Deadspin was having some fun at the expense of the Bills and Nathan Peterman this week. The site ridiculed a 37-second Peterman highlight clip that Bills PR put together to accompany Sean McDermott’s decision to start the second-year pro in the regular-season opener on Sunday in Baltimore.
Fans might see it as mean-spirited. But there’s certainly justification to take shots at the Bills for the decision. Deadspin likes to point out the rare and outrageous. The fact is, starting Peterman over rookie Josh Allen in this spot is a fairly unprecedented move.
Rookie quarterbacks who represent the future of a franchise simply don’t defer to marginal players at the start of their careers. Sure, players picked near the top of drafts often wait to get on the field. The Bears started veteran Mike Glennon a year ago, while Mitch Trubisky, the second overall pick of the 2017 draft, waited four weeks to take the starting over a foundering Glennon.
But a guy with two games of NFL starting experience under his belt? The last time a quarterback with that little experience started the opener over a rookie who had been drafted in the top 10 was in 1971. That’s right, one year after the NFL-AFL merger. The Oilers drafted Dan Pastorini third overall that year and Lynn Dickey at 59th overall. Dickey started the opener. Both became successful starters in the league.
That’s it since the merger. To be fair, numbers can be manipulated to tell a story. The Texans drafted Deshaun Watson 12th overall in 2017. Bill O’Brien gave the starting job to Tom Savage, who had two career starts at that point. Savage played one dreadful half in the opener and gave way to Watson, who set rookie passing records before getting hurt before midseason. O’Brien got crushed for the decision to start Savage out of camp, and for good reason.
This doesn’t mean Allen should be the starter, or that Peterman will have a nightmare performance similar to last year’s starting debut at the Chargers. But history shows that NFL teams aren’t inclined to hold back a franchise quarterback in favor of a guy with virtually no track record in the league — regardless of how good he might have looked in the preseason.
Evidently, O’Brien didn’t think Watson was ready, either. They were questions about Watson’s decision-making and ability to read defenses. Sometimes, you never know until a rookie quarterback gets a chance in real competition. McDermott really likes Peterman, and he wants to show the world, and the Deadspin crowd, that he was right about Peterman all along.
Maybe Peterman will justify the move. But Allen will be the man soon enough. Of the last 27 quarterbacks who were first-round draft picks, 20 started more than half their teams’ games as a rookie. That doesn’t include Watson, who got hurt. At some point, Peterman’s shortcomings will necessitate the move to Allen. For McDermott’s sake, he’d better last longer than Tom Savage.