The NFL’s official tampering period started just over 24 hours ago, and Bills’ GM Brandon Beane wasted no time in extending the Buffalo Bills’ three big-name free agents. First, linebacker Matt Milano signed a four-year, $44 million extension. Next, Daryl Williams re-upped for three-years and about $28.3 million.
And finally, the biggest question mark of the three, Guard/Center Jon Feliciano was brought back for three-years, $17 million, throwing a big old monkey wrench into my weekly “free agency roundup” articles. All in all, this was some excellent work by the Bills’ front office, particularly when considering how little cap space the Bills had to work with entering the offseason.
Personally, I am beyond thrilled that all three are back. Milano has been our best linebacker the past three seasons, Williams had an excellent first year in Buffalo protecting Josh Allen, and Feliciano reinvigorated the entire offense upon his return in Week 8.
Now, not everyone is as excited as I am about bringing back “Mongo.” With last season’s less than stellar run game, many Bills fans and analysts want to see some new faces on the O-line. With this year’s draft coming up in a matter of weeks, Bills fans and analysts are hoping to see Buffalo draft an offensive lineman within the first three rounds. And that may well still happen, even with these re-signings.
But I’m here to tell you that Feliciano’s return is a huge plus for Buffalo. What he brings to the offense, and to the entire team, can’t be matched by any other guard in free agency or in the draft. Here’s why:
His Impact on the Run Game
Feliciano started the 2020 season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list due to a torn pectoral muscle and wasn’t able to practice at all over the summer. He ended up missing the first seven games, until he was activated on October 27th against the ever-dangerous New England Patriots.
This Week 8 matchup wasn’t the prettiest game to watch for the Bills, with Allen posting one of his worst stat lines of the season. But the run game flourished with 160+ yards, and rookie Zack Moss having a career day with two scores and Josh running in for a TD of his own. This was easily the best running performance all season for Buffalo, with much of the credit due to Feliciano, playing center in place of the injured Mitch Morse.
Overall, the Bills’ running game was lackluster all season; the passing game was clearly the star of the show in 2020. But Feliciano’s mid-season return surely sparked a resurgence in both the ground game and the offense as a whole that played a big role in Buffalo’s path to the AFC Championship Game, especially after an early string of bad games against the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, and the New York Jets.
Feliciano’s versatility simply cannot be ignored. Playing left guard, right guard, and center this season, Feliciano performed at an above-average level at all three positions, especially when it counted most. It’s very hard to play multiple positions in the NFL, and to do it consistently well is a valuable skill worthy of recognition.
Having played at both positions in high school, I can say with confidence that moving from guard to center–especially midgame–is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Yes, there are similarities in job responsibilities to an extent, but it’s a whole new role and point of view. And, of course, snapping the ball on each play might be the most nerve-racking job for a lineman.
Despite a lack of cap space going into the offseason, Brandon Beane was able to bring Feliciano back with a three-year, $17 million contract. While that seems like a win-win for both sides, the Bills may have gotten the better end of the deal. Feliciano’s $5.67 million AAV is more than $2.5 million less than his projected AAV. It’s widely believed that Mongo could have signed elsewhere for a deal in the $25 million range, but he took less to remain in the Queen City.
He is a Leader Who Wants To Be Here
But it’s not just the team-friendly contract or his strong performance on the O-line that makes Feliciano’s return to Buffalo a big win for the team. If you’re reading this article as a Bills fan, and the image above from the final minutes of the AFC Championship game didn’t make you prouder than ever to be a Buffalo Bills fan, I want you to stop reading this, turn off your computer/phone/tablet, unfollow Fanatics, and maybe pick a new team to follow. Because I was sure as hell proud of what Feliciano and Dion Dawkins did to protect their quarterback. That’s what leaders do, and that’s an intangible that Mongo brings to this team.
This article may seem a bit hypocritical in light of what I said in last week’s Daryl Williams article about Feliciano’s chances of returning. But make no mistake: I am thrilled that Mongo is coming back to Buffalo. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch ever since he signed with the Bills in 2019. I am even more ecstatic about that contract he signed. It works for both the player and the team, and now one of our better linemen gets to remain a Bill for the next three seasons.
Welcome back, Mongo.
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