Reaction to the Buffalo Bills' soon-to-be-completed trade of Tyrod Taylor seemed to be split. Some see the deal as a necessary step in finding a franchise quarterback while others question whether trading him for the Cleveland Browns' third-round pick was enough, given the gaping hole in the depth chart.
Any opinion depends not only on an evaluation of Taylor but of the Bills' entire situation, having finished 9-7 last season and appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
If the Bills intended on using their postseason appearance in 2017 as a springboard to contend in 2018, then keeping Taylor would have been the safest play as long as upgrading to another quarterback -- particularly Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum or Nick Foles -- proved unrealistic. Taylor could have pushed the Bills deeper into the playoffs with a change at offensive coordinator (from Rick Dennison to Brian Daboll) and improved supporting cast.
Instead, barring an unexpected blockbuster move to sign or trade for an accomplished quarterback, the Bills' decision to deal Taylor for a mid-round pick suggested coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane saw fundamental flaws both in Taylor and the team as a whole last season.
This was not a quick-fix job, and a large-scale change -- trading the starting quarterback -- was necessary. Signs continue to point to the Bills trying to find their quarterback of the future in the draft, which could mean short-term growing pains in 2018 with the hope of sustained success.
While there's a chance the Bills take a step backward in the win column without Taylor, it is debatable whether that will truly disrupt the upward trajectory of a team whose statistical performance last season belied its record and postseason appearance.
The Bills had a minus-57 point differential in 2017 and had the NFL's 31st-ranked passing offense, the 29th-ranked run defense and 20th-ranked pass defense. If McDermott did not stain his national reputation by benching Taylor for Nathan Peterman in Week 11, he would have been a more serious candidate for NFL coach of the year after having reached nine wins and the playoffs with his limited group.
McDermott's team overachieved in part because of the culture and camaraderie he created. The early success might have surprised even McDermott, who seemed content no matter the result of the Cincinnati Bengals' season-ending meeting with the Baltimore Ravens that decided the Bills' postseason fate.
"If that meant we were going to continue to play, great," he said Jan. 1. "If it didn’t, we made a lot of progress in a short amount of time."
The Bills making "a lot of progress" in 2017 does not necessarily equate to contending for a championship in 2018. The chemistry that propelled the team last season might not reignite, injuries can change plans and once-promising players can stall or regress.
McDermott saw it firsthand as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, who finished 15-1 in 2015 only to slide to 6-10 the next season.
"We made a Super Bowl, and then you feel like, 'Hey, we just got to do this to win it,'" he recalled at the NFL combine earlier this month on the Bills' radio program. "And you feel like you really don't pick up where you left off, unfortunately in our league anymore. You got to, in a lot of ways, start over."
Added McDermott at his combine news conference: "The biggest thing for us is making sure we hit the reset button. We're not maybe as far along as some people think we are. We've got a lot of work to do, and at the same time, remaining true to who we are as an organization and our core values."
It might have been tempting for the Bills to simply tinker with the team around Taylor -- perhaps making a free-agent signing to trade to fill more obvious holes -- in hopes of accelerating the rebuilding process.
Much like trading Taylor, such a strategy would have also involved risk. If the Bills failed to recapture their 2017 magic and Taylor continued to plateau in his eighth NFL season, the concept of building on an established playoff roster would have been fool's gold.
Yes, the Bills could have both kept Taylor and drafted a quarterback this April in order to address short- and long-term needs. There would have been merit to that approach, but it would have come at the cost of the No. 65 overall pick and $10 million in cap space the Bills gain by moving Taylor.
Trading Taylor gives the Bills another draft asset if they choose to move up the board for a top-tier quarterback prospect, and cap space to help build out the roster at other positions.
For the time being, the move leaves Peterman at quarterback. If Taylor was instrumental in getting Buffalo to the playoffs last season, as both Beane and McDermott said at the combine, then the deal leaves the Bills in a worse spot than where they ended 2017 and further away from success in 2018.
Consider it part of the process, a step backward with the intent of taking a more substantial step forward.