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Training camp question: Should Bills keep two or three quarterbacks on active roster?

Training camp question: Should Bills keep two or three quarterbacks on active roster?

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Day One at Buffalo Bills minicamp (copy) (copy) (copy)

The Bills kept quarterback Jake Fromm (4) on the active roster last season but may not need to do so in 2021.

This is the second in a series of key questions facing the Buffalo Bills as they prepare for training camp. This installment: How many quarterbacks should the team keep on the 53-man roster?

The Buffalo Bills understandably went quarterback heavy in 2020.

With the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bills protected themselves by keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and another on the practice squad. They even took things a step further, keeping No. 3 quarterback Jake Fromm apart from his teammates as much as possible, making for a most unusual rookie season. Fromm practiced separately from the rest of the team, worked out at off times and was kept more than 6 feet apart in any positional meetings to ensure that he would not come into close contact with any other quarterback on the roster.

The reasoning was sound. The Denver Broncos were forced to play with practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton as their starting quarterback for a game against the New Orleans Saints after backup quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive for Covid-19 and the rest of the quarterbacks on Denver’s roster were ruled high-risk, close contacts. The Bills enacted their plan with Fromm to make sure they weren’t ever put in a similar position.

The plan worked. The Bills avoided any Covid-19-related trouble with their quarterbacks on the way to an AFC East title and an appearance in the AFC championship game. With the pandemic loosening its grip on the country, however, the Bills’ thinking could change heading into 2021.

Will it be necessary to carry three quarterbacks on the active roster again?

Excluding last year’s special circumstances, that has not been coach Sean McDermott’s preferred method of roster construction. In McDermott’s first season on the job in 2017, the team kept three quarterbacks on the roster, although that comes with a bit of an asterisk. No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb also was a key contributor on special teams. As it turned out, Webb ended up being needed at quarterback after both Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman were injured, and he helped lead the team to a critical, late-season win over Indianapolis in a blizzard – a game that went a long way toward ending the Bills’ playoff drought.

In 2018, the Bills traded veteran A.J. McCarron to the Raiders right before the start of the regular season, opting to go with just Peterman and rookie Josh Allen on the 53-man roster. It stayed that way for the first five weeks of the season until veteran Derek Anderson was brought in. After both Allen and Anderson were hurt, the Bills signed veteran Matt Barkley, Peterman was later released and the Bills finished the year with three quarterbacks.

Entering 2019, the Bills went with just Allen and Barkley on the active roster, and it stayed that way all season.

Here’s a look at the factors that might influence the Bills’ decision in 2021:

A deep roster: Coming off an AFC championship game appearance, the Bills have a loaded roster. That’s particularly true in three positional groups – offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver. If the Bills want to keep more players at any one of those spots, it might come at the expense of having a third quarterback on the roster. The coaching staff has to decide what gives the team a better chance to win – a third quarterback who is likely going to be inactive every week or, say, a sixth defensive end.

The pandemic: Much has been made about the NFL’s Covid-19 vaccination rate among players. That’s especially true here in Buffalo. Allen said earlier in the offseason that he had not yet been vaccinated, although at the time he made those comments, he had just become eligible. Since then, he has declined to say whether he’s been vaccinated. With the vaccine now so easily accessible, if he hasn’t done so yet, it’s a matter of an individual health decision as opposed to availability. As much as some fans don’t think an individual player’s decision on whether to be vaccinated should be a topic of conversation, the reality is it has to be for the Bills. If Allen and No. 2 quarterback Mitchell Trubisky are vaccinated, the Bills don’t have to worry about them potentially missing a game because of being deemed a high-risk, close contact of someone who tests positive. In that situation, they might be more comfortable keeping just two quarterbacks. If either Allen or Trubisky is not vaccinated, however, the team might decide the possibility of one or both of them missing time – either because of a positive Covid-19 test or because of the league’s contact-tracing program – makes it a necessity to carry three quarterbacks.

Potential: Because of the unique circumstances of the 2020 season, the Bills might still want to get a longer look at Fromm, whom they drafted in the fifth round out of Georgia last year. With three preseason games and a more normal training camp, they’ll get that opportunity. If Fromm impresses, the Bills might not want to risk losing him on the waiver wire. Fromm has three years remaining on his rookie contract. That’s important, because Trubisky is signed to just a one-year deal. General Manager Brandon Beane has previously said he doesn’t expect Trubisky to be here long term, so if he signs elsewhere to challenge for a starting role after the 2021 season, backup quarterback again becomes a need. Fromm could be a candidate for that job, especially because he’s on a cost-controlled contract for two years beyond the 2021 season.

Practice squad: If the Bills go with two quarterbacks, it’s a good bet they’ll keep another one on the practice squad. The team valued the job Davis Webb did last season working in that role. Webb has earned the trust of the coaching staff and the respect of his teammates. Although it’s probably not the career the former third-round draft pick had in mind when he entered the NFL, Webb can likely stick around the league for a long time working as a in-case-of-emergency-break-glass option on the practice squad.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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