Vikings Pursue Answer on Offense in Athletic Bills Lineman: Report

Ryan Bates

Getty Bills' restricted free-agent offensive lineman Ryan Bates (71) met with the Vikings on Thursday, March 17, 2022.

The Minnesota Vikings have been quiet in free agency this offseason but could be poised to finally sign a new starting offensive lineman for the 2022 season.

Minnesota met with Buffalo Bills interior offensive lineman Ryan Bates on March 17, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported. Bates is a restricted free agent who was given a low-level tender by the Bills — meaning Bates can field offers elsewhere, but Buffalo has first “right of refusal” to match any other contract offer.

An undrafted prospect out of Penn State, Bates has climbed the Bills ranks, starting in six games in 2021 and could be an immediate starter at the void left by Vikings guard Oli Udoh.

He could also be the team’s future at center with Garrett Bradbury on the final year of his rookie deal.

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A Versatile Journeyman

At 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, Bates walked on at the Philadelphia Eagles training camp before being traded to the Bills in August 2019. Bates’ offensive line coach with the Eagles told him to take it as a compliment, garnering trade interest as an undrafted rookie after just one preseason game, The Athletic reported.

“They saw something in me that not a lot of teams saw,” Bates said, per The Athletic.

Bates, who played all five spots on the offensive line while at Penn State, had to prove his worth quickly in Buffalo if he had any hopes of making the 53-man roster. He stepped into role at center and played 55 snaps against the Carolina Panthers in the preseason.

That was enough for him to solidify a valuable role as a versatile lineman in the Bills locker room.

“You have to give him a ton of credit because what he’s done is what we all want to do,” Bates’ college offensive line coach, Matt Limegrover, said, per The Athletic. “In his line of work, he’s created value for himself. That’s a hard thing to do in any line of work, but it’s particularly hard when you’re talking about the highest level of football. He’s done that for himself. Not that he’s completely indispensable but he’s found ways to make sure that he stays on the thoughts of the people that are making the decisions in a good way because of what he can bring. He’s not a prima donna. He’s not a guy that’s going to make a lot of demands. He’s versatile, he provides that intelligence and now he’s getting to that veteran status where young guys are looking at him and thinking that’s how they should conduct their business every day. People don’t realize those are the kinds of guys that are the connective tissue to all those high-priced guys.”

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Bates Could Step in at Center

Undersized to be a starting-caliber tackle in the NFL, Bates’ natural strengths have been his speed and intelligence in the offensive interior. He posted the second-highest Relative Athletic Score (RAS) in the 2019 draft class, with an exceptional 10-yard split that tested in the 97th percentile for players of his size.

That acceleration is needed in the Vikings wide-zone running scheme that emphasizes linemen getting to the second level.

He’s also proven strong in pass protection, posting the 20th best pass-blocking grade (74.5) by Pro Football Focus last season.

“I feel like I fit better,” Bates said, per The Athletic. “At tackle, some people might consider me undersized being 6-5, 305. People might say I have shorter arms. I can play tackle and guard, but the aspect I like at center is I’m in control. I like to make the calls. I’m vocal on the line. I like being in control. That’s the way I like to put it.”

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