The Buffalo Bills don’t have very many defensive tackles under contract for 2022. Vernon Butler, Justin Zimmer, and Harrison Phillips are all scheduled to be free agents after the current NFL year has concluded in March, leaving Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei as the only defensive tackles currently rostered who have contracts extending into or past 2022. Even if the Bills were not a team heavily invested in rotating their interior defensive linemen, it would be a position group in serious need of bodies before the next NFL season kicks off.
Most would assume that the amount of times Vernon Butler has been a healthy inactive this year would indicate he will not be a candidate for re-signing with the Bills. Justin Zimmer could potentially be back on a league-minimum deal as the team seems to like him and Buffalo may be his best chance for continued playing time.
But what of Harrison Phillips? The former third-round pick out of Stanford who famously had his selection announced by late Buffalo Bills super-fan Ezra Castro (known often by his persona Pancho Billa) has been an active member of the Western New York community and has been a fan favorite ever since stepping onto the field, but has struggled with injuries and consistent play throughout much of his four-year NFL career. But despite playing 2021 with a torn PCL that he suffered in the preseason, Phillips has quietly had not only a solid season defending the run from the 1-technique defensive tackle spot, but also has started to take away snaps from previous starter Star Lotulelei. After being on the inactive list earlier in the year, Phillips actually started over Lotulelei against the Carolina Panthers, played more snaps than the older veteran, and had another solid day in run defense after good showings against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints recently as well. With a rare fourth-year emergence and a lack of bodies currently under contract for 2022 at the position, the discussion should be had as to whether or not Phillips meets the bar for a possible extension.
As always, the natural extended question is “well, how much?” This was the main point of my article two years ago about not re-signing defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: not that Phillips wasn’t worth re-signing, but that the price tag he was likely to command was not one I felt the Bills should have paid. Harrison Phillips is not likely to accumulate ten sacks in the next three games, so I don’t think the price tag would look the same. But let’s take a gander at some possible contractual chasses:
Adam Butler signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract at age 26 with the Miami Dolphins after his four-year rookie deal expired with the New England Patriots. He accumulated more pass rush productivity than Phillips has, which likely netted him a decent contract, but wasn’t as good against the run.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches signed a two-year, $5 million contract at age 27 to re-sign with the Buccaneers. He’s been a replacement-level player against the run and the pass who will likely continue to be a rotational IDL for the remainder of his career.
Chris Wormley signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract at age 27 to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers after his first year in the Steel City. He came to them from the division rival Baltimore Ravens after his rookie deal expired. Wormley has been a solid defender against the run and the pass but is in the midst of a breakout season rushing the passer with career-highs in sacks and pressures after being given more snaps than at any point previously in his NFL tenure.
Harrison Phillips will be 26 when the new league year begins, and it feels like if the Bills wanted to re-sign him, a two-year deal with a value somewhere between $4 million to $5 million is likely to be a reasonable target given the market. He has played recently at a level that would make me give a slow-but-firm nod were this type of contract to pop up on my phone notifications. Bodies at the position are necessary—it doesn’t appear likely the contract would break the bank, and his level of play has been above replacement-level even despite the newest addition to the concerning injury list.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. Look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!