Following the Buffalo Bills’ week eleven loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Bills “fans” and analysts around the league seemed to walk around with the words “I told you so” stamped across their foreheads. The city was overflowing with an irritating number of Monday-morning-quarterbacks critical of Coach Sean McDermott’s decision to bench quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of the rookie backup, Nathan Peterman. Peterman saw a whole thirty minutes of real-time NFL action before he was relieved of his duties and (re)replaced by Taylor. Despite, throwing the ball just fourteen times, Peterman tossed five picks and earned a QB rating under twenty [i]. The Bills got blown out and handed a big, juicy W over to the Chargers, who, at that time, were a strong contender for a wild card spot. Even more, the Bills had no choice but to reinstate the leader upper management had unexpectedly impeached just days earlier. Unknown at the time, the benching of Taylor had effects lingering beyond that glum Sunday in November.
Before I continue, I must make two things clear. First, I support Coach McDermott. I mean, who wouldn’t? He already occupies a divine status in our city. Moses may have parted the sea, but McDermott ended the drought. Second, I supported McDermott’s decision to bench Tyrod at the time he made it. Unlike the plethora of Bills fans (not all) who seemed to wake up the Monday morning following the game having miraculously become well-versed football geniuses, I was not critical of McDermott for having made the move. The Bills knew what Tyrod gave them. He had a solid QB rating and rarely turned the ball over, but he was good for about twenty throws a game, a buck eighty in the air, and maybe a touchdown or two. He constantly missed open receivers down the field, was quick to feel pressure that was not there, and was sporadically inaccurate. Point blank, he was—and seemingly continues to be—a .500 quarterback. Peterman clearly was not the better option, but, at that time, he was a change to the status quo. And why not try the change? Buffalo’s enduring commitment to fostering .500 QB’s was exactly what kept the team out of the promise land for nearly two decades. For better or worse, the status quo had to be disrupted (and it was, starting with the Watkins and Darby trades).
The benching of Tyrod Taylor, though, may have cost the Bills more than they realized at the time. There was an unforeseen and unfavorable strategic dimension to the move existing below the threshold of the average fan’s consciousness.
After restructuring Taylor’s contract following the 2016-17 campaign, it became clear that the Bills were not fully invested in the veteran signal caller as their long-term option at the helm. McDermott’s benching of Taylor—despite his leading the team to a 5-4 record—eliminated any doubt that these feelings persisted. More importantly, McDermott’s week eleven move was a statement. Like Paul Revere warning the colonial militia of the impending British invasion, McDermott communicated a clear message to be heard league-wide: Tyrod Taylor is not our man.
Thanks to last year’s contract reconstruction, the Bills can avoid substantial liability if they cut Taylor before the third day of the league’s new year. If Taylor is still repping the metaphorical Bills uniform on that day, he will receive a $6 million roster bonus [ii]. After paying the roster bonus, the team will have Taylor under contract at a modest base salary of just $10 million for 2018 [iii]. For a starting QB, that is quite economical.
But, even at that price, McDermott and the Bills have made their intentions evident; Taylor is not the long-term option and the team is ready to commit to someone that can be. To save money and continue to collect draft picks, the Bills should look to trade the quarterback as soon as possible. Like all things in a political realm, that is easier said than done. Fully aware that the Bills are ready to move on from Taylor, interested teams have no reason to make any extravagant offers for the veteran QB. Plus, the clock is working against the Bills. Interested suitors need not scurry to the 716 to quickly get their deal done. Rather than dish out players, money, or a draft picks in exchange for Taylor, curious GMs can sit on their hands and watch things unfold, at least for the time being. If the Bills are really looking to save some dough, they will cut Taylor before mid-March. At that point, other teams can scoop him up for nothing.
Recently, the Bills allegedly denied having any intention to cut Taylor before St. Paddy’s Day [iv]. Instead, the team plans to pay Taylor his $6 million bonus and assess the situation from there. The announcement could be a ploy, an attempt to bring interested bystanders to the bargaining table with the hopes that the Bills can scrounge as much as possible from a trading partner. Quite possibly, the Bills may follow through on this promise, pay the $6 million, and then try to trade Taylor, who, at that point, would have an extremely enticing contract for potential suitors. But, the Bills’ wallet would be $6 million lighter. Plus, with each passing day, the team loses bargaining leverage as the number of potential purchasers quickly dwindles. This offseason, the quarterback market is heavily saturated. Given the flurry of high-profile free agent quarterbacks and elite-level quarterback draft prospects, any trade will grow increasingly less likely and less favorable as time progresses.
Of course, if the Bills pay the QB his $6 million bonus and cannot agree to a trade that satisfies their vast interests, the final decision will be easy: keep Taylor. Eat the $10 million and keep him as a potential starter. To some Bills fans (myself included), that is not the ideal resolution. In the end, though, the Bills may not have much of a choice. The team has played its cards; it has unconsciously announced to the league its willingness—no, its incessant desire—to find a new quarterback. In the process, McDermott and the Bills have squandered their bargaining position, limited their opportunities, and backed themselves into a corner where the well-nourished shadow of the status quo lurks behind them, pulling them closer and closer each day.
[i] Pro Football Reference (2018), https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/P/PeteNa00/gamelog/2017/.
[ii] Mike Florio, Bills may be ready to spend $5 million to preserve the ability to trade Tyrod Taylor, NBC Sports (Feb. 23, 2018, 7:57 PM), http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/02/23/bills-may-be-ready-to-spend-5-million-to-preserve-the-ability-to-trade-tyrod-taylor/.
[iv] Kevin Patra, Buffalo Bills aren’t planning to cut Tyrod Taylor, NFL.com (Feb. 23, 2018, 4:34 AM), http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000917218/ article/buffalo-bills-arent-planning-to-cut-tyrod-taylor.
***Photo retrieved from: https://nypost.com/2017/11/18/tyrod-taylor-benching-shows-how-badly-bills-are-panicking/