By Benching Tyrod Taylor, Bills Are Committing the Cardinal Sin of Coaching

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterNovember 15, 2017

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor wipes sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jets won 34-21. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Bills have wanted an excuse to bench Tyrod Taylor since the Sean McDermott era began. But Taylor refused to give them one.

The new Bills administration not so quietly griped about Taylor's massive contract last winter, but Taylor agreed to a restructuring to remain in Buffalo. He was set to make $30.75 million guaranteed this season before terms of a two-year, $30.5 million deal were agreed upon. They drafted Nathan Peterman in the fifth round and sent all sorts of equivocating minicamp messages about Taylor's status last spring. But Taylor fended off Big Nate and the Nobodies to retain his starting job.

McDermott left Taylor in back-to-back preseason games behind a makeshift offensive line until he suffered a concussion. But Taylor came back, and Peterman flunked his exhibition audition as a starter.

McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane traded Sammy Watkins and other starters on both sides of the ball, weakening the Bills roster and gutting an already gutted receiving corps. But Taylor threw touchdown passes to people named Logan Thomas and Deonte Thompson, added some rushing touchdowns, and led the Bills to a 5-2 start.

It took a pair of blowout losses, the crumbling of the Bills defense and the buckling of their offensive line to finally give McDermott and Beane the excuse to do what they have wanted to do from the start: commit the two Cardinal Sins of Coaching in one fell swoop by inserting "their guy" the "pocket passer" at quarterback over the scrambler from the last regime.

Not familiar with the Cardinal Sins of Coaching? Oh, you know them when you see them:

  • Cardinal Sin One: Coveting the Pocket Passer over the Scrambler.
  • Cardinal Sin Two: Filling the Roster with Your Guys Instead of the Best Guys.

Cardinal Sin One is the great sin of our age, the one that brought the plague of Tom Savage and Mike Glennon types upon the league, among other issues far beyond the scope of this column. That the scrambler (or "athlete" if you really want to underline things) is often black and the pocket passer is often white is both too obvious to ignore and a little too incendiary to dwell upon here.

Peterman has thrown 10 passes with one touchdown so far in his rookie season.
Peterman has thrown 10 passes with one touchdown so far in his rookie season.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Icky racial semiotics aside, there's a deep-seated preference among the control freaks who make NFL decisions for quarterbacks who throw three-yard passes on 3rd-and-15 over scramblers who escape the pocket for 16 yards in the same circumstances. Even if the scrambler, like Taylor, is pretty good in the pocket when there is one. Even if the coach, like McDermott, rose to prominence thanks to a big assist from Cam Newton.

Cardinal Sin Two is much subtler. The new coach wants to change "the culture." He wants to put his own stamp on the roster. He wants to bring in players who know his system to make the transition smoother. Who can blame him, especially when the old culture was Rex Ryan's biker-bar mentality and the system was go git 'em, fellas?

Everyone is on their toes when new bosses start making wholesale changes. And anyone in any workplace knows that a short-term shake-up can yield short-term results. That's what happened in Buffalo. Then the adrenaline wore off, the run defense became a sieve after Marcell Dareus was traded Oct. 27, opponents noticed that 31-year-old fullback (and McDermott favorite) Mike Tolbert is somehow LeSean McCoy's changeup running back, and an out-of-sync Kelvin Benjamin has yet to provide an upgrade over Watkins.

Peterman's ascendance is another major step toward erasing all traces of the Ryan-Doug Whaley administration, which sounds like a great idea until you take a long look at what's replacing it.

Peterman can best be described as Kirk Cousins-lite; again, all undertones and echoes of past quarterback controversies are purely intentional. Unearthing another Cousins may sound like a fine idea at first, but Cousins has only been Cousins behind quality lines with deep skill-position corps. Take that stuff away and you get the Cousins of the last month, who has been less successful than the Taylor of the last month.

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Peterman will get obliterated behind this Bills line. He'll struggle to find open receivers among the Bills' corps of new arrivals, journeymen, rookies and converted-quarterback tight ends. And unlike Taylor, he won't make plays with his legs, a skill that would come in handy in his first start against the Chargers on Sunday, a team that does little else well except clobber quarterbacks.

But Peterman will do what he did in the preseason and in garbage time against the Saints. He'll throw those useless, stat-padding three-yard passes. He'll look good in the pocket against prevent defenses when the game is out of hand. He will do the pocket passer stuff, rewarding the Bills for their first cardinal sin.

The Bills face the Chiefs and Patriots after the Chargers. By mid-December, the only thing that might keep them in the playoff picture is the utter futility of the rest of the AFC. But the Bills are loaded with extra draft picks that get better by the loss, and even modest success by Peterman will allow McDermott and Beane to finally part ways with Taylor and draft fresh crops of "their guys." So the Bills will be rewarded, in a way, for their second cardinal sin.

McDermott and Beane inherited a mess, anyway. They weren't expected to compete this year, so all they have to lose is their credibility.

But credibility is a fragile commodity.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott could be kicking himself for this decision sooner than later.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott could be kicking himself for this decision sooner than later.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press/Associated Press

New regimes in the NFL arrive with built-in benefit of the doubt because (a) the coach and GM were typically top lieutenants in a successful organization and (b) the outgoing coach and GM usually did plenty to earn their ouster. That benefit of the doubt, however, does not last forever.

McDermott rose from a defensive coordinator under a defensive head coach in Carolina's Ron Rivera to a Bill Parcells-like franchise architect very suddenly. Beane arrived as McDermott's majordomo post-draft in an unusual transfer-on-the-fly of personnel power. But the benefit of the doubt covered the sudden promotions and changes. These guys were well-respected and got the job done for the Panthers, and anyone is better than Ryan and Whaley, right?

Late-preseason trades came fast, furious and unpredictably, with young players with big names disappearing in exchange for lesser lights and draft picks. Were the Bills playing Moneyball? Sweeping out Ryan-era malcontents? A little of both? It didn't matter, because the new regime was still in honeymoon mode, so the trades were declared bold and necessary, and the early wins backed up the claim.

Now 10 months of wavering and mixed messages have ended with the benching of an established starter and playmaker for a team that still has a winning record in favor of a late-round rookie who will probably be Joey Bosa's hood ornament by Sunday night.

This is not bold, innovative or necessary. It's two of the most common mistakes in coaching rolled into one. Fans will take note if and when it fails. So will the rest of the league. So will the players in the Bills locker room, and all of the culture-change transactions in the world won't help if the players lose faith in the McDermott regime.

McDermott and Beane are lucky they at least got some wins and playoff buzz on their resumes before the first big double-edged blunder of their administration. If they had their way, they would have made this move before the season even started.

Taylor prevented that from happening.

Perhaps they should have learned a lesson from that.


Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.