The Buffalo Bills didn’t have many players left who were free agents and on last year’s team that could still return. However, one of those players who seemed that his return was only a matter of time was safety Dean Marlowe.
The backup safety had spent his entire career in Sean McDermott’s defense, going back to their time together with the Carolina Panthers and then the past three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He had primarily been a backup and special teams player in 2018 and 2019 however this past season ended up playing 22% of the defensive snaps, including four starts.
However, plans changed on Thursday as Dean Marlowe, reported by ESPN’s Field Yates, signed a deal with the Detroit Lions. This now leaves potentially a hole at safety and the Buffalo Bills defense as Marlowe also spent some time playing nickel for them last year.
For Marlowe, this makes sense as it now gives him a chance to compete for a starting job and more playing time. Over the past four seasons, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have played over 80% of the defensive snaps each season which leaves not much room for more playing time.
As for the Buffalo Bills, this now creates a little more urgency to add a safety in the NFL Draft later this month but also creates an opportunity for Jaquan Johnson to have a bigger role. Johnson was a sixth round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2019 and has appeared in 27 games over his first two seasons.
However, almost all of his playing time has come on special teams and he has played only 102 snaps on defense. With limited playing time, it is hard to get a good read on just how Johnson might fit if he had to step in for one of the starters.
According to this scouting report on The Draft Network, Johnson is not necessarily a perfect replacement for Marlowe as he is more of a run defender with some concerns in terms of pass coverage coming out of college. He appears to be more of a replacement for Jordan Poyer than Micah Hyde which could be an indication of what safety the Buffalo Bills might target in the NFL Draft.
The loss of Dean Marlowe is one that might be under the radar and not felt unless the Bills see one of their starting safeties for an extended period of time. However, Jaquan Johnson is now given a great opportunity to step into a bigger role this coming season.