What are the Injury Concerns in Re-signing Buffalo Bills Free Agents for 2023?

What are the Injury Concerns in Re-signing Buffalo Bills Free Agents for 2023?
Jan 2, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs with the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have plenty of decisions as they head into free agency this month. Every year, hard and easy decisions are made as the roster is shaped for the next season. Several players simply become too old or price themselves out. Some are ineffective, and some are frequently injured. 

Below is the list of 23 free agents as listed on Spotrac that Buffalo has to make some type of decision on once the new league year begins. I categorized each player into whether they should be: Bring Back, It Depends, or Let Go.

Each player’s injury history and other variables such as contract, age, or playing time are factored into these decisions. These are my assessments based on what I know about each player which means others’ knowledge or analysis of the player may differ. 

Note: I am not including practice squad players in this exercise, only active roster players.

Bring Back

OT David Quessenberry

Battled through a left ankle injury in Week 11 when he replaced Dion Dawkins as he dealt with his own high-ankle sprain. Quessenberry has a lot of starting experience and remains an effective backup that despite his age, still has a lot of meat on the bone as he missed several years battling cancer. 

P Sam Martin

Didn’t appear on the injury report this season and suffered a minor left ankle injury when he got run into against the Patriots in Week 13. He was effective as a punter and holder, especially on short notice at the beginning of the season. The only reason he wouldn’t come back is if the Bills draft a punter or find a cheaper option in free agency. 

OL Greg Van Roten

A cheap depth option that didn’t see the field much this last season. The only reason he doesn’t come back is if he has a chance to play more elsewhere. 

OL Ike Boettger

Boettger suffered a setback in his Achilles rehab that saw him miss virtually the entire season other than 11 total snaps against the Bears. Coming off the injury having not played, his market would be incredibly depressed. I would expect that he comes back as a quality depth option with the chance to get some starts to regain his value.

DE Shaq Lawson

Lawson massively outplayed his contract this season and did not appear on the injury report at all. While he could command more money on the open market, he knows that things aren’t always better out there which means that he will likely stick around. What his contract numbers will remain to be seen. He also managed to avoid the injury report this year which is pretty remarkable in itself.

S Dean Marlowe

Didn’t suffer any injuries in his short, late-season stint, and he knows the defense. His chance to stay with the team depends on whether he wants to play on what will likely amount to a minimum deal as a depth option or chase the money elsewhere. 

QB Case Keenum

This decision is out of Keenum’s control to some extent. He was an acceptable backup that did not need to see the field often this year, but his contract numbers may allow for a second year in Buffalo. 

He was the “break glass in case of emergency” but unless the Bills can find a cheaper option to back up Josh Allen in 2023, then I expect he would be back.

LB Tremaine Edmunds

I detailed why he should come back from an injury perspective, it will determine whether his price is too rich for the Bills. 

RFA Decision

As an RFA, the decision to bring each player back may be financial if they feel they can be had at cheaper than the $2.6 million right of first refusal tender. 

CB Dane Jackson

After suffering a frightening neck injury in Week 2, Jackson missed one game as a result before returning to man the CB2 role. Other than the neck injury that flared up prior to Week 10, he also dealt with a pair of knee injuries with the left one injured in Week 1 and the right one injured in the Wild Card round. 

Jackson has a pretty favorable injury history, this may come down to costs as he is a restricted free agent. His contract as an RFA may not be ideal which means he is released and then re-signed at a lower cost.  

LB Tyrel Dodson

Dodson is a great depth option, and special teams contributor, and would be welcomed back. However, he could easily be replaced by someone already on the roster including Terrel Bernard or Baylon Spector. He did suffer a knee injury in Week 17 against the Bengals, but it was minor enough that he was only limited in one practice before suiting up in Week 18.

It Depends

OL Bobby Hart

Hart’s place on the roster may come down to how well Tommy Doyle is playing after last season’s ACL tear. Hart was the jumbo tight end, a role normally taken by Doyle. 

He may just stick around because he is a veteran offensive lineman that has been in the system for a while. Brandon Beane does love his offensive line depth and Hart has shown to be healthy during his time with the Bills.

CB Cam Lewis

Lewis has had a rough go of it since signing with the Bills in 2019. He has spent a significant portion of his time with Buffalo on the practice squad, bouncing back and forth to the active roster. Lewis suffered a broken left wrist in Week 6 of the 2020 season, ending his season. 

He did come back in 2021 appearing in seven games with no injuries before working through a chronic bone infection in his right forearm for all of 2022. This was due to his broken arm back in 2017 while at University at Buffalo.

He has had to wear a brace on the area to protect the possibly compromised bone if it is necrotic. He has also dealt with a concussion and broken nose during his time in Buffalo. Despite his RFA tag, he may still not be worth it if the team can bring in another developmental player. 

TE Tommy Sweeney

Sweeney has had some bad luck since 2020, suffering a broken left foot that required surgery that saw him start the season on PUP until Week 11. Prior to returning to play, he contracted COVID which caused him to develop myocarditis, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.

After being cleared to return in 2021, he suffered another foot sprain in the preseason that slowed his development. He did appear in 13 games but was mainly used as a blocking tight end. In 2022, he was mostly a healthy scratch, appearing in five games total. 

He never seemed to develop into what he could have been. As a result, the team may want to find another cheap free agent option, the draft, or rely on someone else such as Quintin Morris or Zach Davidson. 

S Jaquan Johnson

Primarily a special teams player, Johnson has dealt with several relatively minor injuries including a high-ankle sprain during his time in Buffalo. Despite his heavy contributions on special teams, his value may still suffer. 

His inability to contribute effectively on defense when Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer have been out is more likely the reason he won’t be on the roster next season.

RB Devin Singletary

Singletary is expected to command $5.5 million on the open market once free agency begins in March according to Spotrac. Looking at his injury history, other than a hamstring strain that cost him three games in 2018, he has not missed additional time. This durability is consistent dating back to his time at Florida Atlantic University, but he may simply be too expensive for the Bills’ cap situation at this time. 

If Singletary is not getting the offers he wants, then it would be an easy decision to bring back. If not, finding a cheap option to replace him in free agency or the draft may be the best path to move forward.

LB Tyler Matakevich

Matakevich has been incredibly durable during his time in Buffalo, not missing a game over the last three seasons. According to the records, he hasn’t even appeared on the injury report as he has primarily played special teams. 

He would be an easy option to bring back, but he may have to find a new home if he doesn’t accept a pay reduction.

Let Go

G Rodger Saffold

Despite getting a Pro Bowl nod this year and appearing in all 16 games plus playoffs this season, Saffold may be too expensive at $5.4 million for next year according to Spotrac. His lengthy injury history also plays into this as Saffold frequently required veteran rest days as he also worked through knee, shoulder, and back issues. 

While he has shown to be available over the last several years, he is simply not worth the investment. I would be concerned that he would begin to miss time due to injuries as he has shown a penchant for them over his career. The Bills can save money and invest it into other positions or players with lesser experience. 

DT Jordan Phillips

Phillips was beaten up this year, limiting his effectiveness. He began by suffering a rather significant hamstring strain in Week 2 that cost him two games and severely limited him against the Steelers. He followed up with tearing his right rotator cuff and likely labrum in Week 13 trying to chase down Patriots QB Mac Jones, rendering him useless the remainder of the season. 

While he could come back on a veteran minimum contract, I still wouldn’t see the value. The injury woes he dealt with in Arizona have appeared to continue in Buffalo and bringing him back in 2023 may be wasting money. On top of it all, he was supposed to undergo a rotator cuff repair following the season. 

As of publication, there has not been evidence this has occurred. He would still have time to rehab for the beginning of the season, but every day it is delayed, this increases the likelihood he won’t be ready for the season. 

WR Jamison Crowder

A left ankle fracture against the Baltimore Ravens ended his season prematurely, though he did make a late-season push to be ready for the playoffs. While the fracture was unavoidable, Crowder is frequently injured and has become difficult to rely on as of late.

He could re-sign with the Bills to get into training camp, but I would hope they don’t treat him as the solution at slot receiver. Money can be spent elsewhere to upgrade the position with far more consistency. 

RB Taiwan Jones

Taiwan Jones is old in football years. He has been frequently injured throughout his career and while playing special teams has helped keep him in the league, his time may have finally come to hang it up. 

This past year, he battled through chronic knee issues and a hamstring strain at various points of the season. While he did not miss any games this season, at some point, he simply will not be able to perform. He routinely signs cheap, one-year contracts, but that money could be allocated elsewhere to younger depth players. 

LB AJ Klein

Klein didn’t suffer any injuries during his second stint with the team, but the team cut him last year due to his contract and age. Other than a veteran minimum, I don’t see the need for him to return for 2023.

WR Jake Kumerow

Is there still a special team role for an older player who has reached his ceiling athletically coming off two significant ankle injuries and a microdiscectomy? I believe he could still contribute and come back healthy, but is he more effective than another UDFA or draft pick? I would say no, but the team may feel differently. 

S Jordan Poyer

I detailed out the for and against re-signing Jordan Poyer here, but as he is on the ‘Let Go’ list, there are plenty of reasons to let him explore to maximize his leverage for one last payday. 

*OL Justin Murray

Despite being on the list, the journeyman lineman has already signed a reserve/futures contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, ending his tenure with the Bills.

Overall Thoughts

With a heavy focus on letting go of oft-injured or older players, the emphasis should be on reinvesting money into the youth of the team for depth and development. 

There are plenty of difficult decisions for the front office in the coming weeks as these are real people that affect their livelihood. It’s the harsh reality of the NFL, but the roster must be turned over to allow for new free agents and draft picks to earn their roster spots. 

There are a ton of variables that go into these decisions, but injuries are a major factor. Hopefully, the Bills spend wisely and avoid wasting money on players who have shown to lack effectiveness or availability.

Top Photo Credit: Rich Barnes/USA Today