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Buffalo Bills specialists should remain the same in 2018

The special teams unit improved dramatically this past season

The Buffalo Bills’ kicking game struggled mightily in 2016, as kicker Dan Carpenter had a tough time converting point-after attempts into extra points. Punter Colton Schmidt had a rough season, as well, and many predicted that his time with Buffalo would be numbered.

What a difference a year makes.

After the Bills decided to replace Carpenter with veteran Stephen Hauschka, Schmidt won a training camp battle against undrafted rookie free agent Austin Rehkow to retain his punting job. Along with long snapper Reid Ferguson, Buffalo’s triumvirate of specialists combined to help the “teams” unit move from number 24 to number 7 in Rich Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings.

In our final look at the state of the Bills’ roster, we shine a spotlight on the specialists.

K Stephen Hauschka

Contract status for 2018: signed; $3 million cap hit ($1 million cap savings if cut)
Age: 32 (33 on 6/29/18)
Playing time: 137 ST snaps (31.35%)
Key statistics: 29/33 FG (87.9%), long of 56, 29/29 XP, 37 TB

The veteran came to Buffalo via free agency, having left the Seattle Seahawks after a down year in 2016. While Hauschka was a stellar 33-for-37 on field goals in 2016, he missed 6 extra points, which was actually one more than Carpenter missed in 2016. Buffalo gave Hauschka a big contract in spite of that, and he responded with a fantastic season. He was perfect on extra points in 2017, and he was also second in the league in field goals made of 50 yards or greater. Combine this with the fact that Hauschka was able to handle kickoff duties, something Carpenter did not do with the Bills, and Buffalo made a tremendous signing in the kicking game.

P Colton Schmidt

Contract status for 2018: signed; $1.45 million cap hit ($1.15 million cap savings if cut)
Age: 27 (28 on 10/27/18)
Playing time: 141 ST snaps (32.27%)
Key statistics: 79 punts, 3,529 yards (44.7 AVG), 6 TB, 28 inside 20, 40.5 net average

After a pretty poor 2016, Schmidt was on the hot seat coming into 2017. He survived a training camp competition for his job, and he turned in a solid 2017 season. While he had a better year last year than the year prior, he still was nowhere near the best in the league in most categories. His six touchbacks were the third-most in the NFL, and he was 18th in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (35.4%). His net average of 40.5 yards per punt was also 18th in the league. The Bills could do worse than Schmidt, but they could also do better.

P Cory Carter

Contract status for 2018: signed; $480,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money on reserve/future contract)
Age: 23 (24 on 3/5/18)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

Carter signed a reserve/future contract with the Bills, presumably to compete with Schmidt throughout the offseason. The Bills recognize that their top punter, although on a cheap contract, is someone who could certainly be upgraded going into next season. During his career at Texas Southern, Carter averaged 45 yards per punt, and he was a third-team All-American during his senior season.

LS Reid Ferguson

Contract status for 2018: signed; $555,000 cap hit (no dead cap if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 3/24/18)
Playing time: 141 ST snaps (32.27%)
Key statistics: N/A

After long-time long snapper Garrison Sanborn was released after the 2015 season, Ferguson stepped up and has performed quite well. The Bills have not had a botched special teams snap in Ferguson’s time with the team, which is all that anyone can ask for out of the position.

Offseason Outlook

Why fix what isn’t broken? Hauschka had a tremendous season, and Ferguson is solidly entrenched as the team’s long snapper. Clearly, the coaching staff deems Schmidt’s position to be the most easily upgraded, but even he was serviceable in 2017. I expect that this group will remain the same heading into the 2018 season, although Schmidt could find himself out if Carter has a great training camp.