State of the Bills: Safety

By WGR 550 SportsRadio

My State of the Bills series continues with a look at the safety position headed into the 2020 offseason:

Under contract:

  • Micah Hyde 
  • Jordan Poyer
  • Jaquan Johnson 

Pending Free Agents:

  • Kurt Coleman
  • Dean Marlowe

State of the Position:

The Buffalo Bills have one of the best safety tandems in the National Football League in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. They’ve been invaluable to a top secondary since both arriving prior to the 2017 season. Last year alone, they combined for 176 total tackles, three interceptions, and five forced fumbles. They’re both smart, not afraid to be physical, and tremendous athletes. One of the reasons they’re so good together is because they play off each other so well, able to communicate pre-snap, disguise coverages, and have a total grasp of the defense. There’s no true free or strong safety in the Bills’ defensive system. Hyde and Poyer act as both, whether it’s in a two-deep safety look or one coming down to defend the run and letting the other stay deep. Each player has missed only one game over the last three seasons.

Hyde also scored the team’s only non-offensive touchdown all season when he returned an attempted onside kick back to the end zone against the Miami Dolphins, and is a reliable punt returner if and when called upon.  He’s still under contract for two more seasons and with a salary cap hit of less than $7 million in each of those seasons, the 29-year old is a solid value and should continue to be a high-level player and leader of the defense through that time.

Poyer, however, is going into the final year of a contract that has been a tremendous value for the Bills. He’s scheduled to make $3.45 million in base salary and bonuses. To put that into perspective, Poyer is scheduled to be the 30th-highest paid safety in the NFL in 2020, and that doesn’t include new contracts that will be handed out in free agency. He’ll count for only $4.325 million against the cap. A great value for the Bills in both respects. There’s been a lot of buzz on social media and elsewhere over the last year or so about Poyer’s contract and the team needing to pay him more. There’s no doubt he’s performed well enough to warrant a new deal and more money, but the Bills have several contracts they’ll have to address over the next year, including cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano, and offensive tackle Dion Dawkins, who are all also going into the final years of their deals. For 2020, Poyer is under contract to the Bills, and still a huge piece of what they do on defense.

Behind Poyer and Hyde is Jaquan Johnson, who was active for 13 games last season as a rookie, but didn’t play a single snap on defense until the regular season finale when other players sat or came out early. Johnson played well in that game, collecting three tackles and making a terrific interception that was called back via a penally. He was a key special teams contributor when active. Johnson is only 5-foot-10 and isn’t a thumper, but he’s smart and takes good angles and always seemed to be in the right place while playing at the University of Miami, and even in the preseason this year. How the team feels about Johnson’s future may play into what they ultimately do with Poyer’s contract after the season, so it will be interesting to see if Johnson gets more defensive snaps next season. But with Hyde and Poyer almost never coming off the field, it will be hard for him to do that.  

Kurt Coleman and Dean Marlowe are both pending unrestricted free agents. Both are excellent character guys who fit the profile of what Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier want. Both are smart and understand their roles.

Coleman was signed after the preseason by the Bills. They needed someone to come in who knew the defense and didn’t have to take time to get acclimated, and he was able to do that because of his time in Carolina under McDermott. He’ll be 32-years-old this offseason and probably in the same situation. The Bills will probably look to get a bit younger at the position during free agency and the draft, but can call upon him if needed and be confident he’ll be able and ready.

Marlowe shouldn’t be tough to re-sign and with 91-players on the training camp roster. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s brought back to compete for a depth spot once again.  

This position overall is strong for the Bills at the top, but needs a little depth added, maybe specifically needing a physical presence to be able to play against bigger, run-oriented teams. If the Bills are going to spend any sort of money in free agency or draft capital at safety, I think that’s the kind of player they’ll target. They do have Siran Neal who can be that type of player, but I didn’t include him in this write-up because he mainly played cornerback last season and I expect him to be more of that big-nickel corner next year, as well.

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