ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills benched third-year starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and will start rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman this Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, coach Sean McDermott announced Wednesday.
“As I continually evaluate our roster and our goal to become better, I’ve decided to start Nate Peterman as our quarterback this week,” McDermott said. “I remain confident in Tyrod Taylor and his ability to help our football team moving forward.”
“Tyrod was our starter when you asked me that question both Sunday and again on Monday,” McDermott said Wednesday. “Just like I do every week, I continue to evaluate our team, continue to evaluate our situation. I thought about it, slept on it, and I felt like that we needed to move in a different direction at this time and made a decision Tuesday morning.
“Tyrod and I met [Tuesday]. Tyrod is a competitor. He is a professional. He was certainly disappointed yet very professional in the way the conversation went and the way he’s handled it to this point and I would expect the same moving forward.”
Taylor, a team captain, said he has to move forward, but he was “obviously disappointed” with McDermott’s decision.
“I don’t agree with the decision, but ultimately Coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team, as well as the owners and GM,” Taylor said. “So I have to move forward and continue to be the leader and teammate that I am from a different role.”
The crowd at New Era Field cheered the quarterback change Sunday. Taylor completed nine of 18 passes for 56 yards, one interception and a career-low 33.6 passer rating despite the Bills debut of receiver Kelvin Benjamin and the return of tight end Charles Clay from a monthlong absence because of a knee injury
Peterman, making his NFL debut Sunday, completed 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown in two offensive possessions. The Pittsburgh product was the eighth quarterback chosen in April’s draft.
“I’ve been impressed with Nate and his maturity as a rookie in a very early point in his career,” McDermott said. “He’s certainly worked hard. When you look at Nate and what he was able to do through OTAs, through training camp, through preseason and then [Sunday], I thought he did some good things, albeit that was a small sample size in a regular-season game. That said, he has a lot of work do, just like we all do.”
McDermott later added of Peterman, “He’s ready. I wouldn’t make this move if I didn’t feel he was ready.”
Taylor’s benching comes as the Bills, with a 5-4 record, sit in sixth place in the AFC. They travel for back-to-back road games against the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs before returning home to host the AFC East-leading New England Patriots.
“When you transition quarterbacks, I don’t know if there’s ever a right time,” McDermott said. “You know me well enough now to know that I make very few decisions from a knee-jerk standpoint. This was methodical. I took my time on this and I make every decision in the best interest of the football team, bar none.”
Buffalo began the season 5-2 before consecutive losses to the New York Jets and Saints in which they were outscored 81-31 while allowing 492 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
“It’s about becoming a better team. That’s what we’re here for,” McDermott said Wednesday. “We are 5-4, I understand that, and we are in the playoff hunt at this point. It is always and will — for the time that I am here — be about becoming the best team that we can possibly become. We are made for more than 5-4 and I’ve come here to be more than 5-4.”
The Bills, led by veteran offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in his first year with the team, rank 28th in yards per game (292.0), 30th in passing yards per game (180.4) and 19th in points per game (18.9). Taylor ranks 19th in Total QBR (51.2), 16th in passer rating (91.4), 14th in completion percentage (64.2) and 26th in yards per pass attempt (6.63).
“Tyrod has made improvements,” McDermott said Wednesday. “He has made a significant contribution to our team. I remain confident in Tyrod moving forward. This is not an indictment on Tyrod. He is an important part of our football team and will continue to be an important member of our football team moving forward.
Taylor’s Total QBR and yards per pass attempt have declined each season since he became the Bills’ starter at the beginning of the 2015 season. He was selected as an injury replacement to the Pro Bowl in 2015 after posting a 66.3 Total QBR.
He is averaging just 6.6 yards per attempts this season (ranks 26th) and has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season, the third-fewest in the NFL among the 20 quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“You learn from playing,” Taylor said. “We’re 5-4. Games didn’t go the way we liked, some of the ones that we lost. You got to learn from it. I wouldn’t say you can pinpoint one thing that I did that led to this decision.”
Taylor agreed to a six-year extension in August of 2016 that allowed the Bills to release him without significant salary-cap consequences after the first season of the deal. McDermott, in his first year as coach, and since-fired general manager Doug Whaley decided to keep Taylor this past offseason but agreed to a restructured contract that slashed the final three seasons (2019-21) and reduced his pay by $10 million over 2017 and 2018.
Taylor is due a $6 million bonus if he remains on the roster on the third day of the 2018 league year, which begins in March. If Buffalo decides to keep Taylor, he would count $18.08 million against the salary cap next season. Releasing him would cost the Bills about $3 million.
He said he is “very confident” that he can still be a franchise quarterback.
“[I’m] very confident in my ability,” Taylor said. “I think I’ve grown as a player the past three years and I’m going to continue to keep growing, whether I’m playing on Sundays or learning right now. I’m going to keep growing and I have full confidence I can be a franchise quarterback when the opportunity presents itself. I’ll continue to keep doing the things I know how to do.”
McDermott, who said he made the decision himself and without the consultation of his assistant coaches, did not rule out the possibility of Taylor returning to the starting role.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see how we play. Again, this is about becoming better as a football team. This is about looking at our team and the combination of players on the field and seeing if this is going to make us a better football team. As a decision maker, you have to be able to or willing to take calculated risks to get to where you’re trying to go. I’m comfortable doing that. That’s my responsibility.”
Taylor’s benching marks the latest change to the Bills, who are attempting to snap their 17-year playoff drought. Under McDermott and first-year general manager Brandon Beane, the Bills have made seven trades that have shaken up both sides of the ball. Those moves have included dealing away wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, as well as acquiring Benjamin from the Carolina Panthers last month.
“We discussed it as a team [Wednesday] morning,” McDermott said. “Their response — and they’ve been through this before — is they march on. They’ve been through a lot of things already. As we continue to grow and continue to move in the direction that I want us to move, there’s going to be difficult decisions and adversity, as you’ve heard me say before. That’s all about becoming better.
“We’re here for more than five wins. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I was brought here. That’s the vision. It’s nothing more than that. It’s about getting us to where we’re trying to go. To win a championship. Everyone wants to get to the playoffs, I understand that, and that’s important. But at the end of the day, it’s about trying to become that football team that the fans of western New York and the Buffalo Bills fans of the world have dreamed of for years.”
The Bills own extra selections in the first and second rounds of the 2018 draft, including the Chiefs’ first-round pick and Rams’ second-round pick, which they could potentially use to select a quarterback. However, McDermott dismissed the idea that benching Taylor was part of a plan to replace him in the draft next season.
“It’s about winning now,” he said.