AFC North: Eric Wood
Weeks after the sudden departure of Doug Marrone and couldn't-miss-it introduction of Rex Ryan, it seemed as though the Buffalo Bills had reached a lull in their offseason.
Enter Richie Incognito.
Just as quickly as Bills fans could say "circle the wagons," the Bills are back in the national headlines and on the verge of signing the free-agent guard, a source told ESPN.
This is a move that would help the Bills on the field, but it would add a layer of risk in their locker room.
From a football standpoint, it makes sense for the Bills. They're in desperate need of help at guard, and Incognito is a low-cost option to add to the mix. Expect his deal to be short-term and at a fairly low price.
If he can shake off a season and a half away from football and regain his form from 2012, when he made the Pro Bowl, he could plug one gap along an offensive line that was a leaky mess last season.
It also would mean that Kraig Urbik, who started the final nine games at left guard last season, could be squeezed out of a starting job and potentially off the team if the Bills deem his $3.675 million cap number too high. By releasing Urbik this spring, they would save $2.275 million off their 2015 cap, or nearly $3 million if the move happened after June 1.
Incognito would also add a layer of insurance for Chris Williams. The former first-round pick, teetering on going bust, signed a surprisingly rich four-year, $13.5 million deal with the Bills last season, only to miss part of the preseason and 13 regular-season games with a lower-back injury. Williams told me in December that he'll be ready to go for next season, but little is ever guaranteed with back injuries in football.
Signing Incognito also means that Cyril Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio, two of the Bills' offensive-line selections in the 2014 draft, can continue to develop without having to be thrust into starting roles.
But signing Incognito would come with a lot more than just his on-field production. He was named among the NFL's dirtiest players in a poll of players conducted by Sporting News, and that was before a 2013 bullying scandal that altered the careers of Incognito and fellow Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin.
Suspended eight games by the NFL in the midst of the controversy, Incognito's behavior spawned a 144-page report following an NFL investigation. Among the findings was a 2013 voicemail in which Incognito referred to Martin by a racial slur and added, "I'll kill you."
How would Incognito be received in the Bills' locker room? Few of Incognito's teammates remain from his brief stint with the Bills in 2009, but one of them -- center Eric Wood -- is a team captain. To an extent, he defended Incognito back in 2013.
"He gets on me. I get on him. But I can take it. I have respect for Richie; he has respect for me," Wood said at the height of the controversy. "It sounds really weird to outside people, but it's part of the culture. Guys give people a hard time. Especially O-lines that are really close. But you really have to get a feel for guys. As a leader of a football team especially, just a case of misjudgment, I believe."
Wood could be a potential ally for Incognito within the locker room, and there would likely be other teammates who believe Incognito's ribbing was misunderstood or blown out of proportion. Sensitive to how the situation exploded in 2013, it would be reasonable to assume that Incognito would avoid the same sort of actions that nearly ended his NFL career.
Yet it would also be naive to think that Incognito would be a model citizen, or that every player in the Bills' locker room would side with the decision to bring Incognito aboard. If his signing disrupts the cohesion of the locker room, then that would trump the impact he could have on the field.
That's why, in an offseason when the Bills have already added an outspoken head coach, bringing Incognito into the fold could be adding gunpowder to a powder keg.
But if Ryan truly meant that he wanted to "build a bully" in Buffalo, then he's got his guy.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The run on centers likely influenced Pittsburgh's decision. The Cleveland Browns took Cal center Alex Mack at No. 21 and the Buffalo Bills selected Louisville center Eric Wood at No. 28. Both players were on Pittsburgh's radar.
Oregon center Max Unger was still on the board for Pittsburgh but the Steelers opted for Hood. Hood likely won't have a chance to start next year, but he should provide depth for Pittsburgh's defense up front.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are some notes and observations this week in the AFC North:
|Jim Owens/Icon SMI|
|Three AFC North teams are looking at Louisville center Eric Wood.|
- If you are looking for a player on the minds of a lot of AFC North teams, look no further Louisville center Eric Wood. The Cincinnati Bengals are bringing him in for a visit Tuesday. Wood will make his way up Interstate-71 Wednesday to see the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers already held a private workout with Wood. To different degrees, center is a need for these three aforementioned teams. Wood is projected to be a second-round prospect who could creep into the bottom of the first round, perhaps to a team like Pittsburgh.
- Following the most recent arrest of Bengals starting cornerback Leon Hall, we are wondering if the NFL will hand out a suspension of some sort based on the outcome of the legal system. Hall pleaded not guilty to allegedly driving under the influence. If things don't go Hall's way, the league could come down fairly hard, perhaps in the form of one or two games. The Bengals don't have a lot of depth at corner and this could hurt Cincinnati to open the season.
- Here is an interesting nugget: The Steelers and Carolina Panthers are the only two teams yet to sign an outside free agent. Since we are so far into the process, there is a chance Pittsburgh could go through the entire offseason without signing anyone outside their building, which is a rarity. What does this means for the defending Super Bowl champions? It means head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert are extremely comfortable with what it has and their ability to draft the right players later this month.
- The Baltimore Ravens say they are open to bringing back longtime kicker Matt Stover for one more season. Stover could be on the team's short list. But in our view, the reluctance to keep two kickers on the active roster next season will prevent this move from happening. Baltimore, and most teams, would rather find one player to fill both field goal and kickoff duties.