The New England Patriots will be looking to shore up the interior of their offensive line following the departures of Ted Karras and Shaq Mason earlier in free agency. Their search may involve looking at a depth player from the Buffalo Bills, restricted free agent lineman Ryan Bates.
The Patriots’ initial interest was reported by Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Saint Paul. Bates already visited with the Minnesota Vikings earlier this week and will make a decision after completing his tour of visits.
Bates, 25, entered the NFL in 2019, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State. He was subsequently traded to the Bills for edge rusher Eli Harold that very same preseason. In three years with the Bills, Bates suited up for 41 games and got all four of his starts at the end of the 2021 season, including the playoff game against the Patriots.
At the end of the season, the Bills offered him the $2.4 million original-round RFA tender. Since Bates was a former undrafted rookie, that means the team that signs him would not have to forfeit any draft picks if successfully luring him away from Buffalo.
The Bills will have the right to match any potential offer, though, but would not receive any draft pick compensation if he ended up signing with the Patriots or another team.
This would not be the first time the Patriots tried signing a restricted free agent away from the Bills. They did the same with wide receiver Chris Hogan in the 2016 offseason and again with running back Mike Gillislee the following year. A multi-year deal that pays Bates a bit more than the Bills are likely comfortable with might just do the trick for New England.
At the moment, third-year lineman Michael Onwenu could be asked to man one of the two vacant guard spots. If the Patriots find a solution at right tackle — Trent Brown remains a free agent as of Friday morning — he will most likely slide into the right guard spot as the easiest option.
New England also re-signed veteran lineman James Ferentz earlier this week as a depth option who can man all three interior spots. Ferentz made two starts at guard for the team in 2021.