The Buffalo Bills are out of the 2017 NFL playoffs, and now they face big questions in the offseason, starting with their quarterback situation. Will Tyrod Taylor, who had an inconsistent season and has a moderate cap hit if released, be back?
Buffalo also has fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, but he had five first-half interceptions in his lone start of the season and may not inspire confidence as the Bills’ long-term answer.
So who will be under center for the Bills in 2018? And what’s next for Taylor, who could be a coveted free agent for several quarterback-needy teams? We asked our panel of ESPN NFL insiders to weigh in:
Who will be the Bills’ primary starting quarterback in 2018?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Peterman for now — but let’s keep an eye on the draft and free agency. With two picks in the first round (Nos. 21 and 22), the Bills might be in a position to draft Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield or they could test free agency with veteran Case Keenum if he hits the market.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Sam Bradford. Sean McDermott made it pretty clear during the regular season that he’s looking for a change from Taylor, so look for the team to add a veteran to compete with Nate Peterman for the 2018 job. Bradford makes a ton of sense as a solid veteran who plays efficient ball — a logical fit for a run-first team that wants to lean on its defense. Considering his durability concerns, a relatively inexpensive one- or two-year deal makes sense for both sides.
Dan Graziano, NFL writer: Alex Smith. I say Buffalo drafts another quarterback and signs a veteran. Could be tough for Smith to swallow another situation where he’s holding a spot for a draft pick and might only be there a year or two, but Buffalo has a lot to offer as a playoff team with a run game and a good defense. Peterman is of course in the picture, but I doubt the Bills feel great about anointing him the starter this offseason.
Mike Rodak, ESPN NFL Nation Bills writer: Smith. A lot depends on whether the Bills decide to keep offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and if not, what sort of quarterback they see fitting their scheme. But the strategy from Buffalo could mirror what the Chiefs had this season: a game-managing veteran keeping the seat warm for a high draft pick at the position. If the asking price is reasonable for Smith in a trade, I could see Bills coach Sean McDermott doing a deal with his mentor, Andy Reid. Whomever the Bills sign, the expectation is they will draft a quarterback in the first round, potentially by trading up with their No. 21 and No. 22 (from Kansas City) picks they own.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Peterman is the leader in the clubhouse, but when I projected starters to various teams during a project last month, Smith came to mind as a good fit. Of course, Smith would be a good fit lots of places. Some Bills fans groaned when I suggested Mayfield could be a quarterback available to Buffalo when the Bills are drafting. Truth is, it’s just too early to know how the team will proceed at the position.
Field Yates, NFL Insider: Peterman, but I don’t think that means he’s the long-term answer. The Bills are a unique team in that they made the postseason while also acquiring draft capital in the offseason in the form of extra first-, second- and third-round picks. That puts Buffalo in a spot to draft a young quarterback early in 2018 while also leaning on Peterman early in the season if the drafted quarterback is not an immediate plug-and-play starter.
Which team is the best fit for Tyrod Taylor in 2018?
Bowen: Denver Broncos. They have a win-now defense with pass-rushers and aggressive coverage corners. But they need a QB who can establish some offensive consistency and protect the ball. Given Taylor’s ability to create outside of the pocket, and his low turnover rate, he could be a fit as a the starter in ’18 if the Broncos cater to his talent with scheme and game plan.
Clay: Broncos. Alex Smith to the Cardinals makes too much sense and I believe the Jaguars will add a rookie to compete with Bortles, which opens the door for a Taylor/first-round rookie competition in Denver. The window is closing on the Demaryius Thomas/Emmanuel Sanders duo and the Broncos’ defense is still one of the league’s best. This is a team that can make a playoff run with a few savvy offseason moves and by adding a quarterback who will protect the ball. Taylor, who sports the best interception rate in NFL history at 1.4 percent, fits the bill and adds value with his legs.
Graziano: Broncos. They still need to address the position long-term, and they could draft a QB as well. But Taylor isn’t a guy you’d worry about standing in the way of a prospect who came more quickly than you expected. Denver seems to be determined to prove it can win with adequate QB play, and Taylor can certainly give them that.
Rodak: Jacksonville Jaguars. Could Taylor’s NFL career continue where his Bills career might have ended Sunday? The Jaguars were 9-0 when Blake Bortles did not throw interceptions this season, including their playoff win over Buffalo. When Bortles was intercepted at least once, they were 2-6. Swapping Bortles for Taylor would still leave the Jaguars’ passing game with limitations, but it would give them a more turnover-averse quarterback that would leave it to Leonard Fournette and an elite defense to win games.
Sando: Jaguars. They would be a good fit because Taylor would bring the scrambling ability Bortles possesses without all the turnovers.
Yates: Arizona Cardinals. Few teams have had the recent success of the Cardinals in acquiring veteran players and helping them to breathe second life into a career. Carson Palmer, Dwight Freeney and Tramon Williams are notable examples. There are many question marks this offseason in Arizona — starting with who will replace Bruce Arians — but Taylor would be a reasonable addition given that Arizona is far enough down the draft order (No. 15) where finding a top quarterback prospect is no sure thing.