BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills decided it was time for a changing of the guard when they replaced 12th-year punter Brian Moorman with rookie Shawn Powell three games into the 2012 season.
One year and two weeks later, the Bills have decided to reverse course.
Powell was released Friday, one day following a 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Bills’ fifth game of the season Thursday night, a game in which the Bills allowed Browns punt returner Travis Benjamin to gain a whopping 179 yards on seven returns. His replacement is Moorman, whose signing the team announced Sunday.
In his first stint with the Bills, Moorman played in 179 consecutive games from 2001 until his release last season. He is the franchise record holder in total punts, punting yards and yards per punt. He led the NFL in punting average (45.7 yards per punt) in 2005, and was a first-team AP All-Pro in both 2005 and 2006. His 84-yard punt in 2002 is also the longest in team history.
Moorman had a very successful first run with the Bills and can rightfully be titled as the best punter in team history. Given that, of course, the Bills wouldn’t have released Moorman when they did if they still felt at the time he was cut out to be their punter.
At 37 years old, Moorman’s leg strength has waned in recent seasons, and he hasn’t gotten the consistent hangtime or distance on his punts that he did in his prime. He had a decent run with the Cowboys last season after the Bills released him, averaging 44.6 yards per punt with a 38.9 net punting average, but he lost a training camp battle to Drew Butler with the Pittsburgh Steelers this preseason (Butler has not been signed by another team since he was cut prior to the start of the season in favor of Zoltan Mesko).
Moorman’s release last season came under similar circumstances to Powell. He downed just two of his 15 punts in the Bills’ first three game inside the 20-yard line, while eight of his punts were returned for 172 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown by Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley.
Powell came to the Bills last season with age and the promise of potential on his side, but he never lived up to expectations in his time with the Bills. While he used his strong leg to average 44.7 yards per punt in 18 games with the Bills, he downed just 33 of his 100 punts inside the 20-yard line, and had 46 punts returned for 625 yards and two touchdowns. His net punting average of just 35.2 yards per punt in his first five games this season was the second-worst of all NFL punters this season, only behind Steve Weatherford of the New York Giants.
The success of other teams in punt returns shouldn’t be blamed solely upon Powell, as it has had just as much if not more to do with the Bills’ shaky punt coverage unit. That said, Powell has been inconsistent throughout his Bills career and has struggled to get consistent hangtime.
The Bills’ new regime (coach Doug Marrone, general manager Doug Whaley and team president Russ Brandon) apparently determined that the previous regime (coach Chan Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix) made a mistake by cutting Moorman in favor of Powell. After a game in which the punt team’s struggles contributed heavily to a Bills loss, the team decided to turn back time and bring Moorman back.
There is no guarantees Moorman will even spend the rest of the season with the Bills, but whether it be due to his familiarity in Buffalo or a lack of better options on the market, the Bills decided he was the best option to replace Powell. Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe also worked out with the Bills this weekend, but lost the job in a competition with Moorman, according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News.
The Bills need to punt the ball better, but whether Moorman is still capable of being an upgrade over Powell is uncertain. His return should at least be initially popular with the fans, nonetheless, given his history of success with the team.
Powell seemed like a strong choice and an upgrade when the Bills made him their punter early in the 2012 season, but he may struggle to find a new NFL job following a disappointing run for the Bills.
Moorman’s first chance to impress for the 2-3 Bills will come Sunday versus the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2).