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Injury analysis: Buffalo Bills DT Jordan Phillips

Can Phillips regain his form following two injury-marred seasons in Arizona?

Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The band is getting back together! The Buffalo Bills announced the signing of DT Jordan Phillips to a one-year contract Thursday, bringing him back to Buffalo where he played in 2018 and 2019. Following a monster 2019 season where he recorded 9.5 sacks, he signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals.

Regrettably, he only lasted two seasons that were marred by injury, a stark contrast to his first several seasons with Miami and Buffalo. Below are all the publicly known injuries for Jordan Phillips.

Injury History

2015 Miami Dolphins

Missed one game. Was inactive in Week 3 as a healthy scratch. Ankle injury, Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans, was probable for the next two games, a knee injury in Week 8 against the New England Patriots, was questionable but played. He also suffered a shoulder injury in Week 12 against the New York Jets

2016 Dolphins

Missed zero games. Suffered an ankle injury Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, was questionable for Week 2 against the New England Patriots, did not miss.

2017 Dolphins

Missed three games. Suffered a left ankle injury, side not specified, in the Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Was doubtful for Week 3 and questionable for the next two games, missing all of them for three games total. Was later questionable for Weeks 8 and 15 with an ankle injury, though it isn't clear whether this was the same ankle.

Based on the timeline when he missed the three games and reports that he was in a walking boot, this suggests that he suffered a high ankle sprain. The available articles do not clarify this but this would be a likely culprit.

2018 Dolphins/Buffalo Bills

Missed zero games. Phillips dealt with a shoulder injury in the preseason with the Dolphins that caused him to miss some practice but it did not appear to limit him later during the season. He was later waived after Week 4 by the Dolphins and picked up by the Buffalo Bills. He did not have any publicly reported injuries requiring a game-day designation.

2019 Bills

Missed zero games. Phillips appeared on the injury report prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers game in Week 15 with a knee injury possibly suffered in practice. He was able to play through the injury without a game-day designation and his snap count appeared to be within his normal ranges.

2020 Arizona Cardinals

Missed seven games. Phillips suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 against Washington and was questionable for Week 3. He dealt with an illness, deemed questionable prior to Week 5 against the New York Jets.

He then sustained a foot injury in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys before injuring his hamstring, side not specified, in Week 7 against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Cardinals had a well-timed bye in Week 8 and Phillips was questionable heading into Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins. He, unfortunately, aggravated the hamstring strain, missing one game before being placed on injured reserve prior to Week 11 for a three-game stint. He was later activated prior to Week 14 against the New York Giants before reinjuring the same hamstring early in the game and placed back on injured reserve, ending his season.

2021 Cardinals

Missed nine games: eight regular season, one postseason. Phillips struggled out of the gate in training camp with a back injury and a stint on the COVID-19/Reserve list starting on August 19 and lasting until September 2 that cost him all of training camp—landing him on injured reserve to start the season. He missed the first five games before being activated in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns.

Phillips then suffered a groin injury against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9, making him questionable the following week. He sustained a thumb injury in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, was questionable for Week 15 against the Detroit Lions where he dealt with an MCL knee sprain, side not specified, that cost him the remainder of the regular season and the playoff loss to the Rams.

Buffalo Bills Impact

Phillips admitted in his opening press conference with the Buffalo Bills that he had not dealt with injuries during his career in the way he did during the two years in Arizona. Prior to his free-agency deal with the Cardinals in 2019, the only notable injury that he dealt with was a possible high ankle sprain in 2017 with the Dolphins.

It’s not clear whether the Cardinals asked their players to play through injuries they would otherwise sit out, but the last two years of injuries are concerning. Dealing with a hamstring strain, back injury, and MCL knee sprain that cost him 16 games over the past two seasons is worrisome.

I expect that the Bills looked closely at that back injury that cost him the early portion of 2021 before signing him. There isn’t a lot of information regarding how he suffered the injury, which makes it hard to speculate the exact injury. There weren’t any reports indicating he needed surgery suggesting a disc issue, but defensive linemen and back injuries aren’t always a good mix.

His MCL sprain I’m not concerned about, but there is some hesitation that the hamstring strain could pop back up. Unfortunately, these are the two most common injuries sustained by NFL athletes during a season.

His snap counts in Arizona don’t appear to significantly deviate from the amount he played in Buffalo, but he simply couldn’t stay healthy. Was this due to the training staff in Arizona, bad luck, or something else altogether? I can’t identify the smoking gun in this case. It’s always excellent to see a player get paid what he can in the NFL, but injuries really prevented him from living up to the contract.

The Buffalo Bills signing him to a one-year deal at least minimizes the risk they take on following the past two seasons. Phillips wants to be here, he knows the system, and he was productive and available while he was here before. I highly doubt he stays injury-free this upcoming season, but a reduction in snaps, if he makes the team, could bode well for him.

I don’t expect 2019 production, but if he could provide rotational depth in case of injury, then I’m ok with it. Overall, I’m lukewarm on the signing, but there is certainly an upside in bringing him back. Maybe he finds the fountain of youth with the training facility here and rekindles some production necessary to secure the Buffalo Bills a few wins.