In an effort to bolster the wide receiver room depth and provide a spark to special teams, the Buffalo Bills signed Deonte Harty to a two-year, $9.5 million deal on Wednesday.
This move is seen as a possible replacement for Isaiah McKenzie if the Bills decide to move on from him. Despite garnering All-Pro status as a punt returner as a rookie, Harty comes to the Bills with several notable injuries including multiple hamstring strains along with neck and toe issues.
Below is Harty’s publicly reported injury history and concerns moving forward.
Assumption College: No publicly reported injuries are available at this time.
2019 New Orleans Saints
Hamstring strains, 3 separate instances in the offseason.
Hamstring strain, Week 10, missed 2 games.
Suffered multiple hamstring strains throughout the offseason including one at rookie camp shortly after signing as a UDFA. Another one followed during OTA’s, and then during training camp.
Harty managed to stay healthy through the first portion of the season before suffering another hamstring strain in Week 10 against the Atlanta Falcons, missing the following two games.
COVID, was on COVID/Reserve list for 2 days in August.
Hamstring, side not specified, Week 4, missed 1 game.
Neck injury, Week 11, missed 6 games.
Harty once again suffered a hamstring strain in Week 4 late in the fourth quarter, missing the following week before returning to play.
He then suffered a neck injury that was initially described as a stinger back in Week 11, missing the remainder of the regular season. He was put on injured reserve for the last three games of the season to likely clear a roster spot for someone else.
Harty managed to return for the playoffs but left with yet another neck injury during the playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The exact details of the neck issue are not known.
Hamstring, side not specified, Week 6, missed 1 game.
COVID/Reserve, Week 16, missed 1 game.
In one of Harty’s healthiest seasons, he only suffered a hamstring strain in Week 6, forcing him to miss the following game. Fortunately, he did not suffer any other known injuries. He was active for three games but did not see any snaps in Weeks 14 and 15.
Prior to Week 16, he once again was placed on the COVID/Reserve list, missing the game against the Miami Dolphins.
Foot injury, side not specified, Week 2, missed 1 game.
Right Turf toe, Week 5, missed 12 games.
It’s not clear whether the foot injury and turf toe injuries are the same issue, but he did suffer a notable turf toe injury to his right foot according to reports. Immediately following the game, reports were not optimistic that he would be able to return for the season. He did seek out a second opinion and underwent surgery.
Buffalo Bills Injury Outlook
Looking at the position and injury concerns, he reminds me a lot of Taiwan Jones, Andre Roberts, and Jamison Crowder. The first two were highly productive on special teams and Crowder was productive on offense despite their injury histories.
Considering how few snaps special teams are composed of when compared to the offense, there is more leeway with signing a player such as Harty. Looking back at his career, he has missed 24 games over the last four years.
Most of his usage has come on special teams with the exception of 2021 when former teammate WR Michael Thomas missed the entire season with an ankle injury. That season, Harty was second in receiving yards with 570.
The injury concerns lie with the chronic hamstring strains, the specifics of the neck injury, and whether he required surgery for the neck and turf toe. Attempts to find if he had any procedures yielded several one-off tweets mentioning surgery, but nothing concrete.
Hamstring strains reoccur about 30 percent of the time and the risk to re-injure the muscle lasts for upwards of 12 months. It appears as though Harty injures the area, rehabs enough to play through it, and then injures it again. Rinse and repeat.
Keep in mind, a turf toe is a sprain of the ligaments that connect the big toe to the foot. The toe is typically hyperextended and as a result, the player loses the leverage needed to effectively push off the foot for running and jumping. In some instances, the injury is significant enough that the plantar plate tears. This helps further connect the toe to the metatarsal head, leading to instability of the joint, usually requiring surgical intervention.
Update 3/18/23: Harty did confirm that he had plantar plate surgery. This is confirmed at about the 7:40 mark in the press conference clip below.
This was the same procedure that Patrick Mahomes required at the end of the 2020 season. I briefly highlighted the surgery details in my article over at The Game Day. 80 percent of players who undergo this surgery return to play following the procedure. However, performance is decreased following the procedure with only 27 percent returning to their prior levels.
No amount of rehab would have fully healed it as Harty said tore two ligaments off the bone. Hopefully he is part of the 27 percent that return to the prior level of play.
To note: Return to prior level of performance was defined as a player’s postinjury statistical performance exceeding 80% of his preinjury statistical per- formance. This was achieved by comparing a player’s most relevant statistical category (passing yards, receiving yard, rushing yard, total tackles, return yards) from the season be- fore treatment for turf toe to the season following treatment of turf toe
Hopefully the same could be said for the neck. I am concerned about a herniated disc much like Micah Hyde dealt with prior to his season-ending injury and resulting surgery last year. I have nothing to back that up other than my professional opinion on the matter, but when there are reports of a stinger followed by a lingering neck issue, it increases the level of concern. It’s not certain that this will become a problem, but it has the potential. Hopefully, this neck injury does not flare up while he is here in Buffalo.
This is a high-risk/high-reward signing. The Bills needed another weapon on special teams that also provides depth at wide receiver.
The Bills’ coaching staff better have someone ready as a punt and kick returner in the event that he Is out with an injury. My bet would be another hamstring or lower-body issue, but another injury would almost be expected at this point. They do have Nyhiem Hines as an option, but we should never see Micah Hyde back there again.
Brandon Beane has done well to go after players with proven production but spotty injury histories. Some of them pan out while others don’t. Add in the contract that is easy to get out of and this makes for an okay deal.
Deonte Harty can bring a new element to special teams, the concern is not if he gets injured, but when.
Top Photo Credit: Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images