One of the top priorities for the Buffalo Bills every season is to sign their own players to extensions as part of their draft, develop, and re-sign theory. While this isn’t full proof, it limits roster turnover and rewards players who have produced for them. The latest target for the Bills is DT Harrison Phillips. Currently, he and LB Tremaine Edmunds are the only members of the 2018 draft class not signed to an extension still with the team.
The first 6 picks by the Bills in 2018:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 23, 2022
▫️QB Josh Allen: 6-yr, $258M extension
▫️LB Tremaine Edmunds: 2 Pro Bowls
▫️DT Harrison Phillips: 107 tackles
▫️CB Taron Johnson: 3-yr, $24M extension
▫️ST Siran Neal: 3-yr, $10.9M extension
▫️G Wyatt Teller (traded to Browns): All Pro
Originally drafted in the third round out of Stanford, Phillips has had an up-and-down career so far with the Bills.
His selection was made famous, being announced by late Bills superfan Pancho Billa. Immediately, he was compared to Bills great DT Kyle Williams as a potential replacement. Looking back now, this may have been an unfair expectation that may have placed heavy demands on him so early on in his career.
Playing in a reserve role his rookie year, he appeared in all 16 games and avoided the injury report. He collected 35 total tackles along with four tackles for loss (TFLs) and two quarterback hits playing behind DT Star Lotulelei.
Phillips had a strong start to his season, beginning to eat into Lotulelei’s snap count before a left ACL tear in the third game against the Cincinnati Bengals prematurely ended his season. This was the result of a direct blow to the outside of his knee while in the midst of a pile of bodies near the goal line.
Phillips didn’t immediately come out of the game, instead, attempting to finish the last several minutes before falling over untouched. His final stat line was three total tackles with one quarterback hit.
As a result of his second ACL tear in the same knee, the first one coming back in 2015 while at Stanford, Phillips ultimately missed 14 total games while on injured reserve.
His rehab was well documented and he was able to return in 2020 to play in Week 1. However, Phillips was still not 100%, he even admitted that at a later time and struggled in his return.
Unfortunately, he was declared inactive for four games midway through the season. He began to pick up his play towards the second half of the season and began to show flashes of his former self, which was expected as he got farther away from the ACL tear. He finished with 18 total tackles and four quarterback hits.
In the preseason, a PCL sprain to the same left knee against the Chicago Bears forced him out of the final warmup against the Green Bay Packers but gave him extra time to prepare for Week 1. Due to the most recent knee injury, this led to a slow start, which led to three games where he was inactive. In a stroke of luck for Phillips, DT Justin Zimmer tore his ACL in practice in November, which gave him an opportunity for increased playing time.
Given this chance, Phillips then started ten of the next 11 games and really began to show what he was capable of when he was fully healthy. This strong finish to the season really set him up for serious discussions about his NFL future. Phillips finished up the best season of his career with 51 total tackles, four TFLs, and six QB hits.
Looking at his availability, he has appeared in 45 out of a possible 66 games including playoffs. However, of the 21 missed games, seven of them were healthy scratches—leaving the 2019 season as his only time missed due to injury in the regular season. One of the biggest issues with signing guys to extensions is their availability and expected production.
Viewing from an outsider’s perspective, one would naturally question whether this is a good idea. Normally, I would suggest that injuries beget injuries, but he has only had two injuries in four years, which is exceptional considering how physical his positional demands are.
Considering he missed 14 total games due to a season-ending injury with the rest being a team decision, this suddenly makes a contract extension more palatable. He has shown the ability to return to play and perform at a higher level than prior to the injury. He has emerged as a team leader and has been the Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his charitable work in the community the last two seasons.
Phillips has also shown the ability to take care of his body and be available to play outside of injuries that were not within his control. Phillips embodies “Trust the Process,” which to some can be corny, but he is exactly the type of player who is a prime example of this. He has persevered and produced when it counted and managed to be available to play outside of serious injury.
There is a chance for that left knee to become arthritic due to all the prior injuries to the joint, but that may not be problematic for several years still. There is still a chance he could suffer yet another tear to that knee or the opposite side, but he is far enough removed that his risks remain relatively low. He is worthy of a contract extension at a modest price and both the team and Phillips’s representation understand that fact.
There have been a number of possibilities floating around regarding what his market value is, but Spotrac has him at two years/$10.8 million, which is incredibly palatable considering what they paid DT Vernon Butler (two years/$15 million) for a relative lack of production.
He won’t necessarily create generational wealth with an extension, but he will provide himself financial security in the short term. This will also allow him to build off the progress he has made and hopefully parlay that into future earnings.
Despite the several injuries, there should be no concern or hesitation in signing Harrison Phillips to a contract extension. He has become a core piece of this franchise and should continue to reward the team with effective play as the Buffalo Bills strive in their quest towards a Super Bowl.