Sports | Analysis
September 12, 2018 at 12:55 PM
Ideally, the Buffalo Bills would have turned to rookie Josh Allen as their starting quarterback when Allen’s readiness dictated the move, not when dire circumstances demanded it.
But things rarely happen under ideal conditions in the NFL. That is particularly true when a team has made questionable moves at the sport’s most important position, as the Bills have done with their quarterback situation.
So now it’s Allen’s turn. His time has arrived, whether he is ready or not. The Bills are benching second-year pro Nathan Peterman one game into the season and plan to give Allen his first NFL start this Sunday at home against the Los Angeles Chargers, the team announced Wednesday.
“I have confidence in Josh, and it’s the right move for our football team,” Coach Sean McDermott said in announcing the move.
Allen, taken seventh overall in the NFL draft in April, becomes the second member of this year’s celebrated class of rookie quarterbacks to become his team’s starter. He joins Sam Darnold, who made a successful debut for the New York Jets on Monday night in Detroit.
The difference is that the Jets, in a rare-for-them display of well-reasoned organizational planning and sound execution, went through a thoughtful and calculated process with Darnold. They were delighted when Darnold fell to them at the No. 3 overall pick on draft night. But they made certain that other valid options were on hand, in veteran Josh McCown and since-traded former Minnesota Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater. Darnold was considered a potential opening day starter by many talent evaluators in and around the league. When he demonstrated during training camp and the preseason that he appeared ready for his opportunity, it was given to him.
Not so with the Bills and Allen.
The Bills had a capable starter last season in Tyrod Taylor, who helped them reach the AFC playoffs. Taylor was traded to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. The Bills added a potential place-holding starter when they signed AJ McCarron, the former Cincinnati Bengals backup who had been reasonably well regarded around the league. But McCarron was traded to the Oakland Raiders before the season.
That left the Bills choosing between Peterman, whose rookie year last season was most notable for him once throwing five interceptions in the first half, and Allen, who is unarguably talented but was not regarded by many evaluators as a polished quarterback ready to start in the NFL from Day 1 of his rookie season.
So will waiting all the way until Week 2 spell the difference? That’s certainly debatable.
This could still all work out for the Bills. Allen is big. He is athletic. He has an arm that enables him to make dazzling throws. He could be the next coming of Carson Wentz. He could step right in and play well enough that everyone forgets about how this has gone. He could thrive to the point that, eventually, no one asserts in retrospect that the Bills botched this entire process.
But drafting Allen was a risk. He was not a particularly accurate passer in college at Wyoming, where he connected on 56 percent of his passes. He could be the next JaMarcus Russell rather than the next Wentz. That’s the unpredictable nature of the NFL draft, and it seems particularly pronounced in Allen’s case. The Bills’ decision to trade up and select him came with both considerable risk and considerable potential reward.
Darnold steadied himself Monday against the Lions after throwing an amateurish interception that was returned for a touchdown on his first NFL play. His seemingly unflappable demeanor served him well. He shrugged off the calamitous beginning and played very well thereafter. The Jets overwhelmed the Lions and set a team record for points in a road game with 48. Hopes are soaring, to the point that everyone needs to remember there are very likely to be downs as well as ups to Darnold’s rookie season.
Will Allen be able to rebound so quickly from on-field adversity? It remains to be seen. But keep in mind that he won’t exactly be stepping into a favorable situation. The Bills, with Peterman at quarterback, didn’t manage a single first down in the first half of Sunday’s 47-3 defeat at Baltimore in the season opener, leading to a relief appearance for Allen with the game out of hand. The Bills look, at least for now, like a contender to be the NFL’s worst team this season.
Would a ruinous beginning as a rookie wreck Allen’s NFL career? Maybe. Think David Carr. Think Tim Couch.
Or maybe not. Brett Favre is among those quarterbacks, pre-Darnold, to have thrown a first-NFL-pass interception for a touchdown. Things were rough at the beginning for all-time greats such as Peyton Manning, John Elway and Troy Aikman. There will be no way to draw immediate conclusions on the long-term ramifications for Allen and the Bills.
For now, what can be said is the Bills are making Allen their starter before they probably would have done so if their overall quarterback maneuvering had been more prescient and had produced better results — in other words, if they had any other choice at all. Now the Bills must cross their fingers and hope that Allen does what a true franchise quarterback does and covers for the gaffes and shortcomings of those around him.