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Opinion: Why I wouldn’t re-sign Jordan Phillips if I were the Buffalo Bills

Read it before you yell at me.

Now that the Buffalo Bills have been eliminated from the 2019 playoffs, the attention of Bills Mafia turns to the offseason. While mock drafts are beginning to proliferate on your social media timeline and people start wistfully attempting to speak Laviska Shenault into existence, the first order of business in the new league year will be free agency. The Bills have a few notable players due for the dive into unrestricted free agency this year, and the most polarizing could be defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

Phillips came to the Bills in October of 2018 when he was awarded to them after being waived by the Miami Dolphins the day before. Phillips had begun the season with Miami as a starter but had seen his playing time reduced and had become notably agitated on the sideline during a Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots.

Phillips proved to be a solid in-season addition to the Buffalo defensive line and although he didn’t record a sack during his 2018 time with the Bills, they saw the energy and disruption he brought in a limited role to the team and he re-signed to Buffalo to the tune of one year and $4.5 million this past offseason.

In 2019, Phillips exploded statistically and recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks for the Bills, including a whopping three-sack game against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans in Week 5. This leaves Bills fans in an odd place with Phillips after he led the team in sacks and is now in a situation where he may not be on the roster in 2020.

I would not re-sign him for what I think he will get on the open market.
There are two parts to this discussion: the FINANCES and the FIELD.

The Finances

The first step in any of these exercises is to hammer out the variables. In this case, the variable is the contract. Let’s start by predicting what type of contract Phillips might get on the open market.

I recognize that average salary per year (APY) is not the only way by which to judge the quality of a contract in the NFL but, for the purposes of this discussion, we are going to rank the current defensive tackle contracts in the NFL in terms of APY. Here they are in million per Spotrac:

  • Aaron Donald - $22.5
  • Fletcher Cox - $17.1
  • Grady Jarrett - $17
  • Geno Atkins - $16.3
  • Jurrell Casey - $15.1
  • Marcell Dareus - $14.0425
  • Linval Joseph - $12.5875
  • Sheldon Richardson - $12.3333
  • Akiem Hicks - $12
  • Damon Harrison - $11.25
  • Eddie Goldman - $10.51
  • Brandon Williams - $10.5
  • Malik Jackson - $10
  • Star Lotulelei - $10
  • Cameron Heyward - $9.867
  • Dontari Poe - $9.333
  • Tyrone Crawford - $9
  • Quinnen Williams - $8.132
  • Denico Autry - $5.933
  • Brandon Mebane - $5.275
  • Malcom Brown - $5
  • Ed Oliver - $4.891

Those are the top 22 defensive tackle contracts by APY in the NFL. You’ll recognize a few as still being on the rookie wage scale (including Buffalo’s own Ed Oliver), which essentially removes them from consideration for determination of market value. Where will Jordan Phillips land? He got one-year and $4.5 million from the Bills last year and will certainly be in line for a pay upgrade from that after posting the sack numbers he did, but this is where the hiccups start happening:

Where does Jordan Phillips fit on that list?

Sheldon Richardson signed his contract as an unrestricted free agent last year and got his $12.33 million APY. I would not feel comfortable with Jordan Phillips at that number. What about $6 million APY, putting him between the Crawfords and Poes of the world and what appears to be the next tier of DTs with Mebane and Brown? I’d feel more comfortable in that range but would Phillips? Ultimately, there needs to be an agreement between the player’s representation and the team on what that player is. Is Jordan Phillips an elite starting three-technique defensive tackle? If the Bills don’t think he is, then only one other team needs to disagree with them in order for Phillips to be done in Buffalo, and I anticipate that’s exactly what will happen.

In addition to the slotting side of the financial argument, resource allocation comes into play at this point. The Bills have two defensive tackles on the list above in Star Lotulelei and Ed Oliver and it would cost the team more to release Star than is comfortable, so expect him back in 2020. With a young team with plenty of looming extensions at other positions, committing another top-20 DT contract to Jordan Phillips would be unwise.

Ultimately, I predict that a team with a need at defensive tackle will pay Jordan Phillips between eight and ten million dollars a year in APY and I would congratulate him for earning generational wealth for his family. If the market does not view Phillips that favorably, then it opens the door for the possibility he could return to the Bills.

The Field

Let’s start with what will assuredly make a segment of the Mafia question my sanity:

Ed Oliver is the best defensive tackle on this team.

When I posted this statement on Twitter, it was met with more than a few exasperated responses citing Phillips’s sack numbers.

Do not be seduced by the sack numbers Bills fans. While the splashy plays Jordan Phillips has produced this year helped the team out, even in big moments, the snap-to-snap consistency in production and reliability gives Oliver the nod. The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia had Oliver graded markedly higher on his year-end grades than Phillips as did many others who watch the film on a weekly basis, myself included. Oliver is a force against the run and consistently maintains his gap against single blocks and double-teams while also creating pressure in the pass game. Jordan Phillips will often find himself on ice skates being pushed out of the play, creating rush lanes that put Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano in bad situations at the second level. The Houston Texans caught the Bills in a defensive front that had both Phillips and street free agent Corey Liuget on the field simultaneously and took advantage in the run game to help come from behind in the Wild Card playoff game.

I would prepare myself for the idea that another team will value Jordan Phillips higher than the Bills. The Bills drafted his replacement and a superior player in Ed Oliver who is on a rookie contract, and the money might not make sense to extend Phillips at a level where he and his representation are comfortable. If this ends up being the case, Jordan Phillips’s energy and embrace of Bills Mafia will be remembered and I hope he takes his broken table-adorned cleats to his new home and displays them proudly to remember fondly the 2019 season that helped change his life.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!

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