The Buffalo Bills play just two linebackers on defense the vast majority of the time. So, while their “base” defense might be a 4-3 front in theory, it’s really a 4-2, or a nickel defense, in practice. The third linebacker, while important, is a reserve in this defense, so he’s not as valuable as the third corner is to the scheme.
This means that Buffalo has the option to carry players who excel on special teams at the linebacker spot with most of their reserves. Generally, Buffalo carries six linebackers, and two of the six have exclusively played special teams in years past. The two who aren’t special teams-only players are still relegated to that area of the game in ideal situations, but if something happens to a starter, the Bills have to be able to elevate one of those players.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one of those special teams-exclusive players—a veteran who is among the best in the business at what he does.
Name: Tyler Matakevich
Height/Weight: 6’1” 235 lbs
Age: 29 (30 on 12/22/2022)
Experience/Draft: 7; selected in the seventh round (No. 246 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers
Acquired: Signed with Buffalo on 3/30/2020
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Matakevich signed a one-year extension to his original contract, a two-year deal, last season. He’ll play this year under the terms of that extension, which means that he’ll carry a cap hit of $3.25 million. His dead-cap number is $750,000 if he doesn’t make the team, but as a vested veteran, the entirety of his salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster for Week 1.
2021 Recap: Matakevich reprised his role as Buffalo’s top special teams player, earning every bit of his pay as a coverage ace. He tied for seventh in the league with 14 special teams tackles. He’s made at least ten special teams tackles in every season of his career. Matakevich led the Bills in special teams snaps for the second straight year, appearing on 357 snaps overall. He played 43 defensive snaps, as well. He made 19 total tackles, and he also notched his first career interception when he picked off Davis Mills in Buffalo’s 40-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans.
Positional outlook: Matakevich joins Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Joe Giles-Harris, Tyrel Dodson, and Andre Smith as returning players at the position. Baylon Spector and Terrel Bernard were drafted this year. The Bills also signed Marquel Lee. Von Miller is listed as a linebacker, but we assume he’ll play more in the role of edge rusher/defensive end than he will off-the-ball linebacker.
2022 Offseason: Matakevich is healthy and he’s appeared at all OTAs to date.
2022 Season outlook: I feel fairly confident that Matakevich is safe, even though I’ll acknowledge that $3.25 million seems to be a hefty price tag for a player who doesn’t really contribute to the defense at a position with plenty of young talent. It’s not an overpay, though, when you look at just how good Matakevich is at covering kicks, and given the diversity among Buffalo’s reserve linebackers (young, athletic players like Dodson and Bernard, for example, could step right in for Edmunds and Milano), it makes me think that the Bills will be just fine keeping Matakevich for the final year of his deal.
Given Andre Smith’s suspension, especially, it would be foolish for the team to release Matakevich to save a few bucks. That’s not how a team should treat one of its captains, and it’s not how this Buffalo regime handles its players at all. Matakevich should be back again in 2022, and he’ll be a big contributor on special teams once again.