When the Buffalo Bills began a quarterback battle during training camp last offseason, the focus was squarely on EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel. If Manuel won, it would have been a positive step in the career of a young quarterback who still hadn't been drained of his upside. If Cassel won, the Bills would be looking for a new quarterback in 2016 while he served as a veteran stopgap.
Neither won, as it became clear throughout camp and the preseason that there was some merit to Tyrod Taylor, a four-year backup with the Baltimore Ravens and a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2011. Rex Ryan chose Taylor to be his starter, and it paid off in spades. In his first season as a starter, Taylor looked like a potential franchise quarterback, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,035 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions in 14 games played.
The Bills weren't a great team, but they were competitive, just missing out on the playoffs with an 8-8 record. And they had reliable play from the quarterback position, something the team had been sorely lacking for a long time. But now the Bills have a decision to make. Despite his production, Taylor's future in Buffalo is still a question mark.
Taylor wants a new deal
Taylor has one year left on the deal he signed with the Bills last offseason, and it carries a cap hit of just $3.1 million in 2016. Understandably, Taylor wants a new deal that gives him a lot more money this season, as well as long-term security. The Bills, seemingly convinced that this isn't necessary, haven't made any reported progress on getting their not-quite-franchise quarterback signed to an extension.
There is a chance that the Bills could let Taylor play 2016 without an extension. But if Taylor does play and he plays well, they can always use the franchise tag after the season to retain him. If he doesn't play well, then they will have made a good decision. Either way, they'd risk alienating their quarterback who has been adamant about his value.
"It's the Bills' prerogative to do what they want to do as it relates to Tyrod Taylor or any other Bills player," Taylor's agent Adisa Bakari said, via The Buffalo News. "Fortunately, there are 31 other teams that have watched and will be watching Tyrod. And the fact of the matter is what Tyrod was able to do as a first-time starter in 2015 was give the Bills the best quarterback play they've had since Jim Kelly. If that isn't enough to warrant an extension, I don't know what will be."
It isn't clear what kind of deal Taylor is looking for. The standard for franchise quarterbacks at this stage is about $20 million per season, which the Bills surely don't want to give Taylor. There is no indication that this is what Taylor is asking for, though. Whatever he is asking for, the Bills are hesitant to pay it.
The best since Kelly?
Jim Kelly is widely regarded as the greatest player in the organization's history. Strictly speaking, both Drew Bledsoe and Doug Flutie turned in solid performances in their brief stints with the Bills. But by and large, Taylor's agent doesn't seem to be blowing smoke.
Here are some comparisons from a sampling of recent Bills quarterbacks compared to Taylor:
While a few of his predecessors threw more touchdowns, Taylor was less mistake prone and added 568 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, both good for second-best on the team.
As a whole, the Bills also were better offensively under Taylor than they had been in over a decade. In 2015, they ranked 12th in the league in points and 13th in total yards, and the Bills were ranked over 20th in the league a total of 12 times since Kelly was quarterback. Twice, they were ranked 30th.
Bills doing their homework on rookies
The Bills have maintained that they are open to drafting a quarterback this offseason, and while this isn't regarded as a strong class, the interest does seem to be genuine. The Bills had a meeting with Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman attended Lynch's pro day.
They have met with or hosted several other quarterback prospects, including Connor Cook (Michigan State), Cardale Jones (Ohio State), Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State). At this point, it'd be a shock if the Bills didn't draft a quarterback.
#Bills ate dinner with Paxton Lynch, will visit with Connor Cook, Cardale Jones, did extensive work on Jared Goff… they are in the QB market— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 6, 2016
If they're trying to put up a smokescreen, it's a massive one. But it also is due diligence. If the Bills want to bluff Taylor into taking a more team-friendly deal, this is the way to do it. And along the way, they could fall in love with a prospect.
Why the Bills should extend Taylor
There is some truth to what Taylor's agent said. Although he might have overstated Taylor's level of play to some degree — the Bills failed to make the playoffs for the 16th straight season — most of their issues were outside of Taylor's control, including a backsliding defense and banged up backfield. Taylor didn't make many signature plays or put the team on his back à la Cam Newton, but his play didn't sink the Bills either. In most cases, he kept them in games and they showed a greater scoring potential than the franchise had seen in a long time.
Tyrod Taylor wasn't or isn't Jim Kelly, but he was still good for the Bills.
"I definitely think I showed what I can do, and I definitely think that I showed that I’m going to continue to get better. I improved each game," Taylor told David Teel of the Daily Press. "I would love to be the long-term answer but … I understand the business side of it."
Nobody knows if he will keep progressing, but a franchise that has had a revolving door of mediocre quarterbacks shouldn't pass up these kinds of chances over contract disputes. It's better than returning to the days when all eyes were on Manuel and Cassel competing for the starting role.
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NFL Draft: Breaking down the top quarterbacks
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