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State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster: Safeties

There’s strength at the top, but depth is a mild concern

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have, arguably, the best pair of starting safeties in the league. Their dynamic duo combined for ten interceptions, 19 pass breakups, four sacks, and 167 tackles in the regular season. One was named first-team All-Pro, and the other was named second-team All-Pro.

What happens if one of those players is injured? Buffalo’s depth was rarely tested at the position, but in limited showings, the reserves played well. With both of the Bills’ All-Pro safeties north of 30 years old, however, some investment at the depth level is necessary.

In today’s look at the state of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, we profile the safeties, a top-heavy group led by two of the league’s best.

Damar Hamlin

Contract status for 2022: Signed; second year of four-year rookie contract ($865,119 cap hit; $120,357 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 23 (24 on 3/24/2022)
Playing time: 14 games, 125 special teams snaps (28.8% of team total), 50 defensive snaps (4.64% of team total)
Key statistics: 2 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 0/3 on passes where he was closest defender

Hamlin did exactly what was expected of him during his rookie season—he contributed on special teams when needed, he played on defense in a few blowouts, and he otherwise learned behind two of the best in the game. He’s a nice developmental piece moving forward.

Micah Hyde

Contract status for 2022: Signed; first year of two-year contract extension ($10.2 million cap hit; $5 million dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 31 (32 on 12/31/2022)
Playing time: 17 games (17 starts), 1,024 defensive snaps (95% of team total), 68 special teams snaps (15.67% of team total), 10 offensive snaps (.83% of team total)
Key statistics: 74 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 4 tackles for loss (TFLs), 1 sack, 5 interceptions (INTs), 1 interception returned for a touchdown, 10 pass breakups (PBUs), 1 forced fumble (FF), 2 fumble recoveries (FRs), 64.4% completion rate against (29/45), 371 yards allowed, 3 touchdowns allowed, 4 punt returns, 37 punt return yards

Hyde had a remarkable season, earning a second-team All-Pro nod for the second time in his Bills career. A large part of why Buffalo’s pass defense was able to stay excellent without Tre’Davious White was because of its safeties, and Hyde continued to show himself to be an adept deep cover player, robber, and blitzer. In the postseason, when head coach Sean McDermott wanted someone sure-handed to return punts, Hyde stepped into the role and performed quite well. He nearly returned a punt for a touchdown against the New England Patriots, but he was tripped by his own man on the way to the house. Hyde’s performance, leadership, and durability make him one of the best free-agent signings in team history. He’s been an integral piece of the defense since his arrival, and he will continue to be for at least the next two seasons.

Jaquan Johnson

Contract status for 2022: Signed; final year of four-year rookie contract ($1,011,085 cap hit; $46,085 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 26 (27 on 11/6/2022)
Playing time: 17 games (1 start), 271 special teams snaps (62.44% of team total), 98 defensive snaps (9.1% of team total)
Key statistics: 14 tackles, 8 special teams tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT, 3/4 completions allowed where he was the closest defender, 41 yards allowed, 1 touchdown allowed, 1/1 passing, 13 passing yards

Johnson made the first start of his career in Buffalo’s 40-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans in Week 4. He also made his first career interception in that game, picking off Davis Mills. Johnson was tied for 69th in the league in special teams tackles this year, and he once again was a nice player for the Bills in that phase of the game. His performance in limited action on defense suggests that he has potential to step into a larger role; however, given the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s not likely that he’ll have to do it in Buffalo. He’s a solid third safety.

Jordan Poyer

Contract status for 2022: Signed; final year of two-year contract extension ($10,776,464 cap hit; $3.6 million cap hit if cut or traded)
Age: 30 (31 on 4/25/2022)
Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 984 defensive snaps (91.28% of team total), 131 special teams snaps (30.28% of team total)
Key statistics: 93 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 quarterback hits, 3 sacks, 9 PBUs, 5 INTs, 8 pressures, 55% completion rate allowed (22/40), 245 yards allowed, 1 touchdown allowed

Finally, Poyer received the recognition that he deserves as one of the game’s best safeties, as he was named first-team All-Pro this past season. Somehow, he wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl but, at the end of the day, we all know the Pro Bowl is a joke. Poyer is equally adept as a tackler as he is in pass coverage, and he can play both man and zone when asked. As a blitzer off the edge, Poyer is as good as a linebacker, and at the risk of sounding cliché, he hits like a ton of bricks. Poyer is another of the team’s best-ever free-agent signings, forming the league’s top safety duo with Hyde. I assume that the team will look to sign him to an extension at some point soon rather than allow him to test the market at the end of the season.

Josh Thomas

Contract status for 2022: Signed reserve/futures contract on 1/24/2022 ($705,000 cap hit; $0 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 25 (26 on 11/19/2022)
Playing time: N/A
Key statistics: N/A

Thomas was a member of Buffalo’s practice squad for the duration of the season after signing with the club as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He did not appear in a game in 2021 after appearing in two as a rookie.

Buffalo has no questions as to who starts at safety, as Poyer and Hyde make up a dynamic duo at the defense’s final level. The contract status of some of the safeties, however, makes me think that the team should look into at least one building block for the future. With Johnson and Poyer playing in the final year of their respective contracts, and Poyer and Hyde both creeping towards an age where players start to slow, it would be wise for Buffalo to invest at least one mid-/late-round draft choice at the position.

With that said, I’d try to extend Poyer sooner rather than later. He’s been a top-five player at his position since signing in March 2017, and he clearly loves the team, so it would be foolish to let him test the market if he doesn’t want to do so. A two- or three-year extension in the area of $9 million annually should do it, and with the salary cap set to boost in the coming years, that shouldn’t be too burdensome on the team overall. A draft choice could battle with Hamlin for the fourth safety spot.

I like Jaquan Johnson quite a lot, so if the team can sign him to a modest deal to remain, I’d be on board. If he wants to leave to seek a starting role elsewhere, I wouldn’t blame him one bit. As for Hyde, we can talk about re-signing him in next year’s state of the roster series. For now, let’s just be happy that the team has two great players under contract here for 2022.