphasis this offseason," said Whaley. "You'd love to have those big uglies up there for continuity sake. The longer you have them together the better they're going to be. Again (Senior VP of Football Administration) Jim Overdorf and (Team President) Russ Brandon have done wonders for having cap space and money available for us to get the most important people done."
Incognito, who reclaimed his status this season with the Bills as a top guard in the league after an 18-month absence, was told the same thing in exit interviews at One Bills Drive Monday.
"We just spoke and obviously Cordy and I are the top priority going into the offseason and we'll just wait to hear," said Incognito. "I'm excited to hit the offseason healthy having put my best foot forward. I played my absolute best so I handled my end of the bargain so now it's time for people I trust to make decisions to handle the business end of that."
A lot of factors will come into the proper pricing structure for Incognito, chief among them his performance as he was chosen as a Pro Bowl alternate in his first season back in the league. But he's also 32-years old, which will be part of the equation too. Another critical component of offensive coordinator Greg Roman's run game scheme, Incognito was a force when he had the opportunity to pull on edge run plays as Buffalo led the league in rushing.
"I love this offensive scheme. It keeps defenses guessing. We attack defenses at all angles," Incognito said. "We're getting long distances to run at people and pulling and stuff like that is something I like doing. So it's a lot of fun playing it."
Glenn meanwhile had a solid, if not spectacular season at left tackle for Buffalo. His performance earned him the team's Ed Block Courage award after overcoming kidney problems that compromised his play in 2014. Entering the prime of his career at age 26, Glenn figures to come at a steeper price than Incognito based on the position he plays, knowing he typically faces the opponent's best pass rusher on a weekly basis.
"I hope Richie and Cordy are back," said Eric Wood. "It's a business and I hope that they get paid a lot of money and I hope it's here because they earned it. They've done their job at a high level this year, and they're vital for our success."
"We're going to try our hardest and it is of high importance to us," said Whaley. "The longer you have those five guys together the better they're going to play and the better we're going to be as a team, especially offensively."
Questions on the right sideWhile the only hurdle to keeping the left side of the offensive line intact is contract negotiation, the right side of Buffalo's offensive line is a bit more in flux. Rookie John Miller solidified the guard position on the right side, but right tackle is a bit up in the air.
Starter Seantrel Henderson's midseason illness diagnosis kept him out of the lineup for the team's last five games and led to him being hospitalized according to head coach Rex Ryan while on the team's trip to Philadelphia.
GM Doug Whaley left open the possibility of Henderson not returning due to his undisclosed medical condition.
"We'll see what happens with Seantrel and his illness," said Whaley. "If he's not around that will open up the competition."
The competition at this point would include former 2014 draft choice Cyrus Kouandjio and waiver pickup Jordan Mills. Mills would appear to have the upper hand in winning the job after starting the last five games of the season. He also far more playing experience with 34 starts in his career.
The only catch is Mills is set to become an unrestricted free agent much like Incognito and Glenn. His price tag figures to be significantly cheaper than proven vets like Buffalo's left guard and left tackle, but whether they can all be brought back into the fold remains to be seen.
If Henderson does not return there's also a greater likelihood that the Bills explore adding a tackle in the draft.