The Buffalo Bills began voluntary offseason workouts Monday with a roster dotted with question marks.
The latest loss came Tuesday when left guard Richie Incognito suggested on Twitter he was retiring and later told The Buffalo News, “My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me. It's just about doing what's right. I just want to be in the Hall of Fame."
As a four-time Pro Bowler whose career was stained by a bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, Incognito will face long odds to have his bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
But since joining Buffalo in 2015, Incognito has been among the team’s best players and one of the best guards in the NFL. He has made the Pro Bowl each of his three seasons with the Bills.
Incognito’s retirement, barring a change of heart, opens yet another hole the Bills could look to fill in the draft with their bounty of picks -- if they do not package those selections to trade up for a quarterback.
Tuesday’s development with Incognito will only intensify debate about how general manager Brandon Beane should approach his first draft in charge.
The Bills own two selections in each of the first, second and third rounds, making them perhaps the draft’s biggest power brokers outside of the Cleveland Browns.
But unlike Cleveland, which can pick its quarterback of the future at either No. 1 or No. 4, Buffalo will probably be forced to trade up from No. 12 in the first round if it wants to make one of the top four quarterbacks -- Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield -- its potential franchise cornerstone.
With the division rival Jets already having moved to No. 3 in likely pursuit of a quarterback, the Bills would have to do a deal with the New York Giants for the No. 2 pick should they want some security about selecting their desired quarterback.
Such a deal could cost the Bills a “ransom,” as Beane has called it, and could strip the club of half or more of its six selections in the first three rounds.
For a team that Beane and coach Sean McDermott have characterized this offseason as being a “long way” from championship contention, those early-round picks could be valuable in building a roster that was not only among the weakest in the playoff field last season, but also among the NFL’s oldest.
The retirement of the 34-year-old Incognito and January’s announcement by 32-year-old center Eric Wood that his career is over due to a neck injury help the Bills get younger. However, the departures have only created another void for a team with many short- and long-term holes.
Ryan Groy, the Bills’ backup center last season, and John Miller, a 2015 third-round pick who lost his starting right guard job to Vladimir Ducasse last season, are among the candidates to start at left guard. Groy or free-agent signing Russell Bodine could start at center. In any case, the Bills are downgrading from Incognito and Wood.
There is also no obvious starting middle linebacker on the roster. Preston Brown, who has started almost every game the past four seasons in that role, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. There is also a lack of proven options at No. 3 wide receiver and nickel cornerback.
The Bills could address those needs in the draft, but they must also keep an eye toward the future at several other positions. They have four running backs who are 29 or older, including LeSean McCoy. Top receiver Kelvin Benjamin is in the final season of his contract, and two defensive starters -- tackle Kyle Williams, 34, and outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, 34 -- have one year left on their contracts and are seemingly close to retirement. Starting cornerback Vontae Davis is also on a one-year deal with no long-term replacement on the roster.
Add in uncertain long-term futures in Buffalo for tight end Charles Clay, right tackle Jordan Mills and defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, and the Bills have almost universal needs across their roster. Safety is the only position with a certain outlook beyond 2018.
Beane has made it clear this offseason that he likes having a high volume of draft picks, and those could come in handy rebuilding a roster that could look drastically different than the one which exceeded expectations to make the postseason in 2017.
But Beane has also stressed that the NFL is a “quarterback league,” and it is hard to win without one. That could mean Beane bundling his picks to take a swing on the highest-drafted quarterback in franchise history.
Which goal will prove more important? We’re about to find out.