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How the Buffalo Bills’ process led to Derek Anderson

Or: How I learned to love talking about 51 quarterbacks

Buffalo Bills v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Following the abysmal showing against a flawed Indianapolis Colts team, a number of Buffalo Bills fans seem to have reached the point of questioning “the process.” The quarterback position is at ground-zero of the frustration—something that has bothered some for quite a while for others crystallized following Derek Anderson’s performance fresh out of retirement. It is important to note that fans aren’t privy to the plan that underpins the process. The quarterback position was clearly a key part of the plan and all fans have to go on is what Buffalo has done to this point.

It’s worth looking at the moves the Bills have also declined to make when looking at the path from the hirings of head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane to the Derek Anderson era. For the purposes of this post, despite the fact that they were hired four months apart, the review of the “McBeane” administration’s quarterback decisions will begin when McDermott was hired.

Option One: Free Agency

Entering free agency in 2017, the Bills had a number of quarterback options to consider

  • Kirk Cousins was franchise-tagged by Washington. The Bills didn’t appear to chase him in 2018 so it was clear that Buffalo wasn’t going to give up a pair of first-round picks to get Cousins a year earlier.
  • Tony Romo retired.
  • Jay Cutler was signed by Miami and that went about as well as everyone thought it would. (Give McBeane credit for this non-move.)
  • Brian Hoyer left San Francisco for New England. He wasn’t a viable starting option.
  • Mike Glennon got a three year $45 million deal from Chicago for reasons no one understood.
  • Colin Kaepernick chose to drop the San Francisco 49ers, which was a curious decision given the nose-dive in his on-field performance. Without even considering the on-field protests, this was largely observed as another good non-move by the Bills.
  • Robert Griffin III hasn’t done anything since his time with the Cleveland Browns to give anyone any reason to believe that he was capable of starting for Buffalo.
  • Nick Foles was a free agent after-thought who came on in relief of Carson Wentz and—something people don’t seem to realize—went 2-1 in his 3 regular season games while posting a 79.5 QB rating and throwing for less than 200 yards per game. It’s hard to blame McBeane for not seeing Foles as capable of 3 good/great playoff games. The two games he started in 2018 saw him revert to pumpkin mode with a 1-1 record and a 78.9 QB rating. Hindsight tends to vindicate McBeane here.
  • The rest of the free-agent class included Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Christian Ponder, Josh Johnson, Blaine Gabbert, Shaun Hill, Matt Schaub, and Johnny Manziel.

Option Two: Trades

Wheeling and dealing was another way McBeane could have acquired some help at the quaterback position in 2017

  • Jimmy Garoppolo was acquired by the 49ers for a second-round pick. He looked great at the end of 2017 and would definitely have been worth a second-rounder if not more from the Bills. The New England Patriots traded Drew Bledsoe to the Bills, so it stands to reason that a first-round pick might have been enough to bring him to Buffalo.
  • Jacoby Brissett was also traded by New England, this time to the Indianapolis Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. While leading the team, Brissett posted a 4-11 record with an 81.7 QB rating. It’s possible he would have been an upgrade over Nathan Peterman, McBeane was probably right not to send draft capital to New England for Brissett.
  • The Bills got a seventh-rounder for Cardale Jones, a player who probably wouldn’t have helped Buffalo as a starter.
  • Brock Osweiler was traded before becoming a free agent. Yeah. Good non-move by McBeane here.

Option Three: 2017 Draft

The Bills made what many consider to be an unwise move in the 2017 draft

When the Bills were on the clock in the 2017 draft both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were on the board. It’s important to remember that the Bills had Tyrod Taylor as the team’s starter, so either man could’ve sat behind him until that fateful Sunday in Los Angeles.

Watson was fantastic in 2017 before his season was cut short due to injury. Despite the 3-3 record, he had a rating of 103.0 and threw 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He hasn’t been as good in 2018—possibly due to lingering effects of the injury he sustained in 2017—but he has still compiled a 5-3 record with a 98.4 QB rating. He exploded for five touchdown passes Thursday night. This looks like a miss by McBeane.

Mahomes got to sit behind Alex Smith for a year and has been nothing short of spectacular in 2018. He has a 6-1 record and 114 quarterback rating while throwing 22 touchdowns vs five interceptions. Could he fall off a cliff? Sure, but right now his play is absolutely phenomenal. This looks like a BAD miss by McBeane.

DeShone Kizer was picked by Cleveland in the second round and he was on the board when the Bills took Tre’Davious White. Good move, McBeane! C.J. Beathard is a guy no one heard of until he almost pulled out a win against the Green Bay Packers after Garoppolo was lost to injury. It’s easy to forgive McBeane for not swinging a trade for him. A lot of fans wanted Chad Kelly even with his troubled personal history—and just arrested as of 10/23/18—and surely the Bills could have been gotten him for very little. Due to an injury of his own, Kelly wouldn’t have been available during 2017 to get any game-time experience.

For 2017, McBeane avoided a lot of landmines but they also had a trio of non-moves that would have helped Buffalo avoid starting Derek Anderson: Garoppolo, Watson, and Mahomes. McBeane could also be criticized for not taking a flier on Kelly, mostly because of fan loyalty to the Kelly family.

Option Four: 2018 free agency

The Bills had quite a few free agency options following the trade of much-maligned quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland

  • Technically, Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo were options but realistically neither man was ever leaving his 2017 team.
  • McBeane didn’t chase Kirk Cousins when he was available without the need to hand over draft picks to Washington. It’s clear that the Bills thought there were better and far, far cheaper options. Knowing there were going to be holes-a-plenty to fill and serious cap issues, and that Cousins needs a good supporting cast to have any chance of living up to his contract, McBeane passed.
  • Case Keenum had a very good year in Minnesota, his sixth in the league. Even with that year included, his QB rating was 85.1 with four of his years finishing with a rating in the 70s. His performance this season (3-4 record) with an 81 rating and eight touchdowns vs nine interceptions has vindicated QB-needy general managers who decided that Keenum wasn’t going to be able to repeat his 2017 performance.
  • Teddy Bridgewater visited the New York Jets for a while before being sent on to the New Orleans Saints, meaning that he couldn’t beat out Sam Darnold.
  • Sam Bradford signed as the starter with the Arizona Cardinals and he’s currently on the bench, making him another good non-move by McBeane.
  • The Bills did sign AJ McCarron and wasted some cap space to keep him through the pre-season. He was then sent off to the Oakland Raiders. Would Bills fans be happier with McCarron starting instead of Anderson? Yes, probably so—McCarron has at least the possibility of upside—more so than a guy who until about two weeks before the Indy game was keeping his couch from flying up and hitting the ceiling. Would the result have been any better? Eh, maybe.
  • Other free agent options look similar to the uninspiring group from 2017 such as Josh McCown, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Mike Glennon, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore, and Jay Cutler. Oh, and Derek Anderson.

Option Five: 2018 Trades

There were a number of quarterback trades beyond Buffalo shipping Taylor to Cleveland and AJ McCarron off to Oakland

  • New Orleans picked up Teddy Bridgewater and a sixth-round pick from the New York Jets for their 2019 third-round pick. He would have doubtlessly cost Buffalo more and it’s possible that the Jets would have simply balked at any possible deal. He hasn’t really played since 2015 and, while he was competent, he wasn’t fantastic either with his 86.3 quarterback rating.
  • The Jets also might not have been willing to deal Christian Hackenberg to a division rival but, then again, maybe they really would have—given Hackenberg’s inability to beat out weak competition.
  • Brett Hundley was available for next to nothing but he’s shown essentially next to nothing.
  • The Browns dealt Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler for very little, which is to be expected for quarterbacks who couldn’t make it in Cleveland. They did get a cornerback for DeShone Kizer but, again, he’s a quarterback who couldn’t handle the low expectations that seem to saddle the 21st-century Browns.
  • Alex Smith was the big quarterback available by trade. Not only that, it was the same Kansas City Chiefs team that secured their quarterback of the future thanks to Buffalo trading Smith. He was 50-26 with the Chiefs and his quarterback rating ranged from 89.1 to 104.7 with the average being in the low-mid 90s. The bad news: Smith got a new contract, which added about $24 million per season to the third-round pick and cornerback sent from the Washington Redskins to the Chiefs. With McBeane clearly looking to the future in the form of a new, young quarterback, it’s understandable why the Bills didn’t commit that amount of cap space to Alex Smith.

Option Six: 2018 NFL Draft

The Josh Allen era begins

The draft provided the Bills some options as well. Obviously, the Bills took Josh Allen. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold went off the board with the first and third picks, respectively, which left the Bills choosing between Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson. Having chosen Allen, the Bills weren’t going to take another quarterback later in the draft.

To recap 2018, there really weren’t any viable free-agent options beyond McCarron, as Cousins would have cost far too much to allow the Bills to reconstruct the roster McBeane needs to be successful. The only real trade possibility was Alex Smith but, again, he cost too much for Buffalo to build around him. The Bills could have chosen Rosen or Jackson instead of Allen, but it’s too early to know if McBeane made the right choice.

In conclusion

To this point, the current regime has had six chances to (likely) avoid the current situation

The best chance McBeane had to avoid the mess at quarterback was quite possibly trading a first-round pick for Garoppolo, or taking either Mahomes or Watson instead of trading back in 2017 (before Beane arrived as GM). Mahomes or Watson could’ve sat behind Taylor and either man would have likely been at least somewhat better than Nathan Peterman when McDermott had enough of Taylor’s shortcomings last season. McBeane saw Mahomes and Watson as something other than what they sought in a franchise quarterback. Missing on a franchise quarterback is more than just selecting the wrong guy, and McBeane will be judged also on prospects they incorrectly passed on—via free agency, trade, or the draft.