After getting fired as the Bills’ general manager in the spring of 2017, Doug Whaley crowed about leaving behind the “gift” of a couple of first-round draft picks. Whaley can also take credit for gifting the Bills a colossal $54 million in dead cap space this season.
That’s twice as much as any other team in the NFL. The Bills will be spending roughly 30 percent of their available cap space for people who aren’t playing. So why not start the regular season with their franchise quarterback, Josh Allen, not playing, either?
Not surprisingly, head coach Sean McDermott announced on Monday that Nathan Peterman would be his starting quarterback in Baltimore this Sunday. McDermott said Peterman earned the job and it’s hard to argue, based on Peterman’s precise passing performance during the preseason games.
I still would start Allen, who represents the future and will be the starter soon enough. The Bills traded up to take Allen at seventh overall in last April’s draft. That’s the highest the franchise has ever drafted a quarterback. That’s a massive investment and it’s in the team’s best interests to get Allen on the field as soon as possible.
Too much is made of the “competition” in camp. Peterman completed 80 percent of his passes, it’s true. Many of them came against backups. You could say the same thing about Allen. The point is, Allen is their guy. If Peterman is slightly ahead in terms of reading defenses and playing in rhythm, it’s not enough to keep the franchise guy off the field.
It’s not as if Allen is deferring to Brett Favre, or even Alex Smith. Peterman was a fifth-round pick. He embarrassed himself in his big chance at the Chargers last season, throwing five interceptions in the first half. It was one of the worst passing performances in NFL history — the worst, by some statistical measures.
OK, so Peterman had a good spring and good camp. He was good in practice a year ago, too. That’s why McDermott made his rash decision to throw him in for Tyrod Taylor with the Bills in the middle of a playoff race. Peterman clearly wasn’t ready for the moment.
But we’re supposed to believe Peterman is ready to be the starter against live competition, against formidable defenses like the Ravens, Chargers, Vikings and Texans? I suspect he won’t be nearly as confident and surgical with his throws when the games matter.
I’m not saying Allen would be any better right now. He’s raw and will take his lumps whenever he plays. But if he’s the future, why not let him find his way in real competition, against legitimate defenses and under true duress? In the first two preseason games, he seemed more advanced than critics had imagined. He has one bad half against a good Bengals D, behind a bad offensive line, and that goes out the window?
There’s a school of thought that the Bills don’t want to get Allen killed behind an inferior offensive line. But it’s OK for McDermott to throw Peterman to the wolves?
Many of the top quarterbacks played behind weak offensive lines early in their careers. It helped them learn under pressure and get better. It’ll be better for Allen in the long run. I don’t buy the notion that getting hammered behind a bad offensive line could stunt a quarterback’s growth. If you’re the real deal, you persevere. You make your line better.
Some of the rationale for this decision, I suspect, is that McDermott drafted Peterman in 2017. Don’t forget, Brandon Beane wasn’t around for that draft. McDermott, a rookie head coach with a defensive background, ran the draft and decided to take a pass on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes III. Who knows whether Whaley would have done the same?
McDermott felt Peterman was a hidden gem. He threw him in against the Chargers and it blew up in his face. He’ll save some face if Peterman turns out to be a viable NFL quarterback. On Monday, he described Peterman as "a resilient young man" with "command of the offense." New coaches and GMs love their own picks, as we all know.
Still, it shouldn’t matter in the long run. The Bills might be the least talented team in the NFL right now, based on the veterans on the roster. If you think they can make the playoffs with $54 million in dead cap space, perhaps you'd like to invest in some Venezuelan currency. They’re likely to be 1-4 after five games. At some point, they’ll go with Allen.
The days of letting rookie quarterbacks sit for a year are largely over. Of the 27 quarterbacks drafted in the first round in the last 10 years, 20 started more than half of their teams' games as a rookie. That doesn’t include Watson, who took over in Houston's first game last year and set rookie passing records before going down with a knee injury before midseason.
It will be Allen’s job soon enough. Peterman has earned it for now, but in the long term he’s no better than an NFL backup. There’s only one team in the league he’s good enough to start for right now. Fortunately for Peterman, it’s the Bills.