The Buffalo Bills came into the 2018 NFL season looking to make a change at punter. A competition brewed between incumbent Colton Schmidt and undrafted rookie Cory Carter. After the latter tore his ACL during the preseason, the Bills kept the former until the beginning of September, when they claimed Corey Bojorquez off waivers.
This kind of shuffling was commonplace for the Bills with regard to their punters this past season, and it served as a microcosm of the special teams struggles the team faced during the season. Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News ranked the Bills 31st in his annual special teams rankings. That is far from the best they’ve ever had, as Buffalo typically has some success in the third aspect of the game.
As a result of a poor year on special teams, the Bills parted ways with coach Danny Crossman, who had been in charge of the unit since Doug Marrone started in Buffalo in 2013. With such a poor showing, one might expect there to be plenty of changes to the unit; however, that seems unlikely given the Bills’ level of talent at two of the three “specialist” positions in the game.
In our final installment of the state of the Bills roster, we profile the special teams, a unit that was terrible in 2018, but has plenty of bounce-back potential in 2019.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $3.25 million cap hit ($1 million dead cap if cut)
- Age: 33 (34 on 6/29/19)
- Playing time: 16 games, 122 ST snaps (27.79%)
- Key statistics: 22/28 FGs (78.6%), 25/26 PAT (96.2%), 66 kickoffs, 30 touchbacks, 34 kick returns allowed, 754 kick return yards allowed
Hauschka’s season should really be divided into two parts: Weeks 1 through 13, and Weeks 14 through 17. Why the delineation? Well, Hauschka was having a typically sound year through Buffalo’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, having hit on 17-of-19 field goals and 15-of-16 extra points. After he was leveled by defensive lineman Henry Anderson of the New York Jets just prior to halftime in Week 14, Hauschka was clearly hindered for the rest of the year. He made only five field goals in nine attempts to end the year, and he even missed a pair of 42-yard kicks short over that time. Hauschka was perfect on extra points, but it was obvious that he was hurt. Assuming that he regains his health after an off-season full of rest, he should be back to himself next year. Carrying a $3.25 million cap hit in the final year of his deal, it’s possible that the Bills will look for some younger competition, especially if he struggles early in camp. However, the great likelihood is that Hausch-money will return for one last year.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; terms of his three-year deal signed on 1/28 are not yet known)
- Age: 24 (25 on 3/24/19)
- Playing time: 16 games, 142 ST snaps (32.35%)
- Key statistics: 3 tackles
Ferguson was set to be an exclusive-rights free agent, meaning that the Bills could have retained his services for the minimum salary for a player with his amount of service time. Instead, the Bills signed their long snapper to a three-year extension, thereby buying out his last two years of team control via the ERFA/RFA system. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in Ferguson, who has held the long snapper job for the last two seasons after joining the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2016, but his salary probably isn’t much different than it would have been under the ERFA and RFA tenders.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
- Age: 22 (23 on 9/13/19)
- Playing time: 8 games, 69 ST snaps (15.72%)
- Key statistics: 45 punts, 45.1 yards per punt, 39.4 net yards per punt, 1 punt blocked, 4 touchbacks, 22 punts inside the 20, 20 punt returns allowed, 137 punt return yards allowed
Bojorquez was released by the New England Patriots after the preseason, and Buffalo quickly added him to the roster. He was the team’s punter for the first half of the season, and he was average overall. His gross punt average of 45.1 yards per punt was 17th in the league, and his net average of 39.4 yards per punt was 21st, according to Football Database. Neither of those rankings should provide him with ultimate job security, and a battle with another Cory looms for the preseason. Bojorquez ended the year on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury he suffered on a fake field goal that wasn’t supposed to be a fake field goal against the Tennessee Titans. Although he was hurt in Week 5, he lasted through the Bills’ Week 8 loss to the Patriots before being placed on injured reserve.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $496,000 cap hit ($1,000 dead cap if cut)
- Age: 24 (25 on 3/5/19)
- Playing time: N/A; injured in preseason (torn ACL)
- Key statistics: N/A
Carter was in the midst of a competition with Colton Schmidt over the summer, a competition which the younger punter probably had won, before an ACL tear against the Cleveland Browns in the second preseason game ended his bid for the gig. Carter punted three times and averaged 48 yards per kick in the preseason. He has a big leg and will certainly give his fellow Corey a run for his money this summer.
- Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; ERFA
- Age: 26 (27 on 7/2/19)
- Playing time: 5 games, 43 ST snaps (9.79%)
- Key statistics: 20 punts, 40.5 yards per punt, 36.2 net yards per punt, 1 touchback, 5 punts inside the 20, 8 punt returns allowed, 64 punt return yards allowed
The Bills’ third punter used in a regular-season game was the least effective, booting duck after duck throughout his month-plus with the team. Darr had last punted in the NFL in 2016, and the rust was evident when he returned to the league this year. Although he is an ERFA, I expect that the Bills will not tender him at the deadline.
For a unit that performed poorly overall, I expect little change out of the main players. Hauschka is a prime candidate for replacement given his salary and his slide at the end of the season, but when he’s healthy, he is a good kicker who belongs in the NFL. He has had a good run overall with the Bills, and I expect that the team will keep him around. An improvement to the kick-coverage unit would help him to look better in that area of the game, as it appeared the Bills were trying to pin teams inside the 25-yard line rather than boot touchbacks for most of the year. That strategy backfired, as Hauschka allowed 754 kick return yards on only 34 attempts. That yardage total was ninth-most in the league last year.
As for the punters, it should come down to a battle between Bojorquez and Carter, although it is entirely possible that the Bills release one (or both) and bring in someone completely different. With literally $1,000 guaranteed to all three punters on the current roster, Buffalo has the flexibility to do whatever they wish with the position.
The long snapper spot is set, given that they literally re-signed Ferguson at the beginning of the week. Barring an injury, he will man that position for the foreseeable future.