Jerry Hughes was the highest paid player on the Buffalo Bills last season—well, among those who finished the season on the active roster. As a result, the pass-rushing defensive end was expected to enjoy a strong season, especially given the switch back to a 4-3 front that allowed Hughes to play his more natural defensive end position.
While Hughes performed admirably in run support, turning in arguably the best year of his career in that area, he isn’t paid handsomely to stop the run. His high salary was earned by sacking the quarterback, and in that category, he took a huge step backwards in 2017. That is why he finds himself as the first person on our list of the worst Buffalo Bills salary cap values from 2017.
2017 Cap Hit (per Spotrac): $10.45 million (6.74% of 2017 Cap)
2017 Cap Hit Rank by Position: 9th among defensive ends
2017 Vital Stats: 16 games, 16 starts (66.34% defensive snaps), 44 tackles, 4 sacks, 19 hurries, 10.5 run stuffs, 1 forced fumble
Buffalo’s pass rush was anemic at times last season, as the team’s leaders in sacks only had four; a tie between Hughes and fellow defensive end Shaq Lawson. For the ninth-highest paid defensive end to finish a year with only four sacks is poor value regardless of his run defense. If stuffing the run were his main job, this would be different; however, the fact that Hughes notched his lowest total sacks in a Buffalo uniform takes away from his overall effectiveness. His 19 hurries was also his lowest total since 2013, when Hughes only managed 7 hurries to go along with 10 sacks.
Hughes was ranked highly by Pro Football Focus, earning an overall grade of 85, making him a “high quality” defender in their eyes. Hughes was the 20th overall edge defender, mostly on the strength of his run defense. According to FOX Sports, his 10.5 run stuffs was good for 4th overall in the NFL. However, his low sack numbers, combined with Buffalo’s overall solid cap values throughout the roster, makes for a tough call on Hughes’ placement on the list.
A note on why we began with number 9, not 10
Well, to be frank, it would be a stretch to add anyone else on to the list, as you can probably tell by including a solid player like Hughes to begin. Based on production alone, the three top candidates for the tenth spot would have been Lorenzo Alexander ($3 million cap hit; 67.4 PFF grade), Eric Wood ($8.5 million cap hit; 67.9 PFF grade), or Kyle Williams ($8.3 million cap hit; 79.7 PFF grade). Williams and Wood were each paid like elite players for average or below-average production, while Alexander was the highest-paid linebacker and the team’s defense improved when he began playing less. So, why not include any of them?
Simple: nobody can quantify what they bring to the table in terms of leadership.
Merely rolling their 2017 season into a statistical analysis would completely ignore the fact that their leadership proved to be priceless over the course of what was Buffalo’s first playoff season of this millennium. All three men were compensated well, with Wood ranking 4th among all NFL centers and Williams ranking 13th among all NFL defensive tackles, but all three men were vital to the locker room.
So, I made an executive decision to begin with number 9 rather than face the (justifiable) outcry that would have come with naming one of Buffalo’s three most important leaders to a list of bad salary cap values.