Here’s the impact on the teamMarch 15th, 2023
If there was one thing that seemed almost guaranteed to happen once the NFL free agent signing period began, it was that safety Jordan Poyer would be joining a team that was not named the Buffalo Bills.
After six outstanding seasons in Buffalo’s defense, it seemed like Poyer’s time with the Bills was done because he turns 32 in late April, and is coming off an injury-plagued 2022 season that forced him to miss four games.
But, once again, it just goes to show you that fans and media really don’t know what NFL teams have percolating behind closed doors, and once it was clear Poyer’s market wasn’t what he was hoping for, the Bills offered him a chance to return.
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And Poyer took it, even though he and his wife, Rachel Bush, had spent the offseason dropping hints that his time in Buffalo was done, not so much because he wanted to play somewhere else, he just preferred to do so in a place where the weather wasn’t so lousy and in a state that didn’t have the suffocating taxes of New York.
The team confirmed it will be a two-year contract, though terms are not yet available.
What re-signing Jordan Poyer means to Buffalo Bills defense
Obviously, Poyer is on the wrong side of 30, but he remains one of the best players at his position and there is no doubt that his return is great news because it was highly unlikely that general manager Brandon Beane was going to find a better player, at least for the 2023 season.
With Poyer and Micah Hyde, his running mate for six years in Buffalo, both returning, the Bills don’t need to force anything in free agency or the draft at the safety position. Both players could be gone in 2024 which may be a good reason for Beane to think about taking a safety in the draft, but it probably doesn’t have to happen in the early rounds.
Also, if the Bills want to try to convert Christian Benford from cornerback to safety, they can do that slowly and perhaps Benford can emerge as a replacement for either Poyer or Hyde in 2024 if they aren’t on the team.
With the hole at safety filled, the Bills can focus on obvious needs at outside receiver, offensive line and linebacker in the early rounds of the draft.
While it’s true they will address their one offensive line opening by signing guard Connor McGovern to a three-year, $22.3 million deal, that should not preclude them from drafting a guard who they can begin to develop and perhaps add into the competition mix.
Deonte Harty deal raises questions for use of other Buffalo Bills wide receivers
And while it’s true that they will sign wide receiver Deonte Harty to a two-year, $13.5 million deal, that does not fix their need for a true No. 2 boundary receiver because Henry will most likely do most of his work in the slot.
The addition of Harty raises some interesting questions about the slot position.
Is this it for Isaiah McKenzie, a similarly undersized slot receiver who has been with Buffalo since 2018?
Do the Bills lack faith that 2022 fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir will be able to become the full-time slot receiver?
And does this end any thoughts about bringing back Cole Beasley?
It might be yes to all three questions.
It has long been suspected that McKenzie would be a salary cap casualty this year because that would create about $2.6 million in space, though as of Wednesday that hadn’t happened. McKenzie has, at times, been a useful player in the Bills offense, but when he got his first real chance to be the full-time slot receiver in 2022, his production was ordinary at best.
He set career highs with targets (65), catches (42) and yards (423), but those were way off the numbers Beasley put up in 2021. There was too much inconsistency in his play including a 10.2 drop percentage which was 10th-worst in the league. Not as bad as Gabe Davis’ 11.1 which was fourth-worst, but obviously still an issue.
More surprising was McKenzie’s very low average of just 3.3 yards gained after catch which, for a player with his quickness, is pretty disappointing, though it was right in line with the rest of the Bills receiving corps which ranked among the worst groups in the league in that category. That’s an area where Harty could really help because in his limited opportunities with the Saints, he averaged 6.6 yards after the catch.
One of the reasons for that average is his speed, but also his ability to break tackles. In 2020, he caught 28 passes and forced 13 missed tackles.
McKenzie was the smallest player on the Buffalo roster (5-foot-8, 173 pounds) but Harty takes over that position as he’s one of the smallest players in the NFL at 5-6, 170. Of course, Harty makes up for his lack of size with blazing speed which is also an attribute that has been lacking in the Bills’ offense since John Brown was healthy and producing in 2019.
Harty entered the NFL in 2019 when his surname was Harris, which he changed to Harty in 2021 to honor his stepfather. He was an undrafted player by the Saints out of Division II Assumption College, but he impressed scouts with a blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds. He holds the all-time college football record (regardless of division) of total return touchdowns with 14, including eight in one season and that led the Saints to sign him.
His brilliance in the return game was his door to the NFL and as a rookie in 2019, he earned first-team All-Pro honors when he led the league in both punt returns (36) and yards (338). For his career he has averaged 9.8 yards per punt return and 25.4 on kickoffs.
And this raises another interesting point. The Bills have agreed to bring back Nyheim Hines who became the double duty returner after he arrived in a trade from Indianapolis. If Harty takes over those duties, does that mean the Bills have bigger plans for Hines in the offense? Or, if Hines remains the main returner, does that mean Harty will have a more substantial role in the offense?
As a receiver Harty hasn’t produced much. In the 40 games he played, he was targeted only 92 times and caught 64 for 793 yards and four TDs. However, there’s some context. He was not a part of the offense as a rookie, and last season he played only four games due to a turf toe ailment. In 2021 he was targeted 59 times and caught 36 for 570 yards and three TDs with 23 of his receptions resulting in first downs.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s newsletter, Bills Blast, which will come out every Friday during the offseason, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills re-sign Jordan Poyer. Here’s impact of free agency on 2023 team
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