With reports Thursday confirming the Miami Dolphins firing of offensive line coach, Jim Turner, and athletic trainer, Kevin O’Neil, for their role in the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying affair, it’s clear that the Dolphins are attempting to bring some closure to the matter after the recent release of the Wells report.
Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin’s morning press conference, where he articulated that he is in charge of the team and locker room and that wholesale changes would be forthcoming, furthered that effort. Because the Dolphins are not expected to bring back either Incognito or Martin, it is now left for the rest of the league to decide if they would take a chance on either of these players.
That brings us to the Buffalo Bills who are very much in need of help along the offensive line.
The Bills line underwent constant shuffling last season, with only Cordy Glenn solidified at the left tackle position. Glenn, in just his second year with the Bills, quickly took hold as their starting left tackle. Glenn was ranked 11th among all left tacks in 2013 according to ProFootball Focus and was ranked third in pass blocking efficiency behind only perennial Pro Bowlers Joe Staley and Joe Thomas.
However, the Bills are in dire need of a starting right tackle and another guard. Might the Bills take a chance on Jonathan Martin once the Dolphins’ release him as they most surely will? Martin was the Dolphins’ starting right tackle last season, after first being slotted for the left tackle position following Jake Long’s departure to the St. Louis Rams.
Martin at 6’5” and 312 pounds was rated as one of the best left tackle prospects coming out of Stanford two years ago. Yet, his transition to the NFL (outside of all the off field controversy) has been anything but smooth.
ProFootball Focus rated Martin as the seventh worst out of 76 qualifying offensive tackles in terms of pass protection, giving him on an overall grade of -6.9. This was actually an improvement from his rookie year when he graded out at -22.0. Before leaving the team in the wake of the Incognito scandal in late October, Martin had already given up seven sacks, seven hits, and 15 hurries in the first half of the season.
Martin was often overpowered and beaten off the edge and was inconsistent on a game to game basis. Even his speed, which was supposed to be one of his best traits, seemed to slow remarkably this season, while he simultaneously took a step back in terms of his footwork and technique. Right now, he does not even seem to be a mediocre starting offensive tackle and the accompanying media hoopla that will almost assuredly come with signing him is a good reason for the Bills to stay away.
For a team that is trying to join the playoff race for the first time in 15 years the Bills do not need the added distraction. Possibly the only reason to even bring Martin in is that he would be an inexpensive option and at just 24 years old still has the potential to be the high level prospect he was predicted to be.
It is possible that his on-field play this season and last were greatly affected by the harassment he was suffering in the locker room and once he is placed into a better environment his performance will again resemble that of a quality offensive tackle in the NFL.
On the other hand drafting an offensive tackle would also be a long-term, inexpensive investment without the baggage that will come with Martin. NFL Network draft expert, Mike Mayock has said that this year’s draft is especially deep for offensive lineman and good ones can be had all the way into the third and fourth rounds. In fact most mock drafts have the Bills taking tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M with the ninth pick.
Greg Robinson, currently the highest rated tackle, of Auburn will more than likely be gone by the time the Bills pick but if they do not feel comfortable with Matthews there are various other first round possibilities such as Taylor Lewan out of Michigan, Zack Martin of Notre Dame, and Cyrus Kouandijo of Alabama.
If what Mayock says is correct, the Bills could wait until the later rounds as well to shore up their offensive line.
Martin needs to go to a team with which he has connections and one that can protect him from the surrounding hype as well as any lingering ill will within locker rooms when Martin was seen as “deserting” his team last season; a championship caliber team that will initially just use him as a backup- that would be the best case scenario for Jonathan Martin and the Bills do not fit those qualifications.
Martin should have options though, as the Colts (a reunion with Andrew Luck might do wonders for his psyche and level of play), Jaguars, Raiders, Falcons, Rams, and Ravens all need offensive tackles. If teams are convinced that he is truly ready to return to the NFL one of these teams will pick him up on the cheap.
What about Incognito who becomes an unrestricted free agent once the league year officially begins on March 11?
Should the Bills take a chance on him? While Kraig Ubrik quietly emerged as a solid, if not great, right guard (ranking 21st among all guards in the league and 8th in pass blocking efficiency), the Bills still have depth issues at this position.
Comparatively speaking, Incognito is a better guard than Martin has proved to be as an offensive tackle. Incognito also brings eight years and 102 games of starting experience and garnered a rating of +6.8 at the guard spot last season. A Pro Bowler in 2012, Incognito has three times been named among the top 25 offensive guards in the NFL. The exact opposite of Martin, Incognito’s style of play is all about power and aggression more than athleticism and finesse.
That aggression often crosses the line (both on and off the field as we have seen) and has led to him being consistently rated as one of the league’s dirtiest players. Although the Bills have a need at this position and I believe that the leadership of the Bills three captains, Fred Jackson, Kyle Williams, and Eric Wood, is enough to put Incognito in his place and keep him under control.
I also don’t see Incognito as a good fit for the Bills. With a young, still developing quarterback who already has had questions asked about his durability and effectiveness as a starting caliber quarterback, there is a need to limit any distractions that would stunt that growth.
At 31, regardless of how cheap he would come, Incognito is too far in his career to believe he will change and the Bills are better off continuing their youth movement. Incognito will inevitably get his third or fourth chance (or whatever number he is now up to) in this league because his level of play still warrants a team overlooking his ‘indiscretions’ but it should not and cannot be with the Buffalo Bills.