The Buffalo Bills had a fairly well-established pecking order at linebacker last year when the entire group was healthy. That order was easy to see right from the jump—the Bills had two players who would always be on the field when they could play, a third who would join the base package, and then a fourth who would be on the roster but serve as a special teams ace. After that, everyone was fighting for roster space and playing time that was left.
Thanks to injuries at linebacker, there were some opportunities for younger players to earn that playing time last year. While some players rose to the occasion, others fell out of favor with the coaching staff, giving still more young players the chance to show their mettle.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of those young players who capitalized on his opportunities.
Name: Andre Smith
Height/Weight: 6’ 240 lbs
Age: 24 (25 on 4/20/2022)
Experience/Draft: 4; selected in the seventh round (No. 234 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers
College: North Carolina
Acquired: Traded from Carolina to Buffalo on 8/31/2020 for a conditional seventh-round draft choice in 2023.
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Smith signed a two-year contract extension worth a total of $2.4 million this offseason. For the 2021 season, he’ll have a salary-cap hit of $1,127,794. If he’s released, the Bills will be left with a $50,000 dead-cap charge.
2020 Recap: Smith didn’t make Buffalo’s roster out of camp, as he only had a week to become acclimated with his new surroundings before final cut downs occurred. Buffalo signed him to the practice squad, and Smith was elevated to the active roster three times—Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans, and Week 7 against the New York Jets—before he was eventually added to the active roster on October 27. Smith was a special teams mainstay in his 12 games, never playing fewer than 53 percent of the snaps in that phase when he was active. While he only appeared in four games, he was still fifth on the Bills’ roster in total special teams snaps. For the year, Smith had nine tackles, five of which came during a Week 17 blowout win over Miami—one tackle for loss, and one forced fumble.
Positional outlook: Smith once again finds himself looking to make the roster as a special teams player, as the Bills returner all three of their top linebackers—Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, and A.J. Klein—from last year. Fellow linebacker-in-name-only, special teams ace Tyler Matakevich, is also back. Tyrell Adams, Mike Bell, Joe Giles-Harris, and Marquel Lee each signed as a free agent, and the Bills brought back Tyrel Dodson to round out the group.
2021 Offseason: Smith is healthy and hasn’t been among the players listed as skipping OTAs thus far.
2021 Season outlook: Barring an injury, Smith has a great chance to reprise his role as one of the Bills’ top special teams players this season. He’s young, tough, and willing, so that gives him as good a shot as anyone to stick on the roster at the end of camp. The veteran additions this offseason suggest that the Bills are looking for upgrades here, so there is a chance that Smith finds himself on the outside looking in if the coaching staff decides to go with two of the Lee/Giles-Harris/Adams combination rather than Smith and Dodson, for example. Still, it’s clear that the coaches value Smith’s special teams contributions more than Dodson’s long-term potential, as it was Smith active on game days in the second half of the year and not Dodson. Smith is going to be a priority practice-squad signing if the Bills do decide to go with the veterans here instead. This is a deep positional group, so we could see some surprises at the end of the summer.