In a surprising move the Bills yesterday benched starting QB Tyrod Taylor to get a look at rookie Nathan Peterman, a 5th round draft pick from Pitt. So while Im a little late to the party on this I wanted to share some thoughts anyway on the topic.
While teams often bench veterans for rookies, it is pretty rare to see a team in playoff contention make that move, especially for a low level draft choice. Years ago the Giants made a similar move with Kurt Warner and Eli Manning, but Manning was the top pick in the draft and the Giants made the decision that it was in their long term interests to get Manning experience.
Starting Peterman is more like the Jets taking a look at Bryce Petty last year. It’s a shot in the dark to see if the guy has the talent to potentially start and more likely the potential to be a backup QB. Except the Jets were long gone from contention when they made that move while the Bills are the current 6th seed. Quite frankly this is a move that the Bills should not have to make unless they really see something special in Peterman that could spark the offense.
The timing of the move really is bizarre. For a team whose front office has really done everything right since taking over, this just seems off. Two weeks ago at the trade deadline the Bills were buyers, making the play for Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin may end up being a one year rental if they feel that $8.5 million next year is too much for him. It was a move designed to make a run at the playoffs. Now they bench the QB?
Taylor should have had some value around the league and if this was even a remote consideration before then they should have been looking around to see if a team like the Jaguars would have been interested in his services. They likely missed their chance to recover anything of value in a trade.
Part of me thinks that ownership may have had a hand in this. It seemed pretty well accepted that last year it was ownership that wanted Taylor benched despite the Bills being in the playoff race. At least in that case though there was a contractual reason for the move. The Bills had made one of the cardinal mistakes that year when they decided to extend Taylor off a very small sample size of games. In some ways it is understandable because of the nature of the position, but the team made a big leap when they decided he would go from a contract that effectively had him competing for a backup position to quality starter money. The Bills tried to protect themselves in the contract with no firm guarantees up front but fear of an injury causing massive payments to get locked up was an issue so they wanted him benched.
This year there was no such reasoning. They reworked his contract and the only guarantee is a small $1 million guarantee in 2018. The Bills will never have to actually pay that money since Taylor, at the worst, would sign a $4 million contract as a backup.
If there is any logic to making the move its that the front office may not want to be forced into holding on to him next year. The NFL is a weird place where if you have some success there is a perception of more risk to tinker with that success so you often remain status quo. That’s the type of scenario that have seen the Jets and Dolphins get into recent troubles. So maybe they are thinking its better to squander the playoffs without Taylor than to be one and done with him this year. I think that is very shortsighted but this is the NFL and teams do crazy things.
Taylor is the type of QB that some will love and some will hate. At times Taylor can be dynamic. He is an excellent runner, can create and extend plays on his own, and can deliver pretty passes. He can also be maddening. He’ll run himself into sacks, wont see open guys, and will simply miss others down the field.
I’m not the biggest Taylor fan in the world, but it is player’s like Taylor that show how hard the NFL can be for QBs that don’t have that draft cache to fall back on. Not every QB in the world is going to be Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but the league has gotten to the point where teams only seem to think they can win if they have one of those elite level players. But those players are rare and it seems rarer and rarer that we see teams build around the strengths and weaknesses of decent players by strengthening other areas of the team and designing offenses to play to the strengths. Instead players such as Taylor are basically given the directive to “not screw it up” and then when he is unable to come from behind to win a game, a role hes never been given a chance to grow into, he gets benched and given up on. Compare that to a Blake Bortles, who has been worse in career than Taylor but is still out there throwing the ball to the other team in Jacksonville.
From a financial perspective the Bills should release Taylor if they have moved on for good. Taylor would be exposed to waivers and I believe the Jaguars or Texans would claim him. That would save the Bills about $3 million this year. While there is a slim possibility of a trade next year most teams should see that the Bills have no escape with him and are going to cut him. Taylor has a $6 million roster bonus that is due on the 3rd day of the League Year so its not like the Bills can pretend they are going to hold onto his rights for the year in hopes of getting a better trade package. On top of that it is doubtful that any team in the NFL is going to pay him $16 million for one season. Hes probably a $7-$10 million player with incentives that can boost his salary higher.
Sure there might be some talk of need Taylor if Peterman fails, but in my experience these are generally not situations you come back to and thrive. Generally once this switch is made its permanent. The team either loses faith in the QB, front office, or both and its hard to salvage the year if the dramatic move does not work.
The Bills will definitely have the juice to move up in the draft next year and get a QB. They have two first and two second round draft picks. Perhaps they feel that getting their own pick higher will help them get a better prospect, but for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999 I don’t know why you would make it harder to nail down that last wildcard spot for the sake of a few draft slots.
I’d have a different opinion on all of this if the team was 4-6 or it was later in the year and they were 6-8 and out of it, but I just don’t like the move. I still think that the Bills general manager Brandon Beane deserves to be the executive of the year in the NFL for the way he has helped dig the Bills roster out of a really messy state, but this turn of events is a big blemish in my mind. Maybe Peterman will be great and this will all be silly in hindsight, but there were far better ways for the Bills to play this hand than what they did.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.