Buffalo Bills Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: NYJ, @MIA, LAR, @LVR, @TEN, KC, @NYJ, NE, SEA, @ARI, BYE, LAC, @SF, PIT, @DEN, @NE, MIA

Additions: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade), EDGE Mario Addison (FA), DT Vernon Butler (FA), LB A.J. Klein (FA), DL Quinton Jefferson (FA), DL A.J. Epenesa (Draft), RB Zack Moss (Draft)

Losses: DL Star Lotulelei (Opt-out), DL Jordan Phillips (FA), EDGE Shaq Lawson (FA), RB Frank Gore (FA), G Jon Feliciano (Injury)

Analysis:

For the first time in 12 years, I expect someone other than New England to win the AFC East. That’s right. Tom Brady’s out and Josh Allen’s in. Well, more like the Patriots are out and the Bills are in, but Allen will certainly play a big role.

While everyone calls him an inaccurate bust, Allen is quietly one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league. Between his rushing ability and cannon for an arm, the big plays outweigh the lapses. His stats should improve this season, too.

With Zack Moss joining Devin Singletary in the backfield and Diggs now out wide, Buffalo’s offense should look a lot like last year’s Vikings. That’ll mean lost of carries for the young running back duo and lots of play-action deep shots from Allen to Diggs. Given that and some personal development entering year three, I expect Allen to be a less efficient version of 2019 Kirk Cousins with more value as a runner.

This gameplan will be a good fit for the offensive line as well. Like Minnesota, Buffalo’s linemen were better run blockers than pass protectors last season. Thankfully, 30+ carries a game does a comparable job of neutralizing pass rushes as an elite offensive line.

One worry, though, is the injury to Jon Feliciano. The 27-year-old started every game at right guard last season, but a torn pectoral muscle will cause him to miss the start of the season and potentially its entirety. Buffalo has some of the best depth in the league, though, and should be fine.

Overall, I expect the offense to be much improved next season—something I can’t say for the defense. Statistically, they were elite in both yards and points allowed while closer to average in big plays like sacks and turnovers. Their yardage (3rd) and scoring (2nd) rankings would be hard to repeat regardless and could be even harder with some uncertainty in the trenches.

To offset the loss of Jordan Phillips, the Bills signed defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson. Along with the incumbents, those additions were supposed to give Buffalo a deep and talented DT rotation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will turn out that way.

Star Lotulelei opted-out after starting every game in his two seasons with the team. Suddenly, the Bills’ rotation will likely look like this: Butler and Ed Oliver starting with Harrison Phillips and Jefferson subbing in. I have concerns about all of those guys.

From personal experience, Butler is not a guy you want starting. Oliver is the best piece with his elite potential, but this is only his second season after a shaky rookie year. Then there’s Phillips, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and Jefferson, who’s been banged up all camp and isn’t a true defensive tackle.

Besides that minor worry, this defense is fantastic. Mario Addison spices up the pass rush and Epenesa gives them more flexibility. His ability to play both on the edge and interior lessens my concern about the DT rotation. A.J. Klein is another signing with Carolina ties and should fit in nicely next to the underrated duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. They aren’t Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson-level, but Buffalo should feel good about its linebackers.

Backing them up is a superstar in Tre White and some great pieces surrounding him. Call me crazy, but I expect to see a revitalized Josh Norman this season. He’s back in a familiar scheme and should become the starter opposite White at some point this season. If not, the Bills have a reliable alternative in Levi Wallace. Like the team as a whole, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are another duo who don’t get the respect they deserve. In a division full of them, this secondary is top-notch.

All these veteran additions mean high-salary incumbents like Trent Murphy are on cap casualty watch. They also mean that it’s hard not to see this team improving. Buffalo’s roster is the perfect mix of young cornerstones with room to grow and proven veterans. After going 10-6 last season—with one loss being a Week 17 resting—11-5 feels like a good, safe prediction given a pretty tough schedule.

What’s your record prediction for the Bills? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Sixthstringqb Episode 9

Episode 9

This week’s topics include what would happen if an NFL team just refused to obey the salary cap, the NFL’s potential referee opt-out nightmare, and players’ coaches vs. authoritarian coaches.

Then, Amaël gives his very unofficial record predictions for every team along with hot takes about a legendary quarterback retiring midseason and another whose departure will unexpectedly doom his old team.

Looking Back…Who Won the Panthers-Bills Kelvin Benjamin Trade?

The History

Part of the famous 2014 receiver class, Benjamin exploded onto the scene. His 1,008 yards tied Greg Olsen for the team lead. After such a successful rookie campaign, expectations were through the roof for his second year.

Then, an ACL injury brought the hype train to a screeching halt. Faced with the adversity of losing his top receiver, Cam Newton responded with an MVP season and 17-2 record (with one of those losses unfortunately coming in the Super Bowl). Still, the Panthers had just completed one of the best seasons in league history without their stud receiver, so morale remained high.

Benjamin nearly posted 1,000 yards again in 2016, but the team failed to recapture its magic and stumbled to a 6-10 record. Midway through a weight-watching 2017 season, Carolina made the choice to move on from its recent first-round pick.

Buffalo was the perfect trade partner. After poaching their head coach and general manager from the Panthers earlier that year, this was an opportunity to potentially snag a star from the same organization. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane had experience with Benjamin from their Carolina days and valued him enough to pull the trigger

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Expectations were almost non-existent in McDermott’s first year, but his team was a feisty 5-2 when they traded for Benjamin. Three days after the trade, the Bills lost to the Jets with Benjamin unavailable.

From there, Buffalo fell back to Earth. Including the Jets loss, they went just 4-5 the rest of the way. It’s tough to put too much blame on Benjamin, though, as the Bills were far worse than their record and fortunate to finish 9-7.

Still, Benjamin was a massive disappointment, even by the most generous standards. His best game for Buffalo that season was 5 catches for 70 yards in a blowout loss to the Patriots. Every other time out, he posted 42 yards or less. On top of that, a knee injury cost him two games.

Overall, it was a dud first season for Benjamin. He was acquired to bolster a lackluster receiving corps and catapult the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years. And while the team accomplished the latter (before promptly losing to Jacksonville in one of the worst quarterback matchups in postseason history), Benjamin doesn’t deserve much credit for that. Not only was his production underwhelming, but it came with these receivers stealing targets from him.

Even so, Benjamin’s fifth-year option—accepted by Carolina before the trade—gave him an opportunity to redeem himself.

Unfortunately, year two in Buffalo wasn’t any better. In fact, it was pretty much a mirror image of the year before. His best game (4 catches for 71 yards) came in a blowout loss while his next-highest yardage output was 45.

With a 4-8 record and little return on their investment, Buffalo chose to cut their losses by releasing Benjamin. Kansas City quickly snapped him up, but even Patrick Mahomes couldn’t save Benjamin. His two catches with the Chiefs proved to be his last in the NFL, as he looks to be de facto retired.

Benjamin showed as a rookie that he had the tools to be a successful receiver, but his ACL injury brought effort and attitude concerns to the surface. Not long after, those concerns swallowed up his career.

To make matters worse, Benjamin trashed Newton instead of taking responsibility for his failures. This is a guy who had more memes made about his weight than catches outside of Carolina and yet he thought people would take his side over Cam’s.

While this move didn’t work out, the Panthers North experiment has been successful overall. Much of their roster has Carolina ties or was drafted with the same philosophy in mind. The prices of some of those signings have been questionable and Josh Allen has his doubters, but the Bills are the favorites to win their division and threats to make a deep playoff run.

Even though the team is in a good place now, this was still a terrible trade. It’s not an issue of overcompensation—third and seventh-round picks certainly don’t break the bank—Benjamin was just that bad in Buffalo. Between his poor production and locker room presence, he hurt the team more than helped it.

Carolina Post Trade

Photo by Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Carolina was a good team both before this trade and after it. 5-3 with Benjamin, they finished 11-5 and playoff bound. The slightly improved record doesn’t conclusively show they improved after the trade, but there’s a case to be made.

For as productive as Benjamin was, his impact didn’t match the numbers. From 2014-17, Carolina’s regular season was 18-21-1 with him and 21-3 without him. Without his go-to target, Newton worked through his reads more and the offense was more dangerous as a result.

Benjamin’s departure opened the door for Devin Funchess to take over as WR1. The third-year man responded immediately with 17 catches for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns over the first 3 games post trade. But, as has become a theme of his career, the flashes didn’t sustain for Funch. After spotty production to end the season, he flopped as top dog in 2018.

As a team, Carolina imploded after a hot start. A 6-2 record was followed by 7 straight losses before a season-ending win over the Saints’ reserves. Funchess’ year was a similar story—minus the hot start. With just 549 yards on the season, his most memorable game was a dropfest in his Detroit homecoming.

Thankfully for the Panthers, they didn’t put all their eggs in Funchess’ basket. Amid the since-departed receiver’s struggles, first-round pick D.J. Moore showed the future was bright. Explosive with the ball in his hands, Moore doubled down on his promising rookie season with the ninth-most receiving yards in the league last year.

Moore may be an improvement over Benjamin, but it’s been a rough couple seasons in Carolina. The draft picks they received have done nothing to help right the ship, either.

Gaulden, the selection with Buffalo’s third-rounder, was a questionable decision on draft night and an unquestionably poor one now. He rarely saw the field before getting cut midway through last season. A little over two years after being drafted, he is not on a roster.

Carolina’s other pick could end up with a better career than Gaulden despite being taken 150 picks later. That doesn’t say much, though, and Smith too has struggled to find snaps on defense. But unlike Gaulden, he’s carved out a role as something of a special teams ace. Decade-long careers can be built upon that, so Smith could stick around for a while.

Even if Smith becomes the Panthers’ next Colin Jones, it’s tough to call this a good deal for the team. Realistically, the best thing they got was removing the temptation to re-sign Benjamin. His numbers warranted a continued stay, but he clearly would have been a ticking time bomb had that came true.

Knowing it could have ended even worse is the best way for Panthers fans to look back on the Benjamin era fondly.

Final Verdict: Panthers Win

If there was ever a lose-lose trade, this might be it. Benjamin might not have been a great receiver for the Panthers, but he was at least productive, and they got almost nothing in return for him. Calling them winners is more by default than anything, as Buffalo failed even harder.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Sixthstringqb Podcast Episode 8

Sixthstringqb Episode 8

This week, Amaël and Ben hit on a wide range of topics including The Rock’s secret motivation behind buying the XFL, which celebrities could make it in the NFL, and the utility of Rapunzel’s hair. Later, they break down a reddit post about the stupidest superpowers and stumble upon the cause of schizophrenia.

Looking Back…Who Won the Eagles-Vikings Sam Bradford Trade?

The History

Less than two weeks before its 2016 season opener, Minnesota’s 23-year-old starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, suffered a gruesome and season-ending injury. Given their 11-5 record the year before, the Vikings were hesitant chalk it up as a lost season.

As a result, general manager Rick Spielman began to scour the trade block for a veteran quarterback. One name stood out, and Spielman got his guy.

This move was surprising at the time, and without Bridgewater’s injury, Bradford likely would have played out the year in midnight green. After all, Doug Pederson’s message all offseason was that Bradford would start while rookie Carson Wentz rode the bench.

But, every player has a price, and the Vikings met Bradford’s. After being acquired in 2015, Bradford impressed enough to earn a two-year contract, but simultaneously disappointed enough for the team to draft his replacement.

Minnesota Post Trade

Photo by Andy Clayton-King/The Associated Press

Minnesota chose to start Shaun Hill week one due to his experience in the system. That gave Bradford an extra week to study the playbook and a free mark in the win column. The Vikings added additional marks in each of their next four games as Bradford took over and posted six touchdowns with zero turnovers. It was early, but Minnesota and its shiny new acquisition were looking dangerous.

Then, the wheels started to fall off. Bradford turned the ball over three times in week six as the Eagles abused their former quarterback and gave Minnesota its first taste of defeat. It was the Vikings’ first loss on the season, but far from their last. Including the shellacking in Philadelphia, they lost 8 of 11 to secure couch seats for the playoffs.

At first glance, Bradford was far from the problem. He finished with a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and would have gone over 4,000 yards if he played all 16 games. Most impressively, he broke Drew Brees’ record for highest single-season completion percentage (Brees has bested it every year since).

Look further in depth, though, and you’ll see why surface-level statistics are often misleading (and why I think completion percentage is extremely overrated). Bradford was the perfect example of an overly conservative game manager in 2016.

Instead of throwing it up and giving Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs the chance to make plays, he usually just checked it down. While that limits turnovers, it puts more pressure on the defense to be perfect. To their credit, the Vikings’ star-studded unit stepped up to the plate more often that not. Few defenses were better that season, but Minnesota’s putrid offense sunk them to mediocrity.

In Bradford’s defense, the offense was missing a key cog. Adrian Peterson only suited up in three games in what was ultimately a disappointing, injury-plagued end to his career in The Gopher State. No matter what stage of his career he was in, AD undoubtedly would have made Bradford’s job easier.

Also, this was generally an impossible situation. One of the primary reasons the NFL has so few trades compared to other leagues is how complex and unique each team’s playbook is. Learning a whole new offense in a matter of weeks is no small feat.

It’s also worth noting that Minnesota only paid $7 million of his $18 million 2016 salary. That helped lessen the dissatisfaction towards Bradford while inspiring hope for a strong second season.

But, in typical Bradford fashion, he went down week one. In his first game back, he suffered a season-ending injury. That ended his time with the Vikings, as he somehow convinced the Cardinals he was worth a $40 million contract. Three games into the season, Arizona benched him after what were likely his last snaps in the NFL. He was released the next November and has yet to sign with another team.

Hilariously, Bradford is the 17th-highest paid player of all time, slotting in right behind Brett Favre. He might not be the best quarterback, but he certainly knows how to pick an agent.

For Minnesota, their last-ditch effort to save the season didn’t really pan out. They finished 8-8 in 2016 and fared much better once Case Keenum took over for Bradford.

Even though Bradford was solid overall, there’s little doubt the Vikings would take a do-over for this deal. Those extra picks could have pushed Minnesota over the hump in 2017 or yielded replacements for some of the team’s aging stars. With Bradford’s stay being short and uneventful, just a chance at either of those would have been an improvement.

Philadelphia Post Trade

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

As sad as Bridgewater’s injury was, it led to a perfect scenario for the Eagles. Without it, Bradford likely would have started as many games as he was healthy for and led the team to a similar record to the 7-9 one they finished with. Good on them for trading Bradford before he even played a single game played on his contract, too. Not all owners would sign off on that.

Dealing Bradford paved the way for Wentz to start as a rookie, something the team was initially against. With a difficult transition from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the NFL ahead, Pederson wanted his young qb to learn from the bench. Instead, Ginger Jesus was unleashed.

Wentz’ first season featured the typical mix of amazing throws and boneheaded mistakes. Overall, it was about as good as anyone could have expected from an FCS rookie. Plus, the experience he gained proved to be invaluable.

Wentz came out the following year and set the league on fire. He was a near-lock to win MVP before he tore his ACL in week 14. We all know how that story ended, with Nick Foles coming out of nowhere to lead the team to the Super Bowl.

So, without even considering the picks they received, Philadelphia had already seen accelerated growth from its star quarterback and a championship parade within two years of the deal. Sounds pretty good to me.

With Minnesota’s 2017 first-rounder, the Eagles took Barnett, who was most famous for breaking Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. That record led some to compare Barnett to The Minister of Defense before he even played a professional down. Others (rightfully) thought these comparisons were asinine and worried that his lackluster athleticism would cause him to struggle as a pro.

As a rookie, Barnett tallied five sacks in a rotational role and made a couple huge plays during the team’s playoff run. With a starting job the following year, Barnett was expected to take a huge step forward. But, a bum shoulder derailed the hype as he missed 10 games and the postseason. After a full offseason of recovery, the spotlight was back on Barnett in 2019. He was healthy for most of the year, but didn’t take the superstar leap Eagles fans hoped for.

Still, Barnett is a very good player, even if the White comparisons set him up for failure. His 6.5 sacks last year were underwhelming, but his 22 quarterback hits—tied for 16th-most in the league—are a better indicator of his value. For reference, Danielle Hunter, who also had 22 qb hits, finished with 14.5 sacks.

That’s not to say Barnett is on Hunter’s level, or even close to it, but it does suggest he was more disruptive than the sack total indicates. Sack numbers can be a little flukey, so Barnett could be due for some positive regression. Even if he hasn’t lived up to the hype, I don’t think he’s close to bust territory.

Philadelphia’s other pick is a similar story. Like Barnett, Sweat had large contingents of both fans expecting greatness and those calling him overrated. In his case, he was the top recruit in his high school class before suffering a brutal knee injury. Concerns over his body’s long-term sustainability dropped him to the bottom of the fourth round despite the talent and production of a much higher pick.

Between adjusting to a new scheme and needing to put on weight, Sweat played scarcely as a rookie. Then, in an increased role last year, he flashed. 2020 should bring another substantial bump in snaps for him, so we’ll get a better idea of how good he really is. Until then, it’s tough to judge the value of the selection.

Given how Wentz starting as a rookie was crucial to his growth and the Eagles’ championship, hindsight shows keeping Bradford would have hurt the team. Hell, without this trade, the 2017 Foles-Philly reunion probably never happens.

Netting potentially their starting defensive end duo of the future for a negative asset was well worth the $11 million signing bonus and $5.5 million in 2017 dead cap the Eagles ate. Howie Roseman killed this deal, just as he did countless times en route to the Super Bowl.

Final Verdict: Eagles Win

I understand Minnesota’s thinking behind this trade, and they were far from the only team to mistakenly put their faith in Bradford, but this is an Eagles win through-and-through.

Philadelphia has been a proponent of always having multiple capable quarterbacks for years, and it has proven to be genius every time, including this deal. Maybe we should all have a little more faith in the Jalen Hurts experiment.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Sixthstringqb Podcast Episode 7

Sixthstringqb Episode 7

Amaël and Ben break down this crazy week of NFL news before the return of the infamous debate segment. This time, they answer the popular meme question of picking two animals to defend you against an attack by the others before spiraling into arguments about the military capabilities of France and Israel and who would win a war between America and Canada.

Looking Back…Who Won the Texans-Browns Deshaun Watson Draft Trade?

The History

Cleveland had just finished 1-15 in Hue Jackson’s first season as head coach. They needed help at almost every position and had a bounty of draft picks to find that help. Part of that bounty was an additional first-round pick acquired by allowing Philadelphia to trade up for Carson Wentz in 2016.

Just as they did the year prior, the Browns chose to pass on drafting a quarterback and acquire more picks by trading back. This time, it was the Texans on the other end of the call.

Houston had won the AFC South in back-to-back years, but that’s about as meaningful as winning your family fantasy league back-to-back. The Texans knew that if they truly wanted to compete, they needed an upgrade at quarterback.

Their first attempt didn’t go so well. 12 months after they signed Brock Osweiler to a massive contract, they dealt him in one of the only pure salary dumps in NFL history.

Trading up with the Browns represented a second chance. Their guy was still on the board, and the price wouldn’t matter if he panned out.

Houston Post Trade

Photo by Eric Sauseda/Groovehouse Photography

Giving up a future first rounder is always tough because you never know just how high it will end up. Houston’s nightmare scenario came true as they finished 4-12 with the 4th-worst record in the league.

An already risky move to trade up for the third quarterback in the class was quickly teetering on disaster. Then, Watson started doing Deshaun Watson things.

Tom Savage was named the week one starter, but the combination of his awfulness and a dominant Jaguars defense opened the door for Watson to see immediate relief action. From that point on, he never looked back.

Now starting, Watson quickly showcased the elite potential Houston saw in him. He locked up a win in his first start with a highlight run against the Bengals then went toe-to-toe with Brady in Foxborough and humiliated the Titans.

Watson’s rookie season was electric, but unfortunately, it was also short-lived. After three more exciting starts, he tore his ACL during a non-contact practice drill. The Texans cratered without him, and Watson’s murky future along with their now top-five pick being shipped out caused the doubt surrounding this trade to resurface.

But, as we now know, doubting Watson is foolish. He grinded through rehab and was ready in time for week one. Despite his return, the Texans lost their first three games.

Then, they went on of the better mid-season turnarounds in NFL history, winning 9 straight games and finishing 11-5 with the division crown. A lot of the credit goes to Watson, who continued to make highlight plays while cutting down on his mistakes and playing behind a porous offensive line. Despite losing in the Wild Card Round, it was a great season for Houston.

I’ll admit, I doubted the Texans before 2018 and again after it. I thought they beat up on bad teams during their win streak and would fall back to earth. Instead, they won the division again and gave the eventual champion Chiefs a scare in the divisional round.

I’ve learned my lesson. My faith in Watson will never waver again. No matter what weakness is on the roster or what idiot is in the front office, he will put the team on his back.

I said in my review of the Rams’ trade up for Jared Goff that you can only really win one of these mortgage-the-future moves if you get one of the absolute best players in the league, which Watson surely is. It’s hard to deny his talent—he’s my fourth-best quarterback in the league—or accomplishments.

Houston would do this deal again in a heartbeat. Bill O’Brien, especially. Without Watson, he’d be out of a job. Though, to be fair, he seems content getting there on his own.

Cleveland Post Trade

Photo by David Richard/Associated Press

Purely based on the value of the draft picks, this was a win for Cleveland. Houston’s 2018 pick (4th overall) landed significantly higher than the 2017 first (12th) they traded away.

They didn’t draft complete busts (which says a lot for the Browns) with the selections, either.

With the 25th pick in 2017, Cleveland made a polarizing move by taking Peppers. Some expected his versatile and game-breaking college career to translate to a star pro career. Others thought he lacked a true position and might only stick as a gadget player in the NFL.

While Peppers has certainly been more than a gadget player, he has struggled to lock down a position. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams couldn’t find a consistent role or snaps for him in Cleveland.

As a result, Peppers was included in the package sent to New York for Odell Beckham Jr in 2019. The change of scenery was beneficial to Peppers, as he began to cement his role and earn the trust of coaches. To Cleveland, though, he was another failed first-round draft choice.

Thankfully, the Browns’ other pick from this deal has fared significantly better. Like Peppers, Ward faced concerns over how his college production would translate to the pros. In his case, the big worry was size.

Young corners notoriously struggle, so he’s certainly had his lumps. For the most part, though, the good has overshadowed the bad. Besides health concerns (seven games missed in two seasons) and inconsistency, he has shown the makings of a very good player for years to come.

As for team success, nothing changed after this deal. The Browns followed up a 1-win season by becoming the second 0-16 team in history. 2018 brought hope for the future as they finished 7-8-1, but that all came crashing down as a 6-10 finish in 2019 derailed Cleveland’s hype train.

Ward could become a star corner for Cleveland and Peppers might have been necessary to land OBJ, but let’s be real: hindsight shows this as a terrible trade for the Browns.

Watson developed into a superstar quarterback, which apparently Cleveland’s Moneyball-inspired front office wanted no part of. The best part is, they were only able to trade away the rights to this star quarterback because they traded away the rights to a star quarterback the year before.

Even if you’re a Baker Mayfield defender, it’s clear the Browns passed on two superior quarterbacks before eventually taking him. No amount of extra picks will make up for that, especially not with Cleveland making those picks.

Final Verdict: Texans Win

There’s been plenty of times where these expensive moves up in the draft don’t end up working out. This was not one of those. Watson is pretty much the only thing keeping Houston afloat, and missing out on him has to sting even more for a Browns front office that passed on Wentz the year before.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Sixthstringqb Podcast Episode 6

Sixthstringqb Episode 6

Amaël and Ben are back to break down all the crazy NFL news and rumors. Then, they once again bash the Madden and ESPN position rankings—this time with tight ends and wide receivers. As usual, they also get sidetracked and reminisce about or debate various topics.

Looking Back…Who Won the Colts-Pats Jacoby Brissett Trade?

The History

To start 2016, Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension as punishment for his role in Deflategate. Jimmy Garoppolo replaced him, but a week 2 injury led to Brissett taking the reins.

While his play was far from exceptional, it was still impressive for a third-round rookie thrown into the fire. He showed great rushing ability, although his passing was extremely inconsistent even with coddling from the play-calling.

Still, between his three games in 2016 and an excellent showing the following preseason, he displayed enough potential to become a valuable asset. So, the Patriots trading him days before the next season for an underwhelming return definitely came as a shock.

For an Indianapolis team expecting to be without Andrew Luck for the whole year, this was a no-brainer. New England’s asking price was only Dorsett, who had failed to live up to his draft day expectations. I picture Chris Ballard hanging up the first time he got this offer expecting it to have been a prank call.

Indianapolis Post Trade

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Brissett played as well for the Colts as anyone could have realistically expected. After Scott Tolzien embarrassed himself, the team, and all of America with his pitiful week one performance, Brissett started every game the rest of the way.

Statistically, it was ugly, but that doesn’t take into account just how bad Indianapolis was. In 2016, a healthy Luck was only able to will them to eight wins. Expecting Brissett to surpass or even meet that with less than a week of preparation would have been insane.

With the most sacks allowed in the league, his offensive line play was terrible. T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle were solid top targets, but it’s hard to get them the ball when you get drilled instantly every play. Old man Frank Gore didn’t move the needle in the backfield, either.

It was a terrible situation, and Brissett still managed to make the most out of it. Getting four wins was somewhat of an accomplishment, though it’s worth noting that those came against the 0-16 Browns, the 4-12 Texans (twice), and the 6-10 49ers before they acquired Garoppolo.

Whether by his own volition or the team’s game plan, Brissett didn’t take many risks. He barely topped 3,000 yards and sported a 13:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While it was by no means perfect, just surviving that season was impressive.

In 2018, Brissett was relegated back to his natural role as a backup. Luck returned and led the team to 10 wins and another in the playoffs. The ensuing divisional round beatdown proved to be Luck’s final game, though, as he shockingly retired just weeks before the season opener.

Once again, Brissett was thrust into a starting role with little time to prepare, but this time he and the team handled it a lot better. Indianapolis showed faith in their new starter with a two-year extension. Eight weeks into the season, Brissett was making that investment look genius, playing the best ball of his career and captaining a 5-2 team.

Then, a knee injury sidelined him against the Steelers, and everything changed. After sitting out one game, he returned a much worse player. So bad, in fact, that the Colts signed Philip Rivers this offseason to start. Now, Brissett will collect a cool $15 million to likely warm the bench behind one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history.

Even though he may have squandered his last starting opportunity in the league, Brissett was still a huge steal for Indy. They got 3 years and 30 starts of solid play. For a worse player at a significantly less valuable position, that’s a win any day.

New England Post Trade

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

To some degree, trading your third-string quarterback for a recent first-round pick is impressive. That’s about the only way you can like this trade for the Patriots, though.

Like I said before, Brissett’s play had already greatly surpassed his draft evaluation, so getting only Dorsett back was underwhelming. Interestingly, after New England traded away Garoppolo for a similarly disappointing return months later, theories began to emerge that this was Bill Belichick’s payback for Robert Kraft refusing to move on from Brady.

If true, that would explain the peculiar timing of and return for the Brissett trade, but it still wouldn’t justify it. Belichick is one of the most methodical and unemotional coaches in sports history, so sabotaging his own team out of spite certainly would come as a surprise.

To make matters worse, Dorsett did even less in New England than Indianapolis. At just 528 yards, 2016 remains his best season as a pro. In three years with the Patriots, he averaged just over half that. Even last season when the team’s receiving core was uncharacteristically awful, he failed to make his mark.

Even though he bombed this trade, Belichick deserves a smidgen of credit for declining Dorsett’s fifth-year option. Teams are often too stubborn to admit they were wrong about a player. That usually results in overly long leashes and undeserved contract extensions, so props to the Pats for cutting their losses.

Instead, the Pats resigned him to a cheap one-year deal for 2019. Now, he’s headed to Seattle where a roster spot isn’t guaranteed. 5 years after getting a call night one of the draft, he might have just received his final call for a contract.

Besides the terrible return, I can’t help but think New England would have been much better off keeping Brissett. The Garoppolo trade at least made sense in that he was due for a new contract, but Brissett had three years left on his rookie deal. He certainly could have been a trustworthy backup to Brady if not his future successor.

Belichick doesn’t miss often, but this one was undeniable. It was questionable then and looks even worse now.

Final Verdict: Colts Win

Outside of an inclination to give New England the benefit of the doubt, there was never a reason to like this trade for the Pats. They gave up a great backup quarterback for a bad receiver. In his first year as Colts GM, this was great move by Ballard in a short career full of them.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Sixthstringqb Podcast Episode 5

Sixthstringqb Episode 5

A ton has happened since our last episode, and we’re here to break it all down for you. Amaël and Ben detail the good and bad about every new contract and hit on serious issues like Desean Jackson’s comments and Washington’s name change. Then, they tee off on Madden and ESPN for their terrible position rankings.