“We don’t have our quarterback yet.”
One year into Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane’s tag-team management, the Bills ousted a three-year incumbent who captained the squad to its first playoff berth of the millennium. He was a stand-up individual with supreme escapability, but he didn’t elevate Buffalo’s passing offense, and wore the scarlet ‘W’ of a player added by another regime. Rather than pay him $16 million, the Bills found a suitor who would value him more.
The only quarterback left on the roster is soon-to-be second year pro, and former fifth round pick, Nathan Peterman. Peterman is also a consummate teammate, and he also failed his audition this year, with a roundly criticized start against the Los Angeles Chargers and an injury-shortened blizzard game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The 2018 free agent crop of quarterbacks is surprisingly flush with options. Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater all lead the pack, aside from Drew Brees (assuming he does indeed make it to the open market). While Cousins is likely to break the bank, the other three can hold down the fort as a starter for an average quarterback salary. But do we really think the Bills would jettison one well-paid veteran for another well-paid veteran, unless they think that player can produce a top-ten offense? That would certainly make their trade seem significantly less savvy.
If the team is looking for a veteran presence, additional options are available. Josh McCown, Drew Stanton, and Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez, Chad Henne, and more. Aside from possibly McCown, you couldn’t exactly argue that any of these players deserves to start another game, but if the objective is “to have a warm body who spent more than one year on an NFL roster and knows where the bathrooms are in all the stadiums,” they’ll do.
Heck, if the team wants to preserve more of those compensatory picks, Mike Glennon and Matt Cassel just hit the open market courtesy of the waiver wire express.
But let’s be honest - unless the team signs one of those top-five free agent quarterbacks, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. Every team knows that the Bills need a passer if they want to field a squad next season, and the most likely origin for this new player is the NFL Draft. It is the “year of the quarterback,” after all.
The Bills can’t stand pat to pick a quarterback. If they do, they won’t have a quarterback. By trading Cordy Glenn on Monday, Buffalo now owns the 12th and 22nd overall picks. Teams know that Buffalo needs to come away from this offseason with a new passer. If Buffalo declines to trade to the top of the draft, even Bill Polian would realize that the team would draft a player with one of their first round choices. Suddenly the 10th and 11th overall pick become a hot ticket item, for teams itching to add a Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield before Buffalo can select him.
If Buffalo really wants to control their destiny, they only have one choice - trade up for the quarterback they desire. And therein lies the rub - by trading Taylor, Buffalo gained some cap space and a third round pick, but they lost a sizeable amount of leverage. Teams at the top of the draft - the Browns, the Giants, the Colts - can hold Buffalo’s picks hostage in a bidding war. Buffalo owns six top-100 selections, a king’s ransom this year. Why would a potential partner settle for a lesser return when they know that this team has the ammunition to spare, and is desperate to have a quarterback who can lead them to the promised land?
This is the challenge in front of Beane. He knows what type of quarterback he and McDermott want. He has a few connections with teams at the top of the draft. Between now and the end of April, he needs to navigate around the perception that the Bills, damn the torpedoes, need a rookie quarterback. The trade is coming - he just needs to seal the deal.