Deshaun Watson, The Buffalo Bills, & Economic Theory

03/06/2017
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Deshaun Watson confirmed to reporters at the NFL Combine press conference that he arranged a meeting with the Bills’ coaches and front office. What does this mean? It means that the Bills, along with every other NFL team, are doing their normal duty of meeting with top QB prospects. What does this mean if the team decides not to pick up Tyrod Taylor’s option? It could mean one of many things. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan reported on SportsCenter this morning that the word around the league was that the Bills are leaning toward not picking up Taylor’s $30 million option. Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported this, as well. If this were to happen, and if Watson fell to the no. 10 draft spot on draft night, then he would be a realistic option for Buffalo.

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The dilemma surrounding drafting Watson at 10 is whether he would be an immediate starter in the NFL. He has many intangibles that GMs love: leadership, competitiveness, attention to detail, quick release, relatively consistent footwork, and passion for the game. There are some questions surrounding his game, especially his deep ball accuracy. Yet, to pass on Watson at 10 would be a huge mistake. His track record of proven success in winning games and a national championship, while fostering the development of his fellow peers (i.e. making those around him better), creates an environment that breeds productivity. His experience from college would translate well to the NFL, but there is obviously still room for growth. As mentioned previously, like any other QB in this league, there are things he can clearly improve on. The biggest question for Sean McDermott is whether Watson would be ready to fill the QB void on week 1. Quarterbacks in Rick Dennison‘s offense is not asked to do too much. Trevor Siemian, a potential trade option for the Bills, did an average job for Denver, where his demands and expectations were not particularly high.

The argument for starting Watson would be that since the Dennison’s scheme relies on the run game quite a bit, then there would not be as much pressure on Watson, giving him time to develop while still experiencing real-game situations. The argument against starting Watson is that many first-round draft picks are not immediately ready for NFL action. However, since desperate times call for desperate measures, players like Watson are often thrown into the fire with lofty expectations of immediate success with few available resources. I posit that we should assess the Bills’ quarterback situation by using basic economic theory.

Economic theory explains how goods and services are allocated and consumed within a market. For firms to make profit, they must maximize their efficiency and productivity by using goods and services such that their marginal benefit (additional benefit from an activity)  equals their marginal cost (additional cost from an activity). The cost of producing one more good must not exceed the benefit, otherwise that production is not profitable. NFL prospects are like firms acting in a market system (a social network that allows for interaction and competition). They want to maximize their skills such that their marginal benefit equals their marginal cost. In economic markets, firms can only do so much until there is intervention from some sort of government or state that helps maintain growth and balance.

In terms of the NFL, the players are the firms and the coaching staff or front office is the government. The players can only do so much to obtain their maximizing potential. The coaching staff must intervene and develop that player in order for him to reach his growth point (the point at which his marginal benefit equals his marginal cost). From the Bills’ coaching staff’s standpoint, they must do their due diligence in analyzing Watson and determining whether the benefit of him starting an NFL game exceeds the cost of him starting a game. Would it be more of a risk or reward to draft and start Watson if available, or to draft him and have him learn and develop under a veteran quarterback? Another aspect of economic theory is that tastes are subjective, which means that each person’s taste is different (i.e. each team’s player evaluation is unique). One team may think a different way about a player relative to their own situation than another team will. A potential analog to Buffalo’s current predicament is the pre-Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars. When Jacksonville drafted Blake Bortles, they planned to sit him under Chad Henne. However, when Bortles beat Henne in their quarterback competition, Bortles was thrown into the fire and didn’t have much room to succeed. Nonetheless, if Bortles was drafted by a team with a stable QB, then he may have had room to learn and develop, much like the Aaron Rodgers situation in Green Bay, under Brett Favre.

This situation could be debated endlessly among fans, coaches, and executives. Regardless of what argument there is, one thing is important regarding the Bills and Watson. The clock is ticking, and there must be a decision made, because Bills fans, including myself, are tired of waiting and watching mediocre season after mediocre season. If Doug Whaley is truly committed to this organization, then the Sean McDermott hire must prove it. That first starts with the QB situation.

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