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The case to re-sign Buffalo Bills LB Matt Milano despite injury risks

Is it better to retain Milano or let him walk in free agency?

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

I’m here to dispel all concern with Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano and establish that he is worth re-signing despite some of the injury concerns that have plagued him this season. Rumblings on social media have suggested that Milano is injury-prone and a risk to keep around at a higher number. I’m also led to believe that some think that he’s not worth a contract extension, and that the Bills can go find another player like him, especially since he was chosen in the fifth round.

The injuries that have forced Milano to miss games have likely depressed his market value if he were to hit free agency. Whether his agent and the team can come to a mutual number or not is not my place. But that same group will be looking at Milano as a whole, determining whether his next several years will be in a Bills uniform or elsewhere.

Injury breakdown

To help shape Milano as a whole from an injury perspective, we must go back to his days at Boston College. During his four years at BC, he only missed one game during his sophomore year in 2014 against Maine, but I am not able to find any details of why he missed the game.

After being drafted in the fifth round in 2017, Milano has dealt with an injury during each season in the NFL. Below are the season-by season-results:

2017: Missed 1 game

  • Hamstring strain, Week 2, missed zero games
  • Hamstring strain, Week 16, missed playoff game against Jacksonville Jaguars

2018: Missed 3 games

2019: Missed 1 game

Left hamstring strain, Week 5, missed one game

2020: Missed 6 games*

  • Right hamstring strain, Week 1, missed one game
  • Left pectoral strain, Week 4, missed two games; returned to play two games, *sent to IR to miss at least three games

Excluding the 2020 season, Milano has missed 5 games in 3 seasons including playoffs. There are several players on the Bills with the same track record with regards to games missed over that time frame and plenty of others who have missed more in less time.

Injury-prone label

The term injury-prone gets thrown out way too much when it comes to individual football players. Sustaining injuries is unwelcome for sure. Milano does play football where players are likely to suffer from injury, but that doesn’t mean that he’s more likely to suffer an injury than his counterparts.

I would categorize Milano as more unfortunate in several of the injuries that he has dealt with—especially this season. The only repeat injuries that he deals with are hamstring injuries early in the season, and they have been on opposite sides in regards to the most recent ones. Those injuries also tend not to recur later that same season.

Addressing his entire injury history, his one possible concussion in 2018 and hamstring strain in 2019 led to minimal missed time due to the bye week taking place the week after the injury occurred. But the possible concussion and hamstring injuries are the only things that have recurred or are at a higher chance to occur again compared to his two most severe injuries.

The left fibula fracture and left pectoral strain are injuries that have happened, have forced him to miss the most significant time, and are unlikely to occur again, dispelling the injury-prone label. From 2000-2014, there was an average of 16 fibula fractures a season, which comes out to on average 0.5 fractures per team—supporting that it does occur, but not enough to make it a recurring issue.

Looking at the pectoral injuries over a 15-year period, there were 132 strains and 79 ruptures for a total of 211 instances. Strains came out to 8.8 strains a season, 5.2 ruptures a season. Fortunately, Matt Milano suffered a strain, an injury that occurs slightly more than 0.25 instances/team per season. It’s not impossible to think that he could suffer one of these injuries again, but the data shows that this isn’t a commonly occurring injury. These are also injuries he cannot do anything to prevent. In comparison, hamstring strains occur at a rate of 12% of all injuries and recur at a rate of 32%. Obviously, the severity of injury plays a part, but this further demonstrates the difference in injury rates when looking at a player as a whole.

To slap the injury-prone label on Milano is inaccurate. He has been unlucky with serious injuries but not injury prone. I think you could paint a different and possibly more accurate narrative for him if he had an injury his rookie year that cost him a significant chunk of the season followed by a litany of soft-tissue injuries the next year causing multiple missed games followed by another significant injury missing more time in addition to lack of production. Milano has played well over a long duration of time, has been relatively healthy, and only this season has changed the tune on his future in Buffalo.

Market worth

These injuries may impact his market value but that could work in the Bills’ favor come contract discussions. It’s certain the team realizes Milano has not been available as much as they like, but though little fault of his own. His agent can counter with how bad the defense is when Milano is absent, which is a valid argument. When Milano isn’t dealing with a serious injury, he’s one of the best at what he does.

Milano dealing with the pectoral injury really brings this all into sharper focus. I had originally thought he would miss two games following the pectoral injury—and indeed he missed two games. But I underestimated how much he would struggle coming back, and didn’t predict that he would ultimately end up on short-term IR. Other years he probably would have gutted the injury out since there would only be the season-ending IR route, potentially harming his chances to re-sign down the road. But due to the rule changes, he can get the proper rest and maximize his production once healthy.

According to Spotrac, Milano’s market value is roughly $13 million per year on the open market. That number would put him ninth among the top linebackers in the league. If he gets lowballed to say $10 million, he’s still in the top 15 of the league in pay, which is still a pretty good payday. With how the pandemic has impacted the league’s bottom line, I would expect the market to potentially depress some of the typical open-market deals, but Milano is still worth the money, regardless of the injuries.

Talking with Buffalo Rumblings’ own Bruce Nolan, he agrees with Spotrac’s financial outlook with the possibility that the price tag goes up to $14 million. He went on to say that they make a sincere effort to sign Milano and that the defense is linebacker centric. The organization has deep ties to re-signing linebackers, implying a strong signal of their intentions. If you’ve ever listened to Bruce, he’s a smart man and I have no reason to disagree with his thoughts.

A fifth-round draft pick may not have been a huge investment to draft Matt Milano, but he’s clearly outplayed his draft position. The Bills have a chance to keep a guy who knows the system, likes to play here and is productive.

I say pay the man, and only let him walk if the Bills know they can’t afford him or don’t think he can maintain his production—similarly to how they handled things with Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips this past offseason. But to try and not sign him due to injury concerns is short-sighted. Milano is worth the money the Bills pay him now and will be once they extend him. This is how the team can keep the championship window open while continuing to develop players through the draft, find value free agents, and show that if they produce, the organization will reward them for the hard work.