The Buffalo Bills have a new punter, and it’s someone they’ve had their eyes on for at least a little while according to general manager Brandon Beane.
Wednesday night, they signed Sam Martin to a one-year contract following his release by the Denver Broncos. But the Bills were actually interested in Martin going back to 2019 when he was still with the Detroit Lions, and Beane and coach Sean McDermott were debating whether they wanted to keep inconsistent Corey Bojorquez.
“I think it was 2019, one of the years we played (the Lions) in the preseason, and he had a higher cap number and we had heard that there was a young guy that maybe Detroit wanted to save money,” Beane said Thursday. “So he was one we targeted when we were still kind of bringing Bojo up. Is this vet a better option?
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“So kind of were really aware of him before and then yeah, we heard Denver had a young guy that was competing with him (this summer). Von (Miller) spoke very highly of him, some of the other guys that know him, Chad Hall, our receiver coach knows him through Matt Stafford, and so a lot of good reviews on who Sam is.”
To make room for Martin on the roster, the Bills placed wide receiver Marquez Stevenson on the injured reserve list.
Martin was a fifth-round draft pick of the Lions in 2013 and spent the first seven years of his career in Detroit, meaning he got an awful lot of work. For the last two seasons he has been with the Broncos.
He has averaged 46.3 yards per punt over his career with a solid net average of 41.3 yards. net). In his career, 191 of his 527 punts have been downed inside the 20.
Last season for Denver, Martin averaged 42.8 net yards which ranked third in the NFL and was more than four yards better than the Bills’ 2021 punter, Matt Haack. His average hang time of 4.17 seconds ranked tied for 19th compares to Haack who was at 4.06 which was 29th.
“I think he’s a guy that’s really good at directional, placing the ball, especially if you’re talking, you’re getting it from the minus-40, minus-45, over to the plus side, those areas where you’re trying to get them not only inside the 20, but down closer to the 10, you didn’t see him missing and booting those balls in the end zone a lot,” Beane said.
“It’s that sand wedge shot, getting it to stick. I think that’s the best thing. Sam’s not the guy that has the hugest leg, that’s not his strength. He’s got a fine leg, I’m not diminishing it, but I would say accuracy, ball placement is probably his best.”
Of course, the other thing that has to be factored in is holding on placekicks for Tyler Bass. This of course was a big topic when Matt Araiza was trying to beat out Matt Haack for the job in training camp.
Beane isn’t worried at all. Martin can’t officially practice with the team until Saturday because players have mandatory time off this week, but Beane said, “These guys are pros. I mean, (Tyler Bass) is now in year three, Sam’s done it a lot, done it for different people. You can’t make up for lost reps, but this is not anything new.
“I know he’ll get with T-Bass as soon as they’re allowed. Saturday they’ll get started and I’m sure him and T-Bass and Reid (Ferguson, the long snapper) will spend a lot of time on where the ball is, how he wants it, where he wants it, the operation. And I have full faith in (special team coach) Matt Smiley and that whole group that they’ll be ready to roll next Thursday.”
The Bills played the market pretty well on this, waiting to sign Martin until after the 53-man roster was set Tuesday afternoon. That allowed them to keep Stevenson in that 53rd spot, meaning he didn’t have to go on season-ending injured reserve. By doing so on Wednesday, he’s now eligible to play when he’s healthy, if the Bills decide they need him.
Martin was one of several veteran punters that were waived, so the Bills had plenty of choices and they worked out several before deciding on Martin. And signing a veteran was the only way to go given that the Bills will be in contention for the Super Bowl. There’s no need to be developing a young punter this year.
“There was a couple of vets, you guys know the other names,” Beane said. “There was some young guys, too, that had some strong legs, but this is not 2018, you know what I mean? Where we’re trying to just say, ‘Hey, we’ll take some young guys and mold them and we got time.’
“We wanted a vet, not only as a punter, but a guy who we’ve seen hold plenty of games. You know what I said last year, even with Matt Haack’s struggles, I did not want to interrupt the flow that T-Bass was in. The timing was pretty good that it was the end of camp … we were looking at three or four (punter) battles and a couple of them came loose.”
Buffalo Bills sign 14 to practice squad
The fact that Isaiah Hodgins was re-signed by the Bills to their practice squad Wednesday is an indication that cutting him in the first place was probably the right move.
But his lack of standout talent as a receiver coupled with the fact that he isn’t a special teams contributor indicates that his value in the league is not high, which is why he doesn’t have a new work address.
Still, the Bills were happy to get him because there is talent in that 6-foot-3, 201-pound body and if the Bills were to have an emergency injury situation during the season, Hodgins has proven that he can play, at least in a short sample period.
Thirteen of the players the Bills cut Tuesday or in the days prior are returning to the practice squad: quarterback Matt Barkley, running backs Duke Johnson and Raheem Blackshear, wide receivers Tavon Austin and Tanner Gentry, offensive linemen Greg Mancz, Alec Anderson, defensive linemen Brandin Bryant, Mike Love, and C.J. Brewer, defensive back Ja’Marcus Ingram and linebacker Joe Giles-Harris.
They have also reportedly signed offensive lineman Ryan Van Denmark who was cut with the Colts and then declined to re-sign with them, opting for Buffalo instead.
The Bills didn’t get all of the waived players they wanted to bring back though. As expected, their cuts generated interest around the league and four were signed during the waiver signing period which ended at noon Wednesday.
Defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, who played for Syracuse, was signed by the Bears; Indianapolis signed the Bills 2022 sixth-round pick, offensive tackle Luke Tenuta; the Saints grabbed offensive lineman Tanner Owen; and cornerback Nick McCloud is heading to New York to sign with the Giants.
McCloud was one of the last players on the bubble in Buffalo as he actually practiced Tuesday morning before the cuts were announced later in the afternoon. He lost a tight battle with Cam Lewis for a backup cornerback job.
The re-signing of Johnson and Austin is interesting because those are two veteran players who would certainly be able to play immediately if called upon.
Austin was waived last week, primarily because he didn’t have enough time in Buffalo’s offense to make an impact. Plus, he lost time at the start of training camp due to an injury.
However, he is still a tremendous athlete at age 32 and if the Bills experience problems in their return game early in the season, he could be brought up to handle those duties.
Johnson was signed to be a pass catching back in free agency, but that role is going to be filled by rookie James Cook. Johnson provides quality insurance in the backfield in case of injury.
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills roster: Sam Martin is new punter, 14 join practice squad