With an offensive line that largely underachieved through a long stretch of the 2008 season, the Buffalo Bills obviously felt that changes were in order. The first major change came on Thursday with the release of starting left guard Derrick Dockery a day before free agency.
Joining him was 2006 free agent signee Robert Royal. The veteran tight end had two years remaining on his contract with the Bills. Royal was thought to be both a blocking and pass catching option that had yet to blossom in his young career, but the production in Buffalo's offense never full materialized.
"These business decisions are never easy," said Bills COO Russ Brandon. "Especially when you are talking about two great individuals in both Derrick and Robert. We thank them for their hard work and dedication in their time as Buffalo Bills and wish them the best of luck in the future."
Dockery was signed to the largest contract for an offensive lineman in team history just two years ago, but the veteran guard apparently did not live up to the team's expectations or his lofty salary.
With his release it's believed that Dockery will walk away with less than half of the money in his seven-year deal. More than a third of the deal was guaranteed.
With the money saved on the two veteran contract, it's unclear exactly where the team will initially re-invest in their roster. Buffalo does have other positional needs to address, but the interior of the offensive line seems most pressing with just Brad Butler as the only returning interior linemen currently under contract.
Filling the now vacant left guard position can obviously be done either through free agency or the draft. Pittsburgh free agent Chris Kemoeatu is widely considered the best free agent guard option in the league and is expected to test the market. The Jets are also reportedly poised to release guard Brandon Moore.
There is a chance however, that the Bills do not jump right back into free agency to fill the spot with the acquisition of Dockery failing to pan out.
Another consideration could be Bills veteran free agent lineman Kirk Chambers, who has served primarily as a swing tackle for the team the past two seasons. Chambers is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Using a draft pick on an interior lineman seems to be almost a certainty with Melvin Fowler, Duke Preston and Jason Whittle all set to hit the free agent market. Now the center/guard positional need is greater than ever with Dockery no longer on the roster.
As for tight end, it too is now a more glaring positional need with only Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Jonathan Stupar currently on the roster. A veteran would be welcome, but the free agent pool at the position is thin, especially after Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife was franchised by the Titans last week.