After three seasons of getting middle-of-the-road results from Tyrod Taylor, the Bills made a step Friday toward a brighter future by trading Taylor to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick in April's draft.
Did the Bills give up their best quarterback since Jim Kelly retired in 1997? Sure. But this is a think-big move from second-year general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott, as they have their sights set on finding a quarterback who can bring greater success than what Taylor has provided.
It is a move that accomplishes several goals for the Bills, beginning with the No. 65 overall pick Buffalo acquired from Cleveland. That selection is the first of the third round, meaning the Bills almost netted a second-round pick for a player they might have otherwise released in the coming weeks or months.
The haul is better than expected for the Bills, who had wisely created doubt at last week's NFL combine about whether they would move on from Taylor this offseason. That was seemingly a negotiation tactic by the Bills, who had to create a trade market for Taylor during an offseason in which free-agent quarterbacks -- from Kirk Cousins to Case Keenum and AJ McCarron -- were in abundance.
Not only did the Bills get a quarterback-needy team in Cleveland to bite, but they also are expected to execute the deal shortly after the NFL's trading period opens Wednesday at 4 p.m., meaning the Browns will pay Taylor's $6 million roster bonus due next Friday. The Bills will save a total of $10.44 million against their 2018 salary cap, instead of carrying Taylor's $18.08 million cap number.
The move will give the Bills about $33 million in salary-cap space, allowing them more flexibility in signing free agents and retaining some of their 18 unrestricted free agents.
If acquiring the No. 65 overall pick and dumping Taylor's eight-digit salary was not enough, the deal also puts a long-awaited end to the Bills' dragged-out dance with Taylor. It was clear the Bills did not view Taylor as their long-term answer at the position -- especially after McDermott benched him in November -- and clears the air in the quarterback room, instead of keeping Taylor for what likely would have been a lame-duck season.
This trade was not about the Bills handing the keys over to Peterman or even getting into the race for Cousins or Keenum. Making a blockbuster free-agent signing at quarterback remains highly unlikely.
This move was about continuing to set the table for the Bills to trade up in the draft for a quarterback. Buffalo now owns two picks in each of the first three rounds, which should give the club ample assets to move as high as possible up the board. If there is a suitor in the top five of the draft -- perhaps the New York Giants at No. 2, the Indianapolis Colts at No. 3 or the Browns at No. 4 -- the Bills have the capital to win a potential bidding war over other quarterback-needy teams.
At this point, none of the draft's top quarterbacks -- including Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen -- should be considered off the table for Buffalo. If the Browns selected running back Saquon Barkley first overall, the Bills could be the team that plucks the first quarterback.
Would that quarterback start immediately? Maybe not. Trading Taylor means the Bills could use a veteran to both mentor their young quarterbacks and potentially hold down the fort as the starter until a rookie is ready. McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater are among the younger, higher-upside options available, while Derek Anderson and Josh McCown fit the prototype of a short-term bridge starter and steadying presence in the meeting room.
No matter how the Bills go about replacing Taylor in the draft and quite likely free agency, it will be a refreshing change of pace for a franchise that has rarely swung for the fences at quarterback since Kelly retired.
Only twice since Kelly's career ended after the 1996 season has Buffalo selected a quarterback in the first round: J.P. Losman in 2004 and EJ Manuel in 2013. Otherwise, the Bills have tried to get by with Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton and Taylor.
Credit Beane, who was hired in May, for thinking big and not simply taking the safe route by retaining Taylor.