Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s pass catchers have vanished. Every wide receiver that caught a touchdown pass from Taylor last season is no longer on the roster. The Bills traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams two weeks ago for a second-round pick in an NBA-style move to capitalize on their star receiver’s expiring contract. They brought in Anquan Boldin and Jordan Matthews to fill the Watkins-shaped void, but Boldin retired on Monday and Matthews has suffered a chip fracture in his sternum, narrowing Buffalo’s already slim chance to reach the postseason. Training camp was bad enough to draw attention from The Onion. The Bills’ bleak 2017 only obscures another coming issue: Buffalo’s situation at quarterback.
The Bills signed Taylor to a five-year, $90 million deal last August, but because every non-guaranteed dollar of an NFL contract is fairy dust, the Bills restructured that deal in March. Now Taylor is playing on a two-year, $30.5 million contract, just over half of which is guaranteed, that will make him a free agent in 2019. To avoid franchise-tag purgatory, like the situation Washington is in with Kirk Cousins, Buffalo’s new regime will have to decide whether to (re)commit to Taylor long-term based on his play this season. If new Bills GM Brandon Beane wants to hit restart with a quarterback from the vaunted 2018 class that could include USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, among others, Taylor should be flipped for more draft capital at some point between now and April.
It would be shocking for Buffalo to trade its starting quarterback before the season, but that shouldn’t stop these three teams from making phone calls to try to pry Taylor away from the Bills.
Believe it or not, the Jaguars are in win-now mode. For the fifth consecutive offseason, they shelled out $90 million in guaranteed money. The Jaguars defense is suddenly competent, if not outright respectable, and should continue the upward trend that’s seen them go from 26th in DVOA in 2015 to 12th last year. Now that the franchise has finally admitted that the Blake Bortles era needs to come to an end, Jacksonville needs to look outside the organization for a quarterback while it still has young studs like running back Leonard Fournette, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and receiver Allen Robinson on affordable rookie contracts. Taylor would be by far the best quarterback Robinson has ever played with, and with Taylor’s ability to extend plays, Robinson would be uncoverable at times. (Taylor also throws the ball inbounds, which is something Robinson desperately wants from his quarterback.)
Above all, Taylor would be competent, and, believe it or not, the Jaguars are a competent quarterback and a little luck away from a playoff run. (I swear I’m not high, please don’t close your browser.) The Jaguars went 3-13 last year, but eight of those losses were by a touchdown or less. They also play the Jets, Browns, and Rams this season, and the rest of the AFC South is full of question marks. The Colts still do not have a timeline for Andrew Luck’s return after offseason shoulder surgery, and without him Indianapolis will be a doormat this year. (The Colts finished 12th in offensive DVOA with 15 games of Andrew Luck last year. In 2015, when Luck played seven games, the Colts were a bottom-three team in the same category.) The Texans won the AFC South last year and have a nightmarish pass rush, but Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson are huge question marks at the NFL level. The Titans have been anointed as the team that will make The Leap this year due to general manager Jon Robinson’s shrewd roster construction and a mauling offensive line, but Tennessee lost to a Bortles-led Jacksonville team on Christmas Eve last season and is heavily tied to Marcus Mariota’s fragile health. With Taylor in tow, Jacksonville could put up a fight in its division and reach for nine wins and the AFC South title. Or it could stick with Blake Bortles and Chad Henne.
Cough up a second-round pick, Jacksonville.
Denver could win the Super Bowl with Tyrod Taylor. The same probably isn’t true with Trevor Siemian, who was named Denver’s starting quarterback on Monday. John Elway constructed one of the best defenses of the past two decades, one that served as the key to Denver’s 2015 Super Bowl victory, but the Broncos missed the playoffs in 2016 and now face the toughest schedule in the league amid a hypercompetitive AFC West. Denver’s defense is elite at protecting leads, but first the offense has to build them. Neither Siemian nor Paxton Lynch is capable of capitalizing on Denver’s closing title window, but Taylor could be the perfect solution.
Taylor’s elusiveness would prove useful with Denver’s below-average offensive line, and his ability to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling could be a deadly trait combined with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas in the open field. Siemian is also mobile and has a big arm, but he isn’t accurate. According to Cian Fahey’s 2017 Quarterback Catalogue, Siemian was 26th in accuracy percentage last year among quarterbacks, while Taylor was ninth—one spot above Tom Brady. Taylor also ranked ninth in accuracy on throws that traveled more than 20 yards. The deep ball is a much-missed dimension of Denver’s offense, one that has been gone since Peyton Manning’s arm fell off midway through the 2015 Super Bowl run.
Denver needs to win now. Elway and Co. should admit the first-round pick they spent last year on Lynch is a sunk cost, and ship him to Buffalo along with a draft pick. Let the Bills figure out if Lynch will ever be a decent starting quarterback, and let Von Miller get back to the playoffs to suffocate the rest of the AFC.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams entered Los Angeles with a lot of puff talk about winning hearts and minds but no substantive plan to make it happen. In the past 10 years, the Rams have finished 28th, 30th, 32nd, 26th, 32nd, 25th, 21st, 21st, 29th, and 32nd in points scored. That doesn’t make for a team anyone wants to root for, and it certainly doesn’t make for a team that anybody wants to adopt. It’s unfair to judge Jared Goff after his rookie year, no matter how disappointing it was, but he does not seem to be the guy to reverse a decade of offensive ineptitude, let alone become the Joe Namath of Los Angeles football. The Rams should say “screw it” and make another trade with Buffalo: Goff straight up for Tyrod Taylor.
Taylor might not be a superstar, but his brand of highlights would be a lot sexier if he was making the plays in Los Angeles instead of Buffalo. Combined with Todd Gurley and the perpetually disappointing Tavon Austin, the Rams would suddenly have the most diversified rushing attack in the league. New head coach Sean McVay would have some fun drawing up plays for Watkins-bound deep balls out of play-action. Taylor could provide the skill set the Rams offense needs to win games, or at least be exciting enough to plant the seeds of a fan base out west.