Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott weren’t expecting to incur the 47-3 shiner they took Sunday at the hands of the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. But the Bills GM and coach had a pretty decent idea going into 2018—even if they couldn’t come out and say it—that there were some low moments coming. So you can trust them on this: Wednesday’s quarterback decision wasn’t born of panic.
The call to go with second-year pro Nathan Peterman, made on Sept. 3, was a fairly close one. The staff gave Josh Allen a preseason start on Aug. 26 as his shot to win the starting job. He didn’t; Peterman, through a strong August, had. That said, coming out of a preseason playing backups and vanilla schemes, the Bills didn’t know what Peterman would look like with a high-end defense game-planning him. The results weren’t pretty. Peterman pulled the rare Blutarsky (passer rating: zero-point-zero) in Baltimore. The performance served as an encore to his five-interception effort against the Chargers in his first career start last fall, and the sum of the parts lacked the evidence—or progress—needed to keep going forward with a fifth-round pick in his second year over a rookie bursting with potential taken seventh overall.
And that’s really it. The Bills did on Wednesday what they would’ve done on Aug. 27 if Allen hadn’t crumbled behind an onslaught of Bengals pass rushers in the team’s third preseason game. It’s also what was coming, one way or another, before too long.
Which means, because of Allen’s draft position, there’s no turning back now. And so, with Allen entrenched, let’s look at this from a couple different angles …
Is this what’s best for Josh Allen?
This, I believe, was as big a question as any going into the season. The Bills dealt left tackle Cordy Glenn as part of a capital-building effort to get a quarterback, and lost (unexpectedly) veteran cornerstones Eric Wood and Richie Incognito along the offensive line. In their places this past Sunday were promising second-year left tackle Dion Dawkins, and journeymen Ryan Groy and Vlad Ducasse.
That’s why Allen got annihilated in his one preseason start, and why Peterman and Allen got sacked three times apiece on Sunday, and why there was a legit argument to let Peterman continue to take the hits and save Allen from the prospect of physical and psychological trauma. I think there’s logic there, but there’s also a counterargument.
“Sitting him because your team is bad is a horrible excuse, and so is that they don’t want to hurt his confidence,” said one rival exec, who added that a young player being shaken by a bad week or two “would be a big red flag.” Another personnel director added, “[Allen] gives them their best shot at winning. … Was David Carr ruined because he was put in a bad situation? Or was he just not good enough? Tim Couch? Mark Sanchez?”
The question was rhetorical of course, and both guys emphasized that if it’s clear Allen gives the Bills their best shot to win now, then going with him is probably the only decision they can sell to the locker room.
Should Tyrod Taylor still be around?
Let’s take what you think of Taylor and Allen out of this, and go with what the Bills thought over the first four months of this year. Their belief was that Taylor was limited as a passer, and not the long-term answer as a starter. Obviously, they had Allen as the kind of player who could become that answer.
With that as your background, consider that Taylor was on the books for $16 million for 2018, and the Bills had massive cap issues that they’d resolved to address during the 2018 offseason. So do you hold on to Taylor at $16 million? Or do you trade him for the 65th pick in the draft?
By dealing him, the Bills would get another chip to move up on draft day, and get his numbers off their books during a year in which more than 30% of their cap space would be gobbled up by players no longer on the team.
My belief is that if Taylor were willing to return at the number AJ McCarron came in at ($5 million in base pay for 2018), the staff would gladly have brought him back in the kind of stopgap/mentor role he’s serving in Cleveland. Taylor just wasn’t going to do that, and rightfully so because there was another team, with a much healthier cap situation, willing to take on his deal without an adjustment.
Was there a long-term benefit to setting up the QB room like this?
Yes, of course there was. The Bills wound up trading the 12th, 53rd and 56th picks to get Allen at 7. Then, they packaged the 22nd pick with the pick they got for Taylor to get the 16th and 154th picks. And that actually allowed them to hold on to their slotted third-rounder.
The result? They got the quarterback, in Allen. They landed Tremaine Edmunds with the Taylor pick as a chip, and the 20-year-old played all 80 of the Bills’ defensive snaps in Baltimore. They got defensive tackle Harrison Phillips with their natural 3, and he played more than half the Bills’ defensive snaps on Sunday. And they got safety Siran Neal, who played special teams against the Ravens, at 154.
No one knows for sure how good Allen, Edmunds and Phillips will be, or whether Neal will be around for more than a year or two. What we do know is without the Taylor move, the Bills wouldn’t have come away with all of them. Nor would they have defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who came having played for McDermott in Carolina, with a five-year, $50 million deal to help shore up a deficient run D. For what it’s worth, they also wound up flipping McCarron for a fifth-round pick.
All of this points to the obvious, which is that the Bills are rebuilding. And while neither McDermott nor Beane would use that word directly, both concede that this indeed feels a little bit like Year 1 of the overhaul, with last year’s playoff run behind a veteran roster in need of retooling its prologue.
“We’re just getting started,” McDermott told me. “From that standpoint, it does [feel that way]. Our players, this draft class and last year’s draft class, most of them are on the field contributing and playing in a pretty significant way. And that’s great. There’s fertile ground, fertile soil for them to develop in terms of our culture. We needed to continue to develop that, so that they grow, and we can count on them in Years 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on.
“And then the model is, like everyone knows, you re-sign them and we go from there. You’re trying to grow your own.”
Allen is in the center of all that, of course. Can the Bills grow him? Starting this week, we’ll all get a chance to make our own judgments.
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