It doesn't get more cold and cruel in NFL than Tyrod Taylor's demotion as Chargers' starting QB

Most of us, particularly those who have been athletes, would agree: If you lose your role or job through your own mistake or because someone is just better, so be it.

But losing your job the way Tyrod Taylor did — it’s just cruel.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told media that rookie Justin Herbert will be the team’s starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, and that Herbert will not be looking over his shoulder.

Herbert was eventually going to move into the starting job. After all, the Chargers drafted him sixth overall in the spring, so the regime clearly believed he’d be its quarterback of the future.

It’s how he became the starter, and more how unfair it is for Taylor.

Taylor led Los Angeles to a season-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but suffered broken ribs in the game. The next week, in the minutes before the Chargers were to face the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor received a painkiller injection near the fracture site to allow him to play.

The effects last only for a few hours, so the procedure is typically done as close to kickoff as possible.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor looks to throw before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
A punctured lung injury cost Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor his starting job. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

That shows how much Taylor wanted to be on the field with his teammates, to run the offense against a division opponent and the reigning Super Bowl champions. Anyone who has dealt with broken ribs can tell you how uncomfortable they are. Add in the contact football players absorb, even quarterbacks, and, well, he would have been in a heap of pain the day afterward, though it’s fair to ask why athletic trainers cleared Taylor to play at all. If he needed shots to get through the week of practice, where he would have been wearing a non-contact jersey, was letting him play in a game where he would’ve been a target of pass rushers in his best interest?

It all led to one massive, career-altering problem: The team doctor who administered the shot punctured one of Taylor’s lungs and he hasn’t been able to play since.

The NFL Players Association has opened an investigation, and has a 60-day window to file a grievance on Taylor’s behalf. A league source said things are currently “on hold” with the process, as any potential grievance would hinge on whether Taylor would suffer material losses — in other words, a loss of money because of incentives tied to starts, wins, etc.

Grievances can be messy and drawn out, which certainly means there’s space for the Chargers to do the right thing and pay Taylor due to a mistake of their medical staffer. All of the guaranteed money in his two-year contract came last year.

Immediately after that Week 2 game, Lynn was adamant that Taylor wouldn’t lose his job. And once the news of exactly why he’d missed the game against the Chiefs leaked out, it was completely understandable.

The situation had shades of Brady-Bledsoe from two decades ago: In 2001, Drew Bledsoe, thought to be the New England Patriots’ entrenched starter, took a hit from the New York Jets’ Mo Lewis in Week 2 that left him concussed and with internal bleeding and a collapsed lung. Backup Tom Brady stepped into the huddle and the rest is history.

Will Herbert lead the Chargers to the Super Bowl this season, assuming the COVID-plagued league gets to that point? At the moment, it seems unlikely since they’re 1-3 after last Sunday’s late loss to Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but perhaps this year more than any other, a team’s health and depth will be paramount. If a club can avoid having its team facility becoming a coronavirus hotspot, it might be in a far better position than other franchises (looking at you, Titans).

Taylor doesn’t have the resume of his contemporaries, like fellow 2011 draftees Cam Newton or Andy Dalton. He has been a serviceable starter, a Pro Bowler in 2015 who should get credit for helping turn the Buffalo Bills from constant laughingstock to playoff entrant. He is lauded for his professionalism, and Lynn said Thursday that Taylor is the only player he has been around to receive a captain’s vote from 100 percent of his teammates. He will remain a captain through the year.

But he also might have the worst luck of any NFL player in recent memory.

In 2017, after struggling against the New Orleans Saints, Taylor was benched for Nathan Peterman, arguably the worst quarterback to start a game in the past 20 years. Peterman promptly threw five interceptions in the first half. Taylor got his job back at halftime, the Bills finished the season 9-7 (with an assist to the Cincinnati Bengals), and finally got back into the postseason.

In 2018, Taylor was with the Cleveland Browns and started the first three games of the season when he suffered a concussion in the first half of Week 3. Rookie No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield came in, led the Browns to their first win in over a year (they got a tie with Taylor in Week 1), and Taylor was done.

And now this.

It’s not new, NFL coaches cycling through players so easily, even ones they say they have great respect for and ones they hate giving the news of a demotion, as Lynn did.

But when a player is sidelined because of someone else’s mistake, someone else’s mistake when they wanted to play through pain to be there with their team, it a reminder of just how cruel the sport can be.

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