Bills Promote vs. Pay: Jordan Poyer vs. The Field


The Buffalo Bills’ secondary in 2022 was known more for its inconsistent lineups than probably anything else. Even with all the moving pieces of Micah Hyde getting hurt, Tre White coming back, rookies working in, and a dinged-up Jordan Poyer, the unit still finished second in Football Outsider’s DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) passing mark with a 36.5% score. As a whole, the Bills’ defense allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game at 319.1 and the second-fewest points per game at just 17.9.

Even with all the moving parts this last year, the Bills’ safety position could look significantly different in 2023. As of writing this article, Buffalo has Hyde, Damar Hamlin, and Jared Mayden under contract for the safety position. There have also been whispers, hints, and rumors that rising sophomore Christian Benford may switch from corner to safety, but we will set him aside for the sake of this discussion. The Bills have to decide if they want to re-sign free agents Jordan Poyer, Dean Marlowe, and Jaquan Johnson or explore external options before we head into next season.

For this exercise, we will look at a variety of pieces of information for those three as well as a mid-cost free agent in Jabrill Peppers and a high-cost free agent in Juan Thornhill. Those five players will give us a wide array of production vs. contract to dissect as we head to our final verdict of PROMOTE vs. PAY in the middle of the Buffalo defensive backfield.


The money it will cost to fill out the safety position may be the hardest decision that Brandon Beane has to make this offseason. That is why we are going to start with what the contracts may look like in 2023, as it will be a major factor in deciding how the Bills move forward in the league calendar. Buffalo is coming off a season where they went 12-0 in regular season games that Jordan Poyer played in, and he was on a relatively inexpensive contract playing out a two-year $19,500,000 deal, according to Spotrac.

Going by the Spotrac MARKET VALUE combined with Over The Caps (OTC) Valuation numbers, Poyer should be in line for a raise to roughly $11 million per year on a three-year deal. Spotrac doesn’t have a MARKET VALUE for the other four safeties listed above so we will go by the OTC Valuation for comparison’s sake. Bills’ free agents Dean Marlowe and Jaquan Johnson come in at $943,000 and $1,705,000, respectively. Meanwhile, Patriots’ free agent Jabrill Peppers has a valuation of $1,867,000, and Chiefs’ free agent Juan Thornhill sits at $7,516,000, a pretty wide range of numbers for some very familiar names. 


Jordan Poyer played 945 snaps for the Bills last season with 515 coming at free safety, 229 in the box, and 112 coming at slot corner. Poyer played in 71.84% of the Buffalo regular season snaps in 2022. Marlowe played a combined 522 snaps between Buffalo and Atlanta with 168 of those coming at free safety. He didn’t see action for the Bills from weeks 13 to 17 before having an uptick in the playoffs with 120 of his reps coming in the postseason. Johnson played 545 snaps for the Bills with 131 coming at free safety and 76 in the box.

Most of his work in 2022 was done in special teams. Juan Thornhill played in 1249 snaps for the Chiefs with 847 coming at free safety. He was also on the field for 74 snaps in the super bowl win. Jabrill Peppers lined up 667 times for the Patriots last year with most coming in the box at 186 snaps. His usage against the run dates back to his time at Michigan. He also lined up in the slot 101 times.

Counting Stats:

Let’s keep things even with boxscore numbers by looking at the regular season only. Poyer racked up four interceptions, one forced fumble, and 63 tackles. The pro bowler has a missed tackle rate of 13.8%, which ranks 48th among qualified (50% of snaps) safeties. He also allowed a reception of 69% of targets, per PFF (Pro Football Focus), which ranks 33rd. Marlowe had 12 tackles in his limited action. He had a missed tackle rate of 20% and allowed a reception on 28.6% of targets. Marlowe did not meet the snap count to qualify for PFF’s rankings. Johnson compiled a career-high 32 tackles in 2022. He has a missed tackle rate of 11.1%, which ranks 33rd, and allowed a reception on 70% of his targets ranking 38th. Peppers tallied 60 tackles and a fumble recovery last year. He allowed a reception on 85% of his targets but had a missed tackle rate of just 3.5%. Lastly, Thornhill had 71 tackles, four for a loss, and added three interceptions. His missed tackle rate of 10.9% ranked 29th overall, and a 58,7% completion mark ranked him 9th among safeties.


Let’s rip through Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value for these five guys to start. Poyer 8, Thornhill 5, Peppers/Marlowe/Johnson all come in at 2. To peel this back further, we can shift over to PFF’s grades. Poyer earned 65.7 (41st among S) on total defense, 70.0 (26th) against the run, and 62.7 (47th) in coverage. Marlowe earned a 53.9 on total defense, 50.8 against the run, and 57.8 in coverage. He didn’t have enough snaps to qualify for rankings. Johnson earned a 50.5 on total defense, 60.7 against the run, and 52.9 in coverage. He also didn’t qualify for rankings. Peppers earned a 75.0 (11th among S) on total defense, 84.6 (4th) against the run, and 67.1 (36th) in coverage. Thornhill earned 72.7 (7th among S) on total defense, 65.4 (35th) against the run, and 75.2 (9th) in coverage.

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Vorse’s Verdict:

We all know the Bills aren’t flush with cash entering 2023.

Even if they pull out most of their “cap coupons” (as our cap guru, Greg Tompsett, calls contract restructures), they are still looking at $40M to $50M to work with before signing or drafting anyone. That said, and don’t kill me, but I think the Bills may be forced to move off of Jordan Poyer if he commands the three-year, $33,000,000+ deal he is predicted to receive.

Poyer absolutely deserves that massive payday, but it might be in Buffalo’s best interest to move off a year too soon rather than a year too late. If the Bills are out of the market for Poyer, they’d have to be out on Thornhill. The one thing that does make him a bit more attractive is that he’s only entering his age 27 season.

I believe the Bills will make that mid-level move for a guy like Peppers, who could be had at a reasonable one or two-year contract, then add depth in players like Marlowe and Johnson. If Brandon Beane could add all three of them and a draft pick for under $5,000,000 or so this season, the Bills can lean on a healthy Micah Hyde and invest around the rest of the defense and offense.