The Buffalo Bills have 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, and one entering the final year of his deal, the longer-term plan is a bit less clear.
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.
Contract status: Entering final year of two-year contract extension ($10,776,464 cap hit; $3.6 million cap hit if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 31 on 4/25/2022
2021 Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 984 defensive snaps (91.28% of team total), 131 special teams snaps (30.28% of team total)
Key 2021 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. He didn’t participate in any voluntary workouts this offseason and was limited during mandatory minicamp while looking for a contract extension. We doubt he’ll skip any of training camp because of the fines involved, but he may not practice every day. He is looking for a contract that will allow him to retire with the Bills.
Contract status: Entering 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)
2021 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 2021 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.
Contract status: Entering 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)
2021 Playing time: 17 games (1 start), 271 special teams snaps (62.44% of team total), 98 defensive snaps (9.1% of team total)
Key 2021 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.
Contract status for 2022: Entering second year of four-year rookie contract ($865,119 cap hit; $120,357 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 24 on 3/24/2022
2021 Playing time: 14 games, 125 special teams snaps (28.8% of team total), 50 defensive snaps (4.64% of team total)
Key 2021 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.
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.
The Bills were so comfortable with this position group, they didn’t even add a draft pick or UDFA. They have two solid starters, a solid third safety, a solid fourth developmental safety, and a depth developmental safety. That could hurt them a year from now, when Poyer and Johnson could both potentially leave, but for 2022, it’s fine.
The biggest question is Poyer’s contract status and how that will impact his play during training camp, preseason, and the regular season. Will he work through injuries to show he can stay on the field or will he sit back if he’s nicked up?
Hyde and Poyer are still going to play at a high level while they’re on the field. What are we going to see from the other three during camp and the preseason?