As I enjoyed the Bills’ bye week and watched the thrilling end of the Cowboys – Steelers “America’s Team (That Everyone Hates)” Bowl, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy at the Cowboys’ ridiculous offensive line. Why can’t the Bills have something like that?
A great offensive line is a treasure, something that can improve your football team in so many ways. On passing downs, your quarterback will have a nice, clean pocket from which to survey the field. Rare is the quarterback that doesn’t improve with less pressure, and I’m certain Dak Prescott would not look this good if he had less time to throw the ball and was facing more pressure situations. And, of course, on run plays, you can open up monster holes to spring even the most average of running backs. The Cowboys got Darren McFadden over 1,000 yards rushing last year, even with a carousel of garbage quarterbacks behind center. This year, they decided to get Ezekiel Elliot as their running back, pushing their offensive attack into the stratosphere. Just watch Elliot’s winning touchdown from Sunday – the line dominates and Elliot, untouched, scampers into the endzone. Obviously, the Bills having a similarly elite offensive line would do wonders for Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy.
The Cowboys drafted an offensive lineman in the first round three times in the past six years – 2011, 2013, and 2014 – and ponied up for La’El Collins, a first round talent in the 2015 draft, after went undrafted due to a police investigation. (Collins’ story is a bit complicated; his agents said he would hold out if taken after the third round, so the Cowboys didn’t just pick up a guy who no one else would touch.) So, essentially, they’ve gotten four first round offensive linemen in the last six years. Even with Collins out this season, the three other first round picks make up the backbone of the fearsome offensive line; the other two guys are a fourth round pick and an undrafted free agent who slipped due to a knee condition (he was a third round talent, though). The Cowboys have been committed to amassing offensive line talent, by a combination of first round picks and by spending a decent amount of later round picks and undrafted free agent slots on linemen.
In contrast, the Bills haven’t picked an offensive lineman in the first round since 2009, when they took Eric Wood, who has become a solid if somewhat overrated center. They’ve still managed to build a pretty good offensive line, though! Cordy Glenn was a solid pick in the second round, Richie Incognito was a smart free agent pickup (well, smart in a purely football based sense…), and John Miller has markedly improved in his second season. Still, there’s a large gap between what the Bills have and what the Cowboys have. The right tackle situation is dire. Optimists can hope that Cyrus Kouandjio or Seantrel Henderson will step up, but they haven’t yet, for various reasons. The Bills’ line is amazing at run blocking, but often struggles in pass protection. Basically, it’s alright now, but it could be so much better.
You can see the beginnings of a Cowboys-like offensive line on the Bills, and that’s why the Cowboys model is an appealing model to follow. The Bills have an elite back in LeSean McCoy and a developing dual threat quarterback – why not get them a line? It doesn’t have to be a one-to-one copy of the Dallas model – they don’t necessarily have to take an offensive lineman with their first round pick for the next two years, for instance, B=but the point is to heavily invest in the line, whether by free agency, the draft, or scooping up talented undrafted free agents.
The Bills, however they finish this season, have some clearly defined needs coming into next year: another safety, offensive line help, and wide receiver help. Maybe you don’t take a stud tackle in the first round if a premium safety is there for you (JABRILL PEPPERS, PLEASE, or, to a lesser extent, Jamal Adams), but there’s a lot to be said for going the offensive line route. And if not in the first round, go for it in the second round. Or make some moves on it in free agency. The Bills can see the effects it will have every time they watch a Cowboys game, and they’ll likely be watching those games come playoff time. If the NFL is truly a copycat league, the Bills have the pieces in place to build a Cowboys-like team. All that’s left is to do it.