PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — Heading into last season, offensive lineman Ryan Bates may have been the last person on the Bills’ roster you’d think would turn into a free agent prize. 

“It’s always nice to be wanted,” said Bates. “It’s nice to be noticed.”

But after being thrust in the starting lineup to end the season, that’s what happened as the Bears gave him an offer sheet for a four-year, $17 million contract with $8 million in guaranteed money. The Bills promptly matched and Bates was plenty fine with how things ended up.

“I have a good relationship with the guys here and I’m very fortunate to be able to keep playing those guys,” he said. 

An undrafted free agent in 2019, he waited two and a half years to get his shot. He started the last four games of the 2021 regular season and all of the Bills playoff games. By that point, he was happy to just be playing football.

“I got a couple of snaps here and there,” said Bates. “When someone went down I got to go in and have some filler time. But it’s so nice to be playing with the guys again. Because the last couple of years, I hadn’t had as much playing time as one would have liked to.”

While Bates says he hasn’t changed anything headed into this season, the role itself presents new difficulties. 

“There is a different level of preparation, a different level of mental toughness,” explained head coach Sean McDermott. “Because for one reason, the opponent sees you differently.”

Despite the new contract and the new starting job, Bates is still looking to make a name for himself.

After practice at training camp, a few fans were shouting at him to sign interviews while yelling out Mitch Morse’s name. That’s part of why Bates can still keep that chip on his shoulder that he’s had for his entire career. 

“At the end of the day, I was still an undrafted free agent and I still have a lot to prove,” said Bates. “Some people might look at me and they think they see a good player. And I think I am a good ball player. But I still have a lot to prove to myself.”

Not only does Bates have to assume a new starting role, he’s doing it for a Super Bowl-caliber team. But he isn’t letting the pressure get to him.

“Just kick some butt. That’s my mindset,” said Bates. “I just want to go out there kick some butt and score some touchdowns, play some ball. Really the most important thing is to have fun. People forget that this is a game. We get paid to play a game, which is fortunate to be in the position I am in. You can’t win games without having fun.”

The Bills won all of their regular season games last year with Bates in the lineup. Now they’ll try and have that same level of fun end the postseason.