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The Buffalo Bills enter the 2021 offseason after completing their most successful season in 25 years. While this good performance has folks brimming over with confidence, it does mean that some players who have played out their contract will look for a payday and possibly greener pastures. On the flip side, maybe the Bills could upgrade?
In this edition of the free agency review, Bills Wire takes a look at offensive lineman Ike Boettger:
Bills offensive guard Ike Boettger. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
After starting the year on the bench, Boettger's patience finally paid off. Injuries to the guard position via Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford, plus some poor play from Brian Winters happened. Boettger's number was finally called. Appearing 12 total games and making seven starts, Boettger was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Overall, Pro Football Focus graded Boettger a 65.3 mark. While the eye test didn't always follow suit here, his run-blocking grade actually carried him. That number via PFF clocked in at 68.0 while his pass protection was down to 59.3. The 26-year-old did also play enough in 2020 to qualify for PFF's rankings and he clocked in as their 36th best guard out of 80.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott congratulates offensive guard Ike Boettger. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Considering Boettger started in nearly half of the games the Bills played, plus being called up in a pinch during injury situations, it comes as no surprise that Boettger appeared in 54 percent of snaps on Buffalo's offense in 2020. In addition, he also started and played in every single postseason snap as well.
Bills guard Ike Boettger. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
With no concrete stats to base play off of for offensive linemen, PFF is what we have to lean on. The football analytics outlet is objective, however, an essential rookie in Boettger ranking as their No. 36 guard? That's something you'll take every day of the week. The Bills actually signed Boettger as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and let him go. The Chiefs picked him up and then Buffalo brought him back pretty quickly when he was cut again via a wavier claim. For most of those two seasons he was on the bench or in the press box, but one has to be impressed with how a former UDFA preformed after being pressed into the lineup. Boettger never made one believe he's a perfect prospect, but he held his own and certainly looked better than Winters, who played for nearly a decade in the NFL. Boettger's worst performance likely came against the Steelers' Cameron Heyward, but that's a former All-Pro. Hopefully Boettger learned a thing or two there and can take that into the offseason with him. While PFF does point out his run blocking was better than his pass protection, Boettger, like the rest of Buffalo's O-line, has to improve in the rushing attack in 2021. It was hard to watch this past season.
Bills offensive guard Cody Ford (70), offensive guard Ike Boettger (65), and center Mitch Morse. Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Now for our twist which we neglected to mention until now: Boettger isn't an unrestricted free agent. He's a restricted one. Because of that, the Bills can tender him to a one-year contract and other teams can attempt to sign him. Buffalo will then get a chance to match that offer and keep him. Depending on the type of RFA designation the Bills slap on him, they could sign him for $2.1M and get the right of first refusal to match his contract... Or they chose to place a second-round tender on him for $3.4M and the team could receive a second-round pick in return if he signs with another team. If the Bills want to hand the starting job to Boettger in 2021? The first number really is not too bad. But there's a chance they can let him walk... and then re-sign him to another contract. Once an RFA hits the market, they become a UFA and Buffalo could sign him for less. They did a similar thing with wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie last year. While Boettger did make seven starts last season... that's not a lot on the grand scheme of things and he should have to fight to retain his job in training camp. But there are a lot of moving parts here on the interior of Buffalo's offensive line. Mitch Morse could be a cap casualty, Feliciano might walk in free agency (even if he said he believes he'd be back, Feliciano doesn't control the salary cap) and does Ford even play guard in 2021? Or does he kick back to tackle? Boettger himself will likely be back as an RFA in one way, shape, or form, but there's just so much dust that needs to be settled before we can see the picture clearer.