The Buffalo Bills place a high priority on special teams. They keep players on the active roster whose role is to serve on the kickoff coverage teams, and those players have paid dividends over the years. Buffalo’s coverage units consistently rank in the league’s top half, and they can even help to cover for poor performance in the kicking or punting game.
Last year’s group of specialists looked like they would carry over to be this year’s group of specialists; however, some circumstances emerged that have muddied that picture. At least to start the year, Buffalo will have to go without one of its top special teams contributors from last season.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile the aforementioned special teams linebacker.
Name: Andre Smith
Height/Weight: 6’ 240 lbs
Age: 25 (26 on 4/20/2023)
Experience/Draft: 5; selected in the seventh round (No. 234 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers
College: North Carolina
Acquired: Traded to Buffalo on 8/31/2020 for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Smith enters the final year of a two-year, $2.4 million contract he signed following the 2020 NFL season. For the 2022 season, he carries a cap hit of $1,251,615 if he makes the roster, and a dead-cap charge of $125,000 should he be released.
2021 Recap: Smith did not appear on one defensive snap last year, making all of his plays on special teams. He was the eighth player in terms of total special teams snaps on the 2021 Bills, appearing on a total of 260 snaps in that phase of the game. He had ten special teams tackles and a fumble recovery. Another source credits Smith with 11 total tackles on special teams, good for a tie for 24th in the entire league.
Positional outlook: Smith is one of ten linebackers on the current roster, though he is the only one who is suspended for a PED violation. Von Miller is one of those “linebackers,” too, so Buffalo has nine true off-the-ball ‘backers on the team. Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard, Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee, Tyler Matakevich, and Baylon Spector round out the group.
2022 Offseason: Smith is healthy and participating in OTAs. He lost an appeal of his suspension for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, meaning he’ll be suspended for the season’s first six games.
2022 Season outlook: If not for the PED suspension, I’d say that Smith was a roster lock, as he was among the best special teams players in the league last season. However, given that he’ll miss six games, it’s possible that the Bills choose to release him in favor of a younger player. It’s also possible that the Bills keep him, watch a young player step in and play well over the course of the first six games, and release Smith then.
I think it’s more likely that Buffalo keeps a player like Joe Giles-Harris until Smith is eligible to play. They’ll then release the replacement (Giles-Harris, in this hypothetical) and try to sneak him back onto the practice squad. Smith’s absence is a big one in the early going, but the Bills have cultivated enough depth to withstand it.