The 2020 NFL offseason was critical to Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford; the Oklahoma product started 15 games at right tackle last season, but the 2019 second-round pick feels like he didn’t meet his own expectations on the field.
Especially after a gauntlet that included matchups against pass-rushers such as Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, Denver’s Von Miller, Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence and Houston’s J.J. Watt, Ford wasn’t satisfied with his play.
According to ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate using NFL Next Gen Stats, his 85.2% success rate last season ranked 145th among 171 qualifying offensive linemen.
“I feel like as many plays as I took, there could have been way more good plays than bad plays. I feel like I left too much on the table,” Ford said. “When they drafted me, my background was a certain type of DNA that they wanted and I feel like I left some of that in the tank.”
Shoulder surgery in January ensured Ford’s offseason would be tougher than usual, but he was determined to let the Bills know he was a professional who could be relied upon, on and off the field. He knew the team put trust in him to take care of himself away from the facility, so he started by investing in himself — literally.
Shortly after the Bills’ wild-card playoff loss to the Houston Texans in January, Ford finalized the paperwork on his first house, located in Norman, Oklahoma, just minutes away from his alma mater. He turned his garage into a home gym and, after a rookie season of “buying into the Buffalo food,” subscribed to a healthy meal prep service.
“I really put some money into this offseason because I knew it was going to be a grind,” he said. “If I have to spend money to better myself, that’s not a problem — I feel like that’s one of the best investments you can make, is on your body and on yourself.”
Ford also invested time into his offseason recovery.
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He estimates he spent as much time, if not more, on the phone with the Bills’ training staff as he did in team meetings. Not because they hounded him or called him constantly — but because he didn’t want there to be a doubt in that building about what he was doing while he was away.
Though Ford was not satisfied with his play as a rookie, coach Sean McDermott, who signed a multi-year extension on Wednesday, is optimistic about the young lineman.
“I think we got what we thought we were going to get in the first season,” McDermott said of Ford earlier this offseason. “What you try to look at the first season is some of the intangibles with respect to what type of person he is, the toughness he brings to the table and the smarts. And … the way he’s handled his rehab through the course of the offseason has been outstanding.”
Said Ford: “My whole mindset, before and after the surgery, was that I’m gonna go ahead and just grind this summer. I had a decent year for a rookie, but there were things that personally didn’t go the way I wanted them to. I knew what I needed to focus on and, surgery or not, I accepted that this offseason was going to be a grind.
“When I came back, they were pretty impressed.”
A sign of how well his shoulder has recovered: When he arrived in Orchard Park, New York, on June 15, Ford said he was benching 250 pounds comfortably. One month later, he could rep 305 pounds five times.
It was important for Ford to get healthy as quickly as possible — for his own good, obviously, but also for the sake of the team. The Bills return all five starters on their offensive line from 2019, part of the foundation for a team that expects to compete for the AFC title.
“We know what to expect,” Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins said. “We’re a step ahead in the playbook, we’re a step ahead of getting that [bonding] to where we don’t have to rush around and try to play catch-up and get to know the person who is next to one another.”
Ford, in particular, could play a critical role for Buffalo this season with starting right guard Jon Feliciano expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks with a torn pectoral muscle. Although the Bills signed Brian Winters to presumably fill the position in Feliciano’s absence, Ford offers enough positional flexibility to move inside if needed.