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State of the Buffalo Bills roster, special teams: new coach but specialists remain

Only one minimal addition to the roster this offseason, but a new coach to supervise.

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 was not the case as Buffalo only added an undrafted kicker.

In our next 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.

Stephen Hauschka

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $3.25 million cap hit ($1 million dead cap if cut)
  • Age: Turned 34 on 6/29/19
  • 2018 playing time: 16 games, 122 ST snaps (27.79%)
  • Key 2018 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, he should be back to himself in 2019. Carrying a $3.25 million cap hit in the final year of his deal, it’s possible that the Bills will look to get younger and cheaper, especially if he struggles early in camp. However, the great likelihood is that Hausch-money will return for one last year.

Reid Ferguson

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed this offseason to a three-year deal; $850,000 cap hit in 2019 ($445,000 dead cap number)
  • Age: Turned 25 on 3/24/19
  • 2018 playing time: 16 games, 142 ST snaps (32.35%)
  • Key 2018 statistics: 3 tackles, 0 bad snaps

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 isn’t much different than it would have been under the ERFA and RFA tenders.

Corey Bojorquez

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
  • Age: 22 (23 on 9/13/19)
  • 2018 playing time: 8 games, 69 ST snaps (15.72%)
  • Key 2018 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.

Cory Carter

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $496,000 cap hit ($1,000 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: Turned 25 on 3/5/19
  • 2018 playing time: N/A; injured in preseason (torn ACL)
  • Key 2018 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.

Chase McLaughlin

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed a three-year UDFA contract; $495,333 cap hit ($1,000 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: Turned 23 on 4/9/19
  • 2018 playing time: 11 games for University of Illinois
  • Key 2018 statistics: 20/25 FG (80%), 36/36 XP (100%) for University of Illinois

A big-legged player, McLaughlin was the Big Ten’s Kicker of the Year and has five 50-yard+ field goals on his resume. (He was 4-of-5 from beyond 50 in 2018.) He is a legitimate option for the Bills or another team down the road if Buffalo sticks with Hauschka

Positional Outlook

For a unit that performed poorly overall, there was not a lot of turnover. An improvement to the kick-coverage unit would help the Bills to look better in that area of the game, and that was reflected by the new coaching hire and the multitude of free agents signed with special teams experience.

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 combined to both 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 offseason. Barring an injury, he will man that position for the foreseeable future.

An area we didn’t cover here is the returner position, where Buffalo went out and signed a Pro Bowler from a year ago in Andre Roberts. We’ll profile him with the receivers, but he’s a major special teams upgrade, too.