The new Buffalo Bills’ regime has been all about unconventional moves, which isn’t a bad thing.
They traded Sammy Watkins before the season, which led some to wonder if they were tanking. During the season, Buffalo dealt defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and their run defense immediately gave up 194 and 298 yards without him. The Bills had allowed 80.1 rushing yards per game before that.
All of coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane’s moves were just wallpaper compared to Wednesday’s shocker. The team has benched quarterback Tyrod Taylor for rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman.
The Bills are 5-4 and currently the sixth seed in the AFC. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 1999 season, the longest drought in the NFL. Taylor isn’t a great quarterback, but he has been pretty good. In other words, McDermott better be right about this.
“Really it’s about becoming a better team,” McDermott said. “Like every position, the quarterback position is no different.”
The rest of McDermott’s explanation was interesting. He framed it as a bigger picture move, trying to build a team that can win championships.
“We’re here for more than five wins,” McDermott said. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I was brought here. That’s the vision. It’s nothing more than that. It’s about getting us to where we’re trying to go, to win a championship. Everyone wants to get to the playoffs, I understand that, and that’s important. At the end of the day it’s about trying to become that football team that the fans of Western New York and the Buffalo Bills fans around the world have dreamed of for years.”
While that’s all fair, it’s also dubious that Peterman is the quarterback who can win championships for the Bills. Perhaps he is that special fifth-round pick who takes the NFL by storm, but odds are against it. Meanwhile, Bills fans desperately want to make it back to the playoffs (I heard from many of them defending the terrible draft-day trade for Watkins, and their defense of the trade was that it might finally get the Bills back to the playoffs). McDermott just benched a quarterback who has posted passer ratings of 99.4, 89.7 and 91.4 his three Bills seasons. Taylor has done that without much at all at receiver or tight end, and he’s also one of the best running quarterbacks in the league. Taylor was coming off a truly horrible game in a loss last week to the New Orleans Saints, but Peterman still has a lot to live up to.
The situation seems a bit like Bill Belichick’s most infamous moment in Cleveland. In 1993, Belichick cut the incredibly popular Bernie Kosar and made Todd Philcox his starter. Browns fans revolted. Cleveland went 1-3 with Philcox as starter before he was replaced when Vinny Testaverde got healthy. The Browns went 7-9 and Belichick never seemed to recover in Cleveland (he ended up doing OK in his next head-coaching job). Sports Illustrated wrote a profile of Belichick after he cut Kosar, and the headline was “The Last Straw.”
McDermott isn’t Belichick, Taylor isn’t as popular in Buffalo as Kosar was in Cleveland and Peterman might be light years better than Philcox. But what if Peterman fails miserably? Bills fans were dreaming of making it back to the playoffs when the team started 5-2. A two-game losing streak was troubling, but the AFC wild-card race is there for the taking. There are only six teams with winning records in the conference, and Buffalo is the sixth. And in the middle of that race, McDermott just benched a quarterback with a 93.5 rating with the Bills (Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan are tied with a 93.6 career rating, for reference) for a rookie with 10 career attempts. That’s risky.
It might work out. Peterman could be the next Dak Prescott for all we know. But if we look back on Wednesday’s move as the turning point for the 2017 Bills missing the playoffs yet again, you’d have to think a lot of the first-year goodwill afforded to McDermott will evaporate.
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