Why AJ McCarron should not be compared to Tyrod Taylor

While the sample size may be small, AJ McCarron has had success in the NFL. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

The Buffalo Bills swapped quarterbacks Wednesday, officially trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns and signing AJ McCarron to a two-year contract.

Comparing the two quarterbacks' performances this season would not give a complete picture of what the deals mean to Buffalo. The question is not whether the Bills upgraded from Taylor to McCarron in 2018. The more appropriate comparison is whether Taylor would have been a better long-term option for the Bills than whomever the franchise drafts in April and whether Buffalo would have been better off keeping the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft and selecting Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes.

McCarron is simply the Bills' bridge quarterback, keeping the seat warm until the soon-to-be-drafted quarterback is ready. His signing should do little to change Buffalo's apparent plans to explore opportunities to trade up higher in the first round after acquiring the Cincinnati Bengals' No. 12 overall selection in a trade this week.

The Bills trading Taylor for the No. 65 overall pick, the first selection of the third round, also gave general manager Brandon Beane a bigger collection of assets to move up the board. How high he can get in the order and which quarterback he covets remains to be seen, but with Taylor gone and no established veteran quarterback brought aboard to replace him, there is an increasing probability the Bills take a home-run swing at a quarterback in the draft.

If the Bills intend for that draft selection to ease into his NFL career, McCarron could be a viable starting quarterback in the short term. In the best case scenario for Buffalo, he performs well enough to have trade value next offseason, when the reins could be turned over to the younger quarterback.

There is risk to McCarron. He has started only three games, all in 2015. His performance in seven total games that season was promising -- he completed 66 percent of his passes for a 97.1 passer rating, six touchdowns and two interceptions -- but the sample size was small. He is far from a proven NFL starting quarterback, and he lacks the experience the Bills could have acquired if they had signed a more established veteran with less upside, such as Josh McCown, Derek Anderson or Matt Moore.

If the Bills wanted a steadier hand at quarterback with predictable results, they could have kept Taylor at about $18 million. His presence would not have prevented the Bills from selecting a quarterback high in April's draft, and he could have acted as the bridge until that quarterback was ready, leaving in free agency next offseason.

Instead, the Bills traded Taylor and signed McCarron for less. His deal has a base value of $10 million over its two years with $6 million in guaranteed money. McCarron has only a $3 million salary-cap charge in 2018, meaning by signing McCarron and trading Taylor, taking a $7.64 million dead-money charge in the process, the Bills saved $7.44 million in 2018 cap space. They also picked up a third-round pick in the process that could be a useful chip in getting their hands on their quarterback of the future.

There is credence to the idea Taylor would be the better quarterback for the Bills in 2018 than McCarron, but to compare those two players in a vacuum would not fully capture the situation.

Beane and coach Sean McDermott will not be judged on whether McCarron was a better quarterback than Taylor, but whether whichever quarterback they draft becomes better than Taylor.