Heading into the 2017 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills revamped their defensive secondary. They allowed former first-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore to sign a lucrative deal with the New England Patriots. They also traded their other starting corner, Ronald Darby, to the Philadelphia Eagles. At safety, they replaced veterans Corey Graham and Aaron Williams with a pair of free agents.
While some free-agent acquisitions don’t pan out, Buffalo hit on both of its moves at safety that off-season. Micah Hyde, who had served as a jack-of-all-trades in the secondary for the Green Bay Packers over the duration of his rookie contract, was voted to his first Pro Bowl last season. His counterpart, Jordan Poyer, set career-highs in every statistical category the same year.
In our second-to-last look at the state of the Bills roster, we profile the safety group, which has been the saving grace of the defense over the better part of the last two seasons.
Contract status for 2019: Signed; $6,618,750 cap hit ($4.8 million dead cap if cut)
Age: 28 (29 on 12/31/19)
Playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 881 snaps (86.88% of defensive total), 112 St snaps (25.51%)
Key statistics: 58 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery
Hyde’s 2018 season was not nearly as good statistically as his 2017 season, as he had fewer tackles, interceptions, and passes defended. However, Hyde seemed to perform just as well overall, and the defense was stronger as a group. Now entering his third season as a full-time starting safety, Hyde has developed into one of the league’s better all-around players. He and Poyer form a dynamic duo that should continue to play at a high level next year.
Contract status for 2019: Signed; $3.825 million cap hit ($1.75 million dead cap if cut)
Age: 27 (28 on 4/25/19)
Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 1009 snaps (99.51% of defensive total), 101 ST snaps (23.01%)
Key statistics: 100 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
For the second consecutive year, Poyer was arguably the better of the Bills’ two safeties, even if it is Hyde who receives more of the attention. Poyer’s per-16 game averages with Buffalo are excellent, as his “average” 16-game season with the Bills includes 100 combined tackles, five interceptions, ten passes defended, a fumble forced, a fumble recovered, two sacks, and seven tackles for loss. His contract is an incredibly friendly one for the franchise, and while I don’t agree with reworking deals that have multiple years left on them, he is someone to watch for in terms of receiving an early extension, especially if he continues his solid play throughout the beginning of next season.
Contract status for 2019: Signed; $1.8 million cap hit ($300,000 dead cap if cut)
Age: 31 (32 on 5/12/19)
Playing time: 15 games (7 starts), 452 snaps (44.58% of defensive total), 136 ST snaps (33.26%)
Key statistics: 45 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, 1.5 sacks
The veteran came in via free agency, and he did a very good job this season. He was the team’s third safety, but he was also their backup slot cornerback. After rookie Taron Johnson was placed on injured reserve in December due to a shoulder injury, Bush took over as the team’s primary slot corner. His numbers indicate a player who is more comfortable playing in the box and hitting people than he is in coverage, and he did a very good job as a extra blitzer off the edge in pressure packages. While his contract would allow for the Bills to release him at next to no harm to the franchise’s overall cap, it would be wise to retain him for next season. Good depth is hard to find, and the Bills have found a much better R. Bush than the last person by that name to suit up for the team.
Contract status for 2019: Signed; $641,504 cap hit ($214,512 dead cap if cut)
Age: 24 (25 on 8/4/19)
Playing time: 16 games (0 starts), 15 snaps (1.48% of defensive total), 249 ST snaps (56.72%)
Key statistics: 11 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
The first of Buffalo’s fifth-round draft picks in April made little impact as a rookie, serving as a core special-teams player but doing little on the stat sheet. His position is one to watch going forward, as the Bills could look to add more quality depth with greater potential in the defense. He could also spend another year learning the defense and playing special teams as a depth player.
Contract status for 2019: Signed; $645,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
Age: 26 (27 on 7/25/19)
Playing time: 2 games (1 start), 54 snaps (5.33% of defensive total), 19 St snaps (4.33%
Key statistics: 5 tackles, 1 pass defended
Marlowe’s season certainly was interesting. Called up from the practice squad leading up to the Bills’ Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans, he was pressed into starting duty when neither Micah Hyde nor Rafael Bush were healthy enough to play. Marlowe responded by playing every snap on defense, making four tackles and breaking up a pass in a 13-12 Bills’ victory. While he is by no means a world-beater, he is the perfect player to have on the back-end of the roster: he knows the defense well enough to step up in a pinch, and he is on a low-cost contract.
Buffalo is good here. They could very well look to add another player, and they will definitely bring a few in at least for training camp and the pre-season; however, there is no need to allocate serious resources to improve what is already a strong unit. Poyer and Hyde are written into the starting lineup in Sharpie, and while the trio of Bush, Neal, and Marlowe should by no means be guaranteed a roster spot in 2019, they should definitely be given first crack at retaining their jobs.