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State of the Buffalo Bills roster: with Josh Allen, the waiting is the hardest part

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The rookie’s development is exciting, but patience is essential

Jacksonville Jaguars v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

By any objective statistical measure, the Buffalo Bills regressed at the quarterback position in 2018 when compared to 2017. The team threw fewer touchdowns (16 in 2017, 13 in 2018) and more interceptions (10 in 2017, 23 in 2018), and also threw for fewer yards (2,825 in 2017, 2,794 in 2018). So, why do most Bills fans feel better about the quarterback situation now than they did a year ago?

Simply put, the team moved on from seventh-year man Tyrod Taylor, opting for an infusion of youth with a high draft pick for the second time in six seasons. They selected Josh Allen, a gun-slinging project out of Wyoming, as the face of the franchise and, while the rookie was by no means perfect, he definitely showed flashes of incredible ability throughout his rookie season. The promise of youth, especially with a player whose ceiling is as high as Allen’s, has provided much more optimism than a player who had already reached his ceiling in Taylor.

Our annual “State of the Bills roster” series kicks off with a look at the most important position in the game, a position where the Bills hope they have finally found the right person. All statistics and snap counts are courtesy of profootballreference.com, and all contract and financial data comes from Spotrac.


Josh Allen

  • Contract status for 2018: Signed; $4,814,326 cap hit ($17,331,577 dead cap hit if cut)
  • Age: 22 (23 on 5/21/19)
  • Playing time: 12 games (11 starts), 719 snaps (67.89% of offensive total)
  • Key statistics: 169/320 (52.8%), 2,074 yards, 10 TDs, 12 INTs, 89 carries, 631 yards, 8 TDs, 67.9 rating, 52.3 QBR, 28 sacks, 8 fumbles

Buffalo’s pinned its hopes on Allen in April, sending pick 12, pick 53, and pick 56 in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, moving up to select the Wyoming product at number seven overall. General manager Brandon Beane was aggressive in making sure that he drafted “his guy,” and Allen delivered quite a bit of hope in his rookie season.

The young quarterback was expected to sit for much of his first year, similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes. Of course, the Chiefs had Alex Smith keeping the seat warm, and the Bills had Nathan Peterman, who lasted all of one half as the starting quarterback of the team before Allen took the reins. Looking just as raw as advertised early on, Allen struggled, completing 75-of-139 passes (53.96%) for 832 yards, two touchdowns, and five interceptions over his first six games. Allen had a quarterback rating of 61.8 over that time, and he took 21 sacks. He also ran for 155 yards and three touchdowns on 35 attempts.

In his sixth game, he injured his throwing elbow against the Houston Texans. This was a blessing for two reasons—first, the injury wasn’t serious, but secondly, it gave Allen time to sit and watch the game from the sidelines. After he returned from the injury, he took a clear step forward. While the accuracy was still an issue, as Allen completed 94-of-181 passes (51.93%), he was much better overall. Allen threw eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he totaled 1,242 yards in those final six games. His quarterback rating went up, although it was still low (72.6), but he only took seven sacks in those six games. Most impressively, Allen carried the ball 54 times for 476 yards and five touchdowns, establishing himself as the team’s leading rusher on the season.

Allen definitely has some warts to his game—he isn’t always accurate, he often tries to make way too much happen, and he does not shy away from contact as a rusher—but his progress throughout the year was incredibly encouraging. As someone who admittedly wished that Roger Goodell had said the “other” Josh at the podium in April, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by Allen. I may have wanted the other Josh then, but this is the only Josh I want quarterbacking these Bills now.

Matt Barkley

  • Contract status for 2018: Signed; financial details on two-year deal unknown
  • Age: 28 (29 on 9/8/19)
  • Playing time: 1 game (1 start), 73 snaps (6.89% of offensive total)
  • Key statistics: 15/25 (60%), 232 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 117.4 rating, 84.7 QBR, 1 sack

And the best game by a Buffalo quarterback in 2018 goes to...a player the team had signed eleven days prior to that first and only start. Barkley dismantled the New York Jets on the road—his state line above notes that one fantastic performance. For his troubles, Barkley earned himself a two-year contract extension, which will keep him as Josh Allen’s backup through the 2020 season.

Barkley had been released by the Cincinnati Bengals in September with an injury designation, and the Bills essentially plucked him off the couch to replace an injured Allen and Derek Anderson; he was tapped to start over an ineffective Nathan Peterman, and he made the most of his opportunity. Barkley is what you want in a backup—he can come in and perform in a pinch, and he is a team-oriented guy who will gladly help Allen along in his development.

Derek Anderson

  • Contract status for 2018: Signed; financial details on one-year deal unknown
  • Age: 35 (36 on 6/15/19)
  • Playing time: 2 games (2 starts), 118 snaps (11.14% of offensive total)
  • Key statistics: 42/70 (60%), 465 yards, 0 TD, 4 INTs, 56 rating, 27 QBR, 5 sacks

Anderson signed with the Bills on October 9, and it was clear that he and the team just wanted a mentor role for Josh Allen. After Allen’s injury and Peterman’s ineptitude, however, head coach Sean McDermott turned to Anderson to start only 12 days after he signed. Anderson’s two starts came against playoff teams, and both he and the Bills’ offense were dreadful in both affairs, scoring a total of 11 points (three field goals and a safety) in those games.

Anderson’s one-year deal is for an undisclosed amount, but I’d imagine that he signed for the veteran minimum and should therefore only count around $800,000 against the salary cap. I don’t think the Bills want him around to play—he’ll probably be a game-day inactive as long as both Barkley and Allen are healthy—but I am happy that the team decided to re-sign him. Normally, I’m not a proponent of rostering players who can’t go out and help the team win, but Anderson helps the team win by mentoring Allen.


Off-season Outlook

There isn’t much to do here except wait. All three players are under contract for next season, and all three should be on the roster when the team makes its final roster in September. Obviously, the group’s success lives and dies with Allen, as the team has fully invested in his development. Neither Barkley nor Anderson is legitimate competition for the starting role, so we’ll be taking it on faith and taking it to the heart next year in waiting for Allen to develop into the next franchise quarterback we’ve waited for since 1996.