The Nate Peterman Disaster Is Another Example Of Valuing Coaches Over Players In The NFL


The Buffalo Bills became a national laughingstock in the 1990s by losing four straight Super Bowls. That failure came with a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, running back, defensive end, head coach and owner all in the organization.

As that owner grew old and those players retired, the franchise fell into disarray. The Bills last made the playoffs in 2000, and have been searching for a new franchise quarterback for longer than that. In the midst of all that losing there’s been an immense amount of roster turnover, coaching changes and plenty of embarrassment. But little has happened that can compare to the franchise SNAFU this past Sunday.

Last week, the Bills became a national laughingstock once more when first-year head coach Sean McDermott benched starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie fifth-round draft pick Nate Peterman. The 5-4 Bills, in the second Wild Card position in a decidedly weak AFC, went with an unknown entity under center after Taylor struggled in a blowout loss at home against the Saints the week prior. McDermott framed the move as what’s best for the team, both in the short and long-term.

But the former was clearly not true. Peterman threw five first-half interceptions, was replaced by Taylor at the half, and Bills lost 54-24. It was a complete disaster that moved Buffalo to 5-5 and — while still In The Hunt — made them losers of three straight after a 5-2 start.

The Bills franchise have done some extremely dumb things in the nearly 18 years since they last made the playoffs, but there is truly no equivalent to just how badly Sean McDermott f*cked up by starting Nate Peterman over Tyrod Taylor.

Trust me, I’ve lived most of it twice at this point thanks to a podcast project I’ve been working on. Buffalo has had some pretty uninspiring quarterback controversies before, but none intentionally manufactured by a rookie head coach that spectacularly backfired to the point that Taylor was named the starter again on Wednesday.

There have been potential saviors before. Former Packers backup Brian Brohm improbably got tryout games in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010. Both were disasters, but neither were the worst quarterback performance since the merger. And those tryouts came after the season was all but over — Week 15 in 2009 and Week 17 the following year.

No NFL coach has hucked a shot at the playoffs into a dumpster because he believes a quarterback from Pitt is the future of the franchise. And what’s so frustrating about the move for many fans is that the Drought — capital “D” — hangs over everything the Buffalo Bills do. It’s something that McDermott and those currently running things at One Bills Drive seem unable to fully grasp. No one in charge has been around nearly as long as the fans who have suffered through it all.
The Bills don’t need five Hall of Famers to make the playoffs. They don’t even need one. But making the postseason has proved so exceptionally difficult for the Bills that it seems unconscionable to do what McDermott did … especially because Taylor is far from the worst quarterback the Bills have had during the Drought. In fact, he’s clearly one of the best. He doesn’t throw interceptions or force plays that cause huge mistakes. He can throw deep (when there’s someone to throw to), and his ability to make plays with his feet is a huge asset.

Taylor has been criticized for his inability to see the middle of the field, or for missing players that are open. But this season you can absolutely argue that he was set up to fail. His contract was tinkered with this summer after he was benched in Week 17 for fear that he would get injured and trigger a clause in his old deal. The Bills brought in TJ Yates and drafted Peterman in the offseason, but Taylor beat them out in training camp despite suffering a concussion during the preseason.

The perception locally is that he just can’t cut it, but many in the national football media openly wonders why he’s not more liked in Western New York. One of the obvious answers is that running quarterbacks are still stigmatized in the NFL. And race is certainly a factor. But while many critics will swear that’s not the case, he admitted just that in an interview with Kimberley Martin in the Buffalo News.

“It’s always going to be twice as bad just because of who I am—an African-American quarterback,” Taylor says, echoing a familiar refrain among people of color, regardless of professional status. “Look across the league, man. We’re held to a certain standard. We almost have to be perfect.”

Pressed on the subject, he continues.

“I wouldn’t say it’s just an African-American quarterback thing. It’s an African-American athlete thing—or just an African-American thing,” he says, “And that’s not anything I just found out. It’s been that way since I was a kid.”

You can attempt to take race out of it if you’d like, but the bias of system over players in the NFL is obvious. And it’s a huge factor in the lackluster product so often played out in the league. McDermott is not trying to put the players on the roster in a position to succeed now. He wants his Guys and is moving out players he doesn’t feel fit what he wants to do.

McDermott picking Peterman came as a surprise, but the logic is obvious: Taylor was cast aside at the first opportunity it seemed justifiable. And it happens constantly in the NFL, where guaranteed contracts don’t exist and coaching schemes and culture matters above all. It’s why Marcell Dareus was traded for to Jacksonville for a sixth-round draft pick last month. The third overall pick in the 2011 Draft was an All-Pro that signed a big contract and never really lived up to it.

Is Dareus’ absence the reason why teams can suddenly run all over the once-stout Bills defense? Maybe. Football is complicated. But what seems clear is that Dareus didn’t “fit,” whatever that means, and so getting rid of him is better for business than having him on the roster. Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby and Reggie Ragland have all gone in the months since general manager Brandon Beane and McDermott took over. And despite those trades arguably making the team weaker at those positions, the value is that those in charge of the Bills can get guys they like. Even if it isn’t this year and it means Taylor is throwing to guys like Deonte Thompson, Jeremy Butler and Andre Holmes.

Struggling in the present to build a better future is common in the NFL. But in Buffalo, the waiting seems harder to justify. And a rookie head coach intentionally manufacturing a quarterback controversy in the middle of a playoff chase does not inspire confidence in those making these decisions. What has McDermott done to make anyone believe he’s capable of making the right call, especially when he can’t admit what a huge mistake it was in the first place?

“I don’t regret my decision, I regret the results,” McDermott said this week about the quarterback switch.

But the result and the decision cannot be separated. And that decision, while laughed at in this case, happens all the time in the NFL. By now it’s clear that Colin Kaepernick is being kept out of the NFL because of his politics. Though he might give a team a chance to be better on the field, that’s not always the most important thing in football. McDermott did what many in the NFL do every day. The failure just usually isn’t this obvious.