Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Justin Herbert. What do all these guys have in common? Well, they’re all young. They’re all talented. They’re all franchise quarterbacks, and they all became franchise quarterbacks after having the reins handed over to them by Tyrod Taylor.
Everybody and their mother knows just how unlucky Taylor has been throughout his career. The 2011 6th-round draft pick never got a chance to be the front man in Baltimore with Joe Flacco there, but did earn a Super Bowl ring as Flacco’s backup in Super Bowl XLVII. When Taylor moved to Buffalo in 2015 though, he quickly took the gig from EJ Manuel — starting 14 of 16 games for the Bills, only missing those two games because of a sprained MCL. In 2017, Taylor led the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. He’d earned one Pro Bowl nod with Buffalo, and through three seasons with the team actually had a winning record (22-20) while posting a 92.5 passer rating. While he was never an elite quarterback, he was a capable game manager, and he actually led the league in lowest interception rate (1 percent) in 2017.
So, naturally, we’d think it a no-brainer for the Bills to hold on to Taylor. However, at the 2018 NFL Combine, Bills head coach Sean McDermott famously said “We’re in a good position with some options out there, so that will work itself out,” when asked about Taylor’s future with the team. Bills GM Brandon Beane also said of Taylor “We’re taking it day by day. We’re looking at every position, including quarterback.”
About a week later, Buffalo traded Taylor to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a third-round pick. The Browns held the first overall pick in the draft and were expected to take one of several quarterback prospects available to them. Meanwhile, the Bills would wind up trading for the seventh overall pick, with which they would select Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. You know the rest there. While Allen struggled with his accuracy in 2018 and 2019, he took a massive leap forward in 2020, and is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today.
The Browns drafted 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield, with the first overall pick. While Taylor was the starting quarterback at the start of the season, it wouldn’t stay that way for long. In the team’s third game of the season, Taylor was forced to leave due to a concussion. Taylor hadn’t played well in a Browns uniform, completing just 52.9 percent of his passes for 443 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks throughout the first two weeks of the season, and he’d gone just 4-of-14 for 19 yards in Week 3 against the Jets. However, the only reason he lost the starting gig was because he got injured. Mayfield came into the game, mounted a 14-point comeback, and the rest is history. He’s Cleveland’s franchise QB, led them to their first postseason win since 1994, and he appears on my TV every now and again to remind me that “Hulu has live sports.”
Taylor got knocked out of Cleveland after just one season and then joined the Los Angeles Chargers, where he would sit behind future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers (yeah, I said it) for a season. However, after the Chargers finished 5-11 and decided they would not re-sign Rivers, the door for Taylor to earn a starting gig was opened once again. Although the Chargers drafted Oregon quarterback, Justin Herbert, with the sixth overall pick, Taylor was the starting QB heading into the 2020 season. Then, he got stabbed in the lung by the team doctor.
Herbert stepped in, set the rookie passing record, and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Once again, a starting job in the NFL eluded Taylor yet again.
Taylor then signed with the Houston Texans in the offseason. They had Deshaun Watson —a talented, young QB — so Taylor was sure he wouldn’t get the starting job. However, after numerous sexual assault allegations were made against Watson, the door peeked open once again for Taylor. Head coach David Culley named Taylor the Week 1 starter heading into this season, and he looked good. He dominated the division rival Jaguars to the tune of 291 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. He looked solid in Week 2 against a strong Browns team as well. Things were looking up for the unluckiest player in NFL history, then Taylor got hurt again.
On this touchdown run to put his Texans up 14-7, you can see Taylor sort of pull up before crossing the plane. He was in pain. This is believed to be a hamstring injury, and while we don’t know whether the injury is a strain or tear yet, a Grade 1 or 2 hamstring strain can take anywhere between three to eight weeks to recover from. Taylor couldn’t finish the game. Now, the Texans starting job falls to Davis Mills.
If history is any indicator, I think we’ve just found the Texans’ next franchise quarterback. Davis Mills, the third-round selection out of Stanford, is destined for greatness. He just doesn’t know it yet. Did Mills play well after Taylor exited the game? Uh…no. He went 8-of-18 for 102 yards, but Allen, Mayfield, and Herbert don’t lie. If Tyrod Taylor starts Week 1 for your team, whoever comes in after is bound for greatness.
This odd, recurring arc for Taylor may be the most obvious example we’ve seen in NFL history, but it’s certainly not the first. Of course, former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith lost his starting job in San Francisco to Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion in the middle of one of the greatest seasons of his career. Then, after being traded to Kansas City and helping the Chiefs reach the playoffs in four of five seasons, he was replaced by Patrick Mahomes. THEN he was traded to Washington and after a solid 6-3 start to the season where he suffered the most horrific leg injury I’ve ever seen. I’m not linking the video. When he returned from that injury, he led the Washington Football Team to the playoffs, only to get injured once again and replaced by Taylor Heinecke, who has looked good in his three career starts, but it’s too early to tell what he’ll become.
And there’s Drew Bledsoe who famously lost his starting job in New England to Tom Brady after suffering a sheared blood vessel, which almost cost Bledsoe his life. A few years down the road, Bledsoe would wind up in a Dallas Cowboys jersey, and after six games in the 2006 season would be replaced by Tony Romo.
And, of course, who could forget Steve DeBerg? DeBerg played three seasons with San Francisco only to be replaced by Joe Montana in 1980. He then played three seasons with Denver, and while he was never truly the starter there, John Elway came into town as soon as DeBerg left. From 1988 to 1991, DeBerg would play for the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’d actually do well for them, posting a 31-20-1 record with a TD-INT ratio of 67-50. However, after a one year gap of Dave Krieg under center, DeBerg’s former team would once again choose to go with Joe Montana. That’s a seriously unfortunate stretch right there.
So, as you can tell, quarterbacks who continually get hurt and replaced lead to great successors, and Taylor is just the latest in a long line of quarterbacks with this sort of career arc. With that said, watch out for Davis Mills against the Panthers tonight. Sure, Carolina’s secondary has looked really sharp through two weeks and they’ve made Zach Wilson and Jameis Winston look pathetic throwing the ball, but if history has taught us anything, it’s to never doubt a Tyrod Taylor replacement. They’ve all become Pro Bowl-caliber players.