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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Rookie Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott's team began taking shape on Thursday with a new-look defensive backfield.
Starting safety Aaron Williams' career in Buffalo is over after two season-ending neck injuries, and the Bills opened the NFL's free-agency signing period by signing Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
Hyde was the key addition in signing a five-year $30 deal that includes $14 million in guaranteed money, according to a person with direct knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Bills have not announced the contract's details.
McDermott credited Hyde for his versatility. In four previous seasons with Green Bay, Hyde played safety and cornerback and spent time returning punts.
"We just felt like this was a great value for us," said McDermott, the former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator who took over the Bills in January after Rex Ryan was fired in the final week of last season.
McDermott inherits a defense that underperformed under Ryan, and has numerous holes to fill.
Aside from releasing Williams, a six-year starter, Buffalo lost starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency and cut backup cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Poyer has four years of NFL experience, and spent the past three-plus seasons in Cleveland.
The Bills also filled their placekicking vacancy by signing Steven Hauschka, and confirmed previously reported agreements to sign fullback Patrick DiMarco and offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse. Hauschka has nine seasons of NFL experience and spent the past six in Seattle. He replaces Dan Carpenter who was cut on Monday.
McDermott said releasing Williams was strictly "a football decision" and reflected a change in the defense's philosophy.
The decision came two months after Williams' father, Anthony Williams , told The AP his son was leaning toward continuing his career. Aaron Williams also indicated he was planning to return as recently as Wednesday, when he posted a note on his Instagram account congratulating starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor for restructuring his contract and remaining in Buffalo.
Williams had two seasons left on his contract and was scheduled to make a $3.6 million base salary this season.
Williams thanked Bills fans in a note posted on his Twitter account . He didn't provide any hint toward whether he'll resume playing, except to say: "God has a plan for me; excited for what He has planned for me."
Williams' season ended last year when he was sidelined by a blindside hit to the head by Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry in Buffalo's 28-25 loss at Miami on Oct. 23.
In 2015, Williams' season was cut short after being hurt attempting to make a diving headfirst tackle. He missed the final 11 games and had neck surgery during which doctors shaved two disks to alleviate nerve damage.
Ducasse has played a majority of his seven NFL seasons at guard. Buffalo will be his fifth team in five years after he spent last season playing for Baltimore.
DiMarco agreed to sign a four-year, $8.4 million contract on Wednesday. He's a sixth-year player, who spent the past four seasons in Atlanta, where he was primarily used as a blocking back. Buffalo also signed running back/fullback Mike Tolbert.
The Bills still have holes to address, particularly at receiver, where they lack experienced depth behind starter Sammy Watkins.
One major question mark was resolved on Wednesday when the Bills retained Taylor after the second-year starter agreed to restructure his five-year contract extension . The move saved the team space under the salary cap. The Bills had until Saturday to determine whether to opt out of Taylor's contract.
Taylor said he made the decision because he believed in McDermott and the coaching staff he's assembled. It's a staff that includes offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who was Taylor's positional coach when the two were in Baltimore in 2014.
"This is the place to be," Taylor said shortly after arriving at the team's headquarters to sign his restructured deal. "My commitment is to this team, to this community and to get a winning tradition back. And I'm still committed to doing that each and every day."
Taylor acknowledged he was uncertain about his future in Buffalo after being benched for Buffalo's season finale.
"I've learned from that situation and I put it behind me," he said. "Was I happy about it the time? No. Will it still fuel me during workouts and moving forward? Yes. But ultimately, I'm happy that I'm back here competing with the guys in this locker room."
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