How the NFL's most underrated safety tandem found a home in Buffalo

Jordan Poyer, left, and Micah Hyde have combined for 18 interceptions since arriving in Buffalo in 2017. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In March 2017, Micah Hyde sat down in the back seat of the car meant to take him to One Bills Drive in Orchard Park, New York -- his new office for the next four years once he signed the four-year, $30.5 million contract he'd agreed to with the Buffalo Bills.

He was in that car because the team that drafted him, the Green Bay Packers, had dumped him after four seasons. Minutes later, another Bills' signee hopped in the car -- former Cleveland Browns safety Jordan Poyer.

It's fitting that the safety duo and future backbone of the Bills' defense arrived at their new home together, given how similar their roads had been before climbing into that black Toyota Sequoia.

"It's kind of weird how it all went down," Hyde said. "But at the same time, it's awesome because we both were kind of going into the same situation. ... It was just an opportunity for us both to say, 'Look, this is our time to shine. We might not get another shot -- they're expecting us to come in here and ball out, so let's just do it.'

"I think that's what made us successful."

Hyde and Poyer might be the best safety tandem in the league; fans outside of Buffalo are just starting to catch on, but every NFL offensive coordinator is well aware of the challenge the duo presents for a defense that ranks No. 3 overall and against the pass.

The Bills have allowed the fewest completions of 20 or more yards since 2017, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That's why it turned some heads early in training camp when quarterback Josh Allen and receiver John Brown connected on a few deep passes.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, when asked about those plays back in July, coyly dared opposing offenses to try their luck downfield.

"We'd have an answer for someone trying to do what our offense was doing the other day, and that answer would be Jordan and Micah," Frazier said. "They take away people's desire to go down deep against our defense."

Coach Sean McDermott considers his safeties the "quarterbacks of the defense," along with middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. So how did Buffalo end up with its two-headed deep-ball deterrent?

Unwanted gems

Hyde and Poyer signed with the Bills during McDermott's first season in 2017 after the Packers and Browns neglected to extend competitive contract offers -- or in Hyde's case, any offer at all.

The former Iowa standout was drafted in the fifth round by the Packers in 2013 as a cornerback and spent the next four seasons rotating between outside corner, nickel corner and safety. That type of usage has its pros and cons, said Hyde's agent, Jack Bechta.

"They put him at one position, then they're short on corners -- so who's got to go to corner? Micah," Bechta said. "Who's got to cover the best receiver? Micah. Who's got to go and cover the slot? Micah. Who's returning punts? Micah. Who's got to play a little bit of safety? Micah.

"He was at a different position every few weeks."

After Hyde played in 47 of 48 regular-season games during his first three years and produced seven turnovers, he and Bechta approached the Packers prior to the 2016 season to express their desire to remain in Green Bay. But after "preliminary talks," the team opted to table the conversation until free agency drew closer.

Green Bay started 4-6, and with a struggling pass defense that would finish 31st in yards allowed, the front office told Hyde he would not receive a contract offer after the season. Though the Packers rattled off eight straight wins before losing in the NFC Championship Game, they maintained their stance on Hyde, who felt disrespected as the "glue" of a secondary that finished second in the league in interceptions.

"Throughout the whole playoff run, Jack was still hitting them up like, 'Micah's playing well, why would you not even want to offer him? He's not asking for $10 million a year, why would you not see if he's interested in something?'" Hyde said. "And they just said they were going to let me go.

"I always came through, I always made plays for them, but at the end of the day, it was a slap in the face because it's like -- I did all this, I was a captain in the playoffs, I was well-respected ... it was just cutthroat. I did everything for them, I played positions I didn't necessarily want to play and yet they just said, 'Nope, we're letting him walk.'

"It was not easy going out there every day knowing that whatever I do for this organization is not going to compensate me in the future. Ultimately it did, because people are watching film, but it was hard to see that at the time."

Bechta said Hyde received interest from seven or eight teams, but Buffalo made it clear Hyde was a priority.

"As an agent, you can feel when a team has a priority guy in their crosshairs," he said. "From what I understood, [Micah] was a Sean McDermott kind of guy."

Turns out, McDermott was paying attention as the Packers rolled Hyde out at several different positions.

"I'd never really been around Micah other than, I always love guys from Iowa because of the culture they come from," McDermott said. "But I was able to watch Micah on TV over the years and you would see him one week at safety, one week at nickel. I'd see him returning punts and I'm like, 'Man, this guy's got great position flexibility, he must be smart.' It's turned out good for us."

McDermott told Hyde he wanted him to play safety, which Hyde was cautiously optimistic about after playing the position sparingly in Green Bay. As excited as he was for the new opportunity, Hyde's confidence in the Bills' interest hit a brief snag that offseason. During a conversation with former college teammate Christian Kirksey, Hyde mentioned Buffalo as a possible landing spot.

Kirksey told him the Bills were also interested in a safety he'd played with in Cleveland the previous season -- Poyer.

"I was like, 'Ooh.' I don't know if they're talking to both of us, if they're trying to get one of us, if they want to see who's cheaper," Hyde said. "I didn't really know what was going on. ... Next thing you know, we both signed with Buffalo."

Crucial connection

Though Hyde was a priority for the Bills, Poyer initially wasn't even on their radar -- or anyone's, for that matter.

Six weeks into the 2016 season, Poyer suffered a lacerated kidney when he was blindsided during punt coverage. He'd clawed his way into a starting role with the Browns in his fourth year with the team, but their contract offer to him was less than the four-year, $13.5 million he received from Buffalo.

Despite the team's 28 losses in Poyer's final two seasons in Cleveland, he was still disappointed he couldn't be part of the Browns' rebuild -- and surprised they wouldn't try harder to keep him.

"I was very surprised, actually. I was playing well my last year in Cleveland," Poyer said. "It was a place I wanted to change -- I'd been there four years and I'd seen what the city of Cleveland could be if they were winning football games. I told Coach [Hue] Jackson that I wanted to be there and that was kind of the last conversation I had with him. Yeah, I was a little surprised, but at the end of the day I'm blessed to be here."

That offer from Buffalo wouldn't have come were it not for the Bills' new safeties coach, Bobby Babich -- who knew McDermott from their time together on the Carolina Panthers' staff.

Babich coached Poyer with the Browns from 2013 to 2015 and was instrumental in getting him acclimated when he was claimed on waivers after his original team, the Philadelphia Eagles, cut the former seventh-round pick. In Buffalo, Babich spoke up when he saw a glaring omission from the Bills' list of free agents.

"[Poyer's] name wasn't on that list, because he got hurt that previous year," Babich said. "But I knew [Jordan] personally and I knew what Sean was looking for to help build this team, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would bang on the table for a guy like Jordan Poyer."

To prove his case, Babich put together a series of clips that highlighted Poyer's potential. It was enough to convince McDermott.

"Once Sean saw the tape, he saw a smart, tough guy who was a football player, and then I vouched for the personal side of things," Babich said. "Although his tape was really good, he had low mileage as a player. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise -- look where he is now."

Fixing the culture

That Poyer and Hyde were cast off by their former teams was, oddly enough, a major selling point for McDermott.

"Jordan was in Philadelphia and told he wasn't good enough -- both of these guys basically come from the ground up, which I love," McDermott said. "Some people like strawberry ice cream, some people like banana ice cream -- it's all based on the flavor. Sometimes, what we look for is different from other teams."

Specifically, Babich said the Bills wanted players who were intelligent, versatile ball hawks and willing tacklers. Consider those boxes checked. Each safety has played 36 games with Buffalo, and over that span Poyer leads the Bills in tackles (228) and interceptions (10). Hyde ranks fourth in tackles (156) and second in interceptions (8).

More importantly, they've been instrumental in the culture shift in Buffalo -- something they vowed to be since that conversation in the Toyota Sequoia, when they decided to "ride together" in more ways than one, according to Poyer.

"We came in with the mindset that we were going to change this place," he said. "Green Bay didn't want [Hyde] back, Cleveland didn't want me back. ... It's fun to be a part of. It's still a grind all the time, we still have a lot to accomplish -- both of us still have so many more goals."