Fewer than two weeks removed from the regular-season opener in Baltimore, the Buffalo Bills still haven’t decided on their starting quarterback. In any year, that would at least be a story, but it’s doubly so in 2018, the season after the Bills chased away the quarterback who led them to their first playoff appearance in 18 years.
When you also consider that the Bills this offseason brought in a mid-level free agent quarterback and drafted another with the seventh pick, it has to be more than a little alarming that it’s basically a crapshoot going into Week 1. Meanwhile, Tyrod Taylor is, for the moment at least, ensconced in the starting role in Cleveland, holding off the top pick of the draft in preseason.
As luck would have it, it’s Nathan Peterman who has had the best preseason of the three options at quarterback. It was Peterman who was controversially installed as the Bills' starter for a Week 11 game against the Chargers last year, only for him to throw five first-half interceptions, including one pick-six, in a 54-24 loss.
On Sunday, rookie Josh Allen had no chance behind a porous offensive line that let him get sacked five times in the first half. Even taking into account the line's difficulties, Allen appeared jittery and showed the sort of inaccuracy that was he was criticized for leading up to the draft. He ended the day with an injury scare and ceded the rest of the game’s snaps to Peterman.
Not cracking the starting lineup in rookie training camp isn’t necessarily a death knell for a first-round quarterback. Plenty have come up short in their first camp and have gone on to have stellar careers. Just last season, the Texans went into the regular season with Tom Savage as the starter ahead of Deshaun Watson, the 12th overall pick that spring. Watson still ended up having an incredible rookie campaign — one that might have been in contention for an MVP Award had it not been cut short by injury.
At the same time, being a first-round QB isn’t necessarily a guarantee to become a team’s default starter. Look at Paxton Lynch in Denver. Despite being picked in the first round in 2016 by a team in desperate need of an answer at quarterback following Peyton Manning's retirement, Lynch played sparingly in his first two seasons, starting only four games. Now there’s word that Lynch, facing further criticism for a lackluster preseason, might be traded or released outright. Sure, a quarterback picked in the top 10, as Allen was, faces a different tier of pressure and expectation than one picked 26th, where Lynch went. But neither is so high and vaunted that he is given the job without proving himself first.
AJ McCarron is the most professionally accomplished of the Bills' options. He’s still recovering from an injury initially feared to be a broken collarbone when it happened last week in Cleveland. He was held out of Sunday’s dress rehearsal third preseason game, though Bills head coach Sean McDermott said McCarron has made dramatic improvement in throwing over the last week-and-a-half, assuring reporters “he’s good to go.” If health isn’t a concern, McCarron makes the most sense given his broader work, which includes a postseason start.
Allen was thought to be a project coming out of school. There's no easy answer for when the right time to start him is, but there's little harm in giving him another month of study before throwing him to the wolves. At the very least, if Buffalo’s line is going to remain a disaster, you give the struggle to a quarterback who was signed to serve as a steadying veteran rather than to either of the two guys the franchise at least likes to believe has valuable upside but just hasn't proved it yet.
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An asterisk (*) indicates the player achieved the record while the franchise was located in a different city and/or had a different name.