Welcome to the first article in our series on the Buffalo Bills’ pending free agents. I will go through the Bills’ current crop of free agents and give the arguments for re-signing them or letting them walk.
Age: 31 (32 when the 2023 season starts)
Experience: 11 seasons (6 in Buffalo, 4 in Cleveland, 1 in Philadelphia)
Most Recent Contract: 2 years, $19.5 million
Few players played through more than Jordan Poyer. He injured his foot in Week 2, forcing him to miss time. He then hurt his elbow against the Packers and reportedly finished the year playing with ligament damage in his knee. Despite the adversity, he was still one of the Bills’ best defenders. He grabbed four interceptions and remained a force multiplier for the battered Bills’ secondary. When Poyer was off the field, the Bills’ defense was .05 EPA worse against the pass per play and .03 worse per play overall. To contextualize, .03 is roughly the difference between finishing where the Bills did in EPA per play in seventh and the Colts at 13th.
Bills’ Top 10 Important Players from the 2022 Season: #3 Jordan Poyer
Case for re-signing
For one, there is no clear replacement for Jordan Poyer. It was announced on Wednesday by the NFLPA medical director that Damar Hamlin will play football again. It is not clear when that might be. Additionally, Micah Hyde is coming off a significant neck injury, and returning to his peak form in his age-32 season is a dubious bet. The Bills need all the help they can get at in secondary. Though the price tag Poyer commands might be uncomfortably high for an aging player, there are few players on the market with the rapport with players and staff and knowledge of the defense that Poyer provides. He still performed well in 2022, finishing 15th in EPA/target out of 66 safeties with at least 20 targets.
Case for Walking
Even though I spent the first chunk here commending Poyer for his grit in 2022, playing through all his aliments, it ultimately becomes an argument against re-signing him. How much money are you comfortable earmarking for a safety coming off the injuries Poyer is coming off? Especially when another vital piece of the defense, much younger, has also earned a sizeable payday in Tremaine Edmunds? If you were to choose only one player, a strong argument can be made that he is more important to the long-term success of the defense than Poyer. And if Hamlin returns to form in 2023, the Bills will be getting back a player who showed impressive flashes in 2022. Among safeties who played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, Hamlin finished ninth in PFF’s run-stop rate.
The decision ultimately comes down to what the Bills believe Poyer has left in the tank. Poyer’s camp has made it clear they want his (well-earned) payday, and there are plenty of safety-needy teams with the cap room the Bills lack.