The Buffalo Bills finished the 2018 NFL season ranked No. 31 in special teams as per Rick Gosselin’s overall rankings. Danny Crossman, who had been Buffalo’s special teams coordinator since the 2013 season, was let go in an attempt to improve the unit overall.
Heath Farwell, who had been with the Carolina Panthers as a special teams assistant, joined Buffalo’s staff as a coordinator for the first time this year, and his unit did not disappoint. Gosselin’s 2019 rankings were released on Monday, and the Bills jumped all the way to No. 12 overall this season.
While the Bills clearly made strides in the “third phase” of the game, the team is also obviously committed to improving in all phases of the game. Last offseason, they concentrated on fortifying the coverage units as well as the return game, signing free agents like Senorise Perry and Andre Roberts. The next step could be replacing some of the more visible specialists—namely, the kicker and the punter.
In one of the shorter looks at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, we examine those who play solely on special teams.
K Stephen Hauschka
Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of three-year extension ($3.05 cap hit; $1.25 million dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 34 (35 on 6/29/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 134 ST snaps (32.4%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key statistics: 22/28 FG attempts (78.6%), 30/32 PAT (93.8%), 42/73 kickoffs for touchback (57.5%)
Buffalo inked Hauschka to an extension this offseason even though he was coming off a year where he connected on less than 83% of his field goals for the first time since 2009. For the first half of the year, the contract looked to be a disaster, as Hauschka was just 8-for-13 on field goals through nine games; that ninth game saw him miss two field goals in a 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The following week, Hauschka began a hot streak and finished the year making 14-of-15 kicks, including nailing four field goals on four attempts against the Houston Texans in the playoffs. While that end looks good, it’s important to look at the big picture, especially as it pertains to Hauschka’s struggles from distance over the last two seasons. After hitting 14-of-16 kicks from at least 40 yards out in 2017, including 7-for-9 from 50 yards, Hauschka is only 21-for-32 from that area of the field over the last two years, including a miserable 5-for-12 from 50 yards or more. Head coach Sean McDermott has all but given up on attempts from 50 yards or more, electing to try for fourth-down conversions rather than kick field goals more often than not. Hauschka is a great guy, but he appears to be trending downward as he approaches his mid-thirties.
LS Reid Ferguson
Contract status for 2020: Signed; second year of three-year contract ($900,000 cap hit; $250,000 dead-cap charge if cut)
Age: 26 (27 on 3/24/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 143 ST snaps (34.5%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key statistics: N/A
The man who delivers the ball to punter Corey Bojorquez has done a darn good job since taking over the job from longtime Buffalo long-snapper Garrison Sanborn. He isn’t going anywhere.
P Corey Bojorquez
Contract status for 2020: Signed; final year of rookie contract ($660,000 cap hit; zero dead money if cut)
Age: 23 (24 on 9/13/2020)
Playing time: 16 games, 144 ST snaps (34.8%), 1 offensive snap (.09%)
Key statistics: 79 punts, 41.9 yards per punt (37.7 net yards per punt), 15 punts out of bounds, 26 punts fair caught, 13 punts downed, 34 punts inside the 20, 7 punts for touchback, 18 punt returns allowed, 157 punt return yards allowed, 1 kickoff, 50 yards
Who knew that you could find so many stats on punting? Thanks, NFL.com! Anyhow, Bojorquez was maddeningly inconsistent at times this season, as he had a few games where it seemed like every other punt that came off his foot was a shank. The loss to the Baltimore Ravens comes to mind, where he uncorked a 67-yard punt for a touchback, then followed it up with a 35-yard punt from his own 10-yard line to give the Ravens great field position on their first scoring drive. He had more good moments than bad overall, but it’s that unpredictability that can shorten a career as a specialist. The Bills have already brought in some competition for Bojorquez this offseason.
P/K Kaare Vedvik
Contract status for 2020: Signed to reserve/future deal on 1/7/2020
Age: 25 (26 on 3/16/2020)
Playing time: 1 game (with New York Jets), five special teams snaps
Key statistics: 0/1 field goals, 0/1 extra points, 3 kickoffs, all for touchback
Vedvik signed with the Bills on a reserve/future deal, and while he single-handedly gifted Buffalo a victory in his one game last season with the Jets, that certainly isn’t why general manager Brandon Beane opted to bring him in. Vedvik’s agent shared via his Facebook page that Vedvik is not competing for Stephen Hauschka’s job as a place kicker; instead, he’ll try to unseat Bojorquez at punter and also fill in for Hauschka on kickoffs. Vedvik has an insanely strong leg, as he once uncorked a sun-aided 92-yard punt while in college at Marshall, but he struggled, to put it mildly, as a placekicker last year. He punted against the Bills in a preseason game while with the Minnesota Vikings, allowing Marcus Murphy to return a punt for a touchdown (and making a pretty lame “tackle attempt” in the process). It will be interesting to see whether the Bills go with the one they know at punter or they turn the reins over to the new guy next year.
The Bills clearly aren’t settled here, having already signed competition for Bojorquez and even looking for a potential Hauschka replacement in December when they placed a waiver claim on Chase McLoughlin, who was with the team during the preseason. The only name guaranteed to be here come September is Ferguson, as I’m willing to bet that the Bills are looking for a replacement for Hauschka sooner rather than later. While Bojorquez improved overall, his inconsistency leaves him vulnerable to challengers, as well. Changing out the specialists may be the next phase of the Bills’ special teams overhaul.