The Buffalo Bills have had one free safety make the Pro Bowl in the 2000s. They've also had two rookies start a majority of the games at the position, and a bunch of guys who made less than two seasons worth of starts. We conclude our starting defense with the free safety spot.
Carpenter started 22 games for the Bills in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, he had five interceptions, the most any Bills safety would have until 2009. He compiled 54 tackles, one forced fumble, and had two passes defended in the only year the stats were kept when he was on the Bills. He started 39 games for the Atlanta Falcons from 2002-2004 after leaving Buffalo.
The Bills signed Prioleau after two unremarkable seasons in San Fransisco. During his four years in Buffalo, he started 26 games, including all 16 in 2002, and played in 54 total. He had 2.5 sacks, 11 passes defended, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 142 tackles. In 2002, the defense ranked sixth against the pass in the NFL. Since his contract in Buffalo expired, Prioleau has followed his former coach Gregg Williams to Washington, Jacksonville, and finally New Orleans, where he won a Super Bowl ring in January.
Troy Vincent was coming off five straight Pro Bowls as cornerback for the Eagles when the Bills signed him. In his two and a half seasons in Buffalo, he started 24 games before an injury forced him onto injured reserve after the first game of the season. The Bills released him, and he signed with the Redskins, finishing his career with three starts for Washington. In total, Vincent amassed five interceptions, 11 passes defended, a sack, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and 62 tackles as Buffalo's centerfielder. He is currently employed by the league in the Player Development department after losing his bid to be the Executive Director of the Players Union.
Simpson may best be known for his "I'm worth millions" quote, but when Vincent went down to injury, it was the rookie safety who stepped in and started 15 games in his first season. A leg injury in the next season opener put Simpson himself on the IR for the following season. In total, he started 27 games for the Bills over the course of his three seasons, but lost his starting job in 2008. During the following off-season, he was traded to the Detroit Lions for a seventh-round draft choice that became QB Levi Brown. He had one sack, two interceptions, six passes defended, one forced fumble, and 101 tackles for the Bills. He started five games for the Lions last season.
The lone Bills safety to be named to a Pro Bowl this decade, Jairus Byrd's selection in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft was met with harsh criticism by many Bills fans who saw bigger needs. Fans were quickly won over by Byrd when he joined the lineup. He started 11 games and led the league by picking off nine passes. He also defended 11 passes and made 30 tackles. He was second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting (twice) and was named to the All-NFL second team by the Sporting News.
Leave your voting rationale in the comments section. We will next examine the two returner positions starting with punt returner.