For the longest time offensive linemen weren’t getting much love from fans as wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs reaped the rewards on Sunday. However, based on the past draft that trend has begun to change. The hogs are getting their just due and the long overlooked position of center is at the forefront. As defenses get more sophisticated in how they pressure the passer, having a good center is more important than ever. That is why Eric Wood has the chance to score big in 2014 NFL free agency, if he hits the open market.
Buffalo Bills anxious to keep Wood for E.J. Manuel era
Big name free agents almost never hit the open market these days either because of franchise tag implications or mutual interest between the player and team to get a new deal done. In the case of Eric Wood and the Buffalo Bills it is a difficult situation. Buffalo has a new head coach in Doug Marrone with his own ideas for how the offense will run. He was not the one who drafted Wood and may not have the same appreciation for his skills. While Wood is hailed by many experts as one of the better centers in the league, his health must be a concern for Marrone and the coaches. In four seasons he has missed 17 of a possible 64 games. Those kind of durability issues make a team very hesitant to pay big money to a player, especially one who must learn a new offense. Still, Buffalo has expressed interest in keeping Wood around as they transition to the era of E.J. Manuel as their new quarterback. Having a capable center in place is paramount when breaking in a rookie. That said, there is never a guarantee.
Bears looking for a successor to Roberto Garza for Jay Cutler
Another thing that might hold Buffalo back is their cash reserves. Early projections have them posting just over $15 million in salary cap space for 2014. That is plenty to lock up Wood but other teams that need a center just as much are likely to offer more. One such possibility is the Chicago Bears. Their roster is headed towards a major shift next year as GM Phil Emery continues enacting his transformation of the team. Estimates put the Bears at over $40 million in cap space, barring any extensions for current players on the roster. One area they are sure to look at is center. For the last two seasons the position has been held down by former right guard Roberto Garza who shifted there after the team released longtime veteran Olin Kreutz. Now it is he who appears destined for replacement. Garza turns 35-years old next March. That is not a good age when the team has no immediate successor in place. The closest options they have are reserve guard Edwin Williams or undrafted free agents P.J. Lonergan and Taylor Boggs. Ideally those are not answers for keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright. Garza rated as the 30th best center in 2012. Unless he improves under new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer his time is very short.
Eric Wood has durability issues but his pass protecting skills make him an ideal fit for Chicago if the Buffalo Bills decide to move on without him. Everything depends on how the 2013 campaign shakes out.