PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- With rookie fifth-round draft pick Nathan Peterman appearing to have passed veteran T.J. Yates on the Buffalo Bills' quarterback depth chart this week, might the Bills decide to keep only two quarterbacks -- Tyrod Taylor and Peterman -- for the regular season?
The possibility should be a discussion for general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott as they approach cut-downs Sept. 2.
Less than two weeks ago, Peterman seemed to hit a low point in training camp, having several passes intercepted in a span of a few practices. The rookie had practiced almost exclusively with the third-team offense since training camp began and appeared destined for the No. 3 quarterback role typically reserved for young, developmental prospects.
The turning point for Peterman came in last Thursday's preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings. After Yates looked shaky running the second-team offense, completing 6 of 11 passes for 48 yards, Peterman entered the game late in the third quarter and led the offense on a 13-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in Buffalo's only touchdown of the game. The Pittsburgh product and eighth quarterback chosen in the 2017 draft, Peterman completed 13 of 25 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.
When the Bills returned to training camp Sunday at St. John Fisher College, Peterman took the majority of second-team reps, while Yates was bumped down to the third team.
"Really just trying to get him more reps," McDermott said Sunday of Peterman. "You know, T.J.'s been in the system for a while, so he knows the system well and, really, it's just taking a look at Nate and giving him a chance to develop, really, with added reps."
The swap proved more than a one-day decision. Peterman continued to lead the second team in Monday's padded practice and in Tuesday's lower-key session. When Taylor exits Thursday's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he will be replaced by Peterman, McDermott said Tuesday.
Projecting forward, Yates' case for a 53-man roster spot is weakening. While there is not a track record of roster decisions to evaluate from first-year coach McDermott and first-year GM Beane, both would probably be open to the possibility of keeping only two quarterbacks on their roster.
Financially, the Bills do not stand to gain much if they were to release Yates. He signed a one-year deal that qualifies for the NFL's veteran minimum salary exception, meaning his salary-cap number would be a manageable $655,000 if he made the roster, which includes a $40,000 bonus for being with the team Week 1.
However, releasing Yates would benefit the Bills in several ways, including allowing them to keep another player at a different position of need.
The loss of Yates would not sting. If Taylor is injured and misses significant time this season, it would not matter which backup quarterback replaced him. Neutral observers' expectations are already low for Buffalo this season, especially after Friday's trades of top receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby. Losing Taylor would extinguish remaining hope of a playoff run.
There is also the issue of the Bills' future at quarterback. If Taylor, stripped of his top target in Watkins, does not perform well this season, his chances of returning in 2018 would seemingly be diminished. In that case, the Bills would be wise to begin to see what they have in Peterman, which could mean giving him live action later in the regular season.
The downside to losing Yates would come mostly behind the scenes. He knows offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's system, having played for him with the Houston Texans from 2011 to 2013. Yates, 30, could offer mentorship to Peterman during his rookie season -- although Taylor, 28, also has the experience for that role.
Yates also could offer a potential advantage over Peterman in a situation where Taylor suffers a minor injury during a game and misses one or several plays. If the Bills are contending and the game is on the line, Yates might be the steadier hand under center compared to a rookie.
Ultimately, if the Bills were to release Yates, they could probably get him back easily if the need arose. Yates was not re-signed during the 2016 offseason by the Texans and he spent nearly the entire season out of football before being signed by the Miami Dolphins in mid-December. Similarly, there might not be many suitors for Yates' services this fall.