The Buffalo Bills have been contemplating the idea of life after Brian Moorman for awhile. They pulled the trigger on the concept on Tuesday.
Moorman, the senior member of the Bills roster, is out as the Bills' punter, and rookie Shawn Powell is in.
"It goes back to trying to upgrade at the position and looking down the road," Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said Tuesday afternoon after the Bills released Moorman. "That's basically it. I wouldn't get into specifics. With us, again, we evaluate everything every day, and especially every week after a game. We do that, and then we look at things and say, ‘Well, we can get better here and that's what we try to do.' "
The move reflects the team's dissatisfaction with Moorman's punting. He ranks 30th in net punting average at 32.7 yards per kick through three games. Moorman averaged 34.8 yards in Cleveland Sunday. The Bills had him boot directional punts toward the sideline on 5 of 6 kicks in order to keep the ball away from Browns return man Josh Cribbs. Those directional punts netted 37, 27, 36, 30 and 39 yards. He also had a 66-yard punt that was returned 27 yards for a net of 39.
Moorman has 15 punts on the year and ranks 20th in gross punting yards, at 45.5 yards per punt.
Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven advocated bringing in a highly credentialed rookie to challenge Moorman in training camp after last season, in which Moorman ranked fifth in gross punting and 21st in net punting. The Bills again turned to more directional kicking to try to prevent big returns last season, and they have had some trouble getting consistent production from their gunners, the outside coverage men on the punt team.
The Bills signed Powell, arguably the top college punter in the country last year, in April. A first-team All-American at Florida State, Powell's net average of 41.2 yards was second in the nation, and only 37 percent of his punts were returned his senior year.
Powell is 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds. He will be the biggest man ever to punt for the Bills. Powell punted well through the spring and summer. But Moorman punted better. Powell was among the team's final cuts.
"At the time we thought we made the right move, and today we think we did," Nix said.
Moorman, 36, was in the final year of his contract that pays him $1.4 million. Money was not an issue. He's guaranteed his salary for this season because he was on the roster for Week One.
"The upside's really good on this guy," Nix said of Powell. "He's a big man, which, I think, that helps punters. You know, good height, and he's a 240-pounder. He's got a very strong leg, tremendous hang time. I mean the guy's Florida State's all-time leading punter. We really liked him, in fact we even considered drafting him late last year. The upside's really good on this guy."
Moorman as served as the team's punter since the start of the 2001 season. He holds virtually every team punting record, including most career punts, highest punting average for a career and season, and most punts inside the 20 for a season and career.
Moorman was a second-team choice on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He was a Pro Bowler in 2006 and 2007 and made first-team All-Pro in 2005 and 2006. He has been a team captain for seven years, and is highly respected among teammates.
Moorman declined to comment, through his agent. The move was met with surprise by teammates.
The initial reaction of fellow team captain Fred Jackson on twitter was: "Released Moorman?? For what??" Responded linebacker Nick Barnett: "We released Moorman?? Wow." Tweeted center Eric Wood: "Very tough saying bye to a good friend today. I wish him nothing but the best."
Moorman arguably was the player of the decade for the Bills in the 2000s. His charitable foundation works primarily with Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Carly's Club, the hospital's family centered support group for its patients.
"It's always a tough decision, and especially a guy like Brian that's been here for 12 years and had a great career with the Bills," Nix said. "Has been kind of a staple for this organization. A lot of community service, he and his wife, I mean they do a lot of good things, and that makes it tougher, but a decision we felt like we needed to make. And I've told you this 100 times, we try to look all the time at a possible way to upgrade and we look at more than just this week and trying to upgrade and get a little better at each position. And I've said this before too, no position is exempt."
In 2010 Moorman was 24th in gross punting and tied for 21st in net punting.
Net punting is more important than gross punting, and it also reflects the quality of the team's coverage unit. In 2009, Moorman was sixth in gross punting and fifth in net average. His net average of 40.2 that year is a Bills record.
Moorman ranked among the top 11 in net punting eight straight seasons from 2002 through 2009.