Buffalo Bills quarterbacks overview: all in on EJ Manuel

Rick Stewart

Will the Buffalo Bills look to complement EJ Manuel with a veteran backup this offseason, or are they content with their current crop of young guys?

Prior to the 2013 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills had never drafted a quarterback with their foremost first-round pick in franchise history. Sure, they'd made high-level investments - Jim Kelly was taken No. 14 overall in 1983 (and remains the earliest-drafted quarterback in franchise history, though he was chosen two spots after short-lived Bills tight end Tony Hunter), and J.P. Losman was the No. 22 overall pick in 2004 (nine picks after the team had nabbed Lee Evans) - but Manuel was a historic pick.

After a so-so rookie season that saw Manuel miss eight games (two preseason and six regular season) with three separate knee injuries, the Bills have doubled down in supporting their franchise quarterback this offseason, hiring quarterbacks coach Todd Downing - who helped Manuel earn MVP honors at the 2013 Senior Bowl as a member of Detroit's coaching staff - and senior offensive assistant Jim Hostler, who has experience working with quarterbacks and will take a macro view of the offense working alongside head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Regardless of anyone's personal feelings on Manuel, it's hard to argue that the Bills aren't doing this thing the right way - they've made their pick, and now they're doing everything possible to provide Manuel the necessary infrastructure to reach his maximum potential. Beyond the questions surrounding Manuel, however, there are still decisions the Bills have to make behind him.

EJ Manuel

  • Age: 23 (24 on 3/19)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season, with 2017 being a club option year. The first four years of the deal will pay $8.89 million, fully guaranteed. He was paid a $4.8 million signing bonus in 2013. Scheduled to make $809K in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Com Att % Yds YPA TD INT Rat Rus Yds Avg TD Sk F FL
694 59.8 180 306 58.8 1,972 6.4 11 9 77.7 53 186 3.5 2 28 6 3

Once Manuel's rookie season came to a premature end on December 27, we posted an in-depth film study article on Manuel's strengths and weaknesses. Beyond those areas of improvement, Manuel also has another important step to take in his second season: one of leadership. Buffalo's front office and coaches are treating Manuel like "the guy," but he needs to become that guy for his teammates in year two.

Thad Lewis

  • Age: 26 (27 on 11/19)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $645K in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Com Att % Yds YPA TD INT Rat Rus Yds Avg TD Sk F FL
356 30.7 93 157 59.2 1,092 7.0 4 3 81.0 24 52 2.2 1 18 7 3

Lewis earned some fans quickly thanks to his gritty, and at times surprisingly efficient, style of play in leading the Bills to a 2-3 record (both wins over rival Miami) in five spot starts. He has an excellent chance of opening training camp this summer as the team's backup quarterback, if we're to take GM Doug Whaley at face value.

Jeff Tuel

  • Age: 22 (23 on 2/12)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $495K in base salary in 2014.
Rep % Com Att % Yds YPA TD INT Rat Rus Yds Avg TD Sk F FL
111 9.6 26 59 44.1 309 5.2 1 3 45.1 3 17 5.7 0 2 0 0

In his lone start of the season against Kansas City, Tuel looked surprisingly prepared and efficient early - and he also threw the Bills' prettiest pass of the 2013 season. His two appearances confirmed his status as an undrafted project, however: his arm talent is below average and he's very raw in general, though he did show flashes of having NFL-level smarts. He'll get another very long look next summer.

Dennis Dixon

  • Age: 29
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season (reserve/future deal).

Signed to the practice squad during one of Buffalo's more severe injury crises mid-season, Dixon was signed to a reserve/future deal in January, which means that barring a major move at the position, he could be around competing for a roster spot at St. John Fisher in August.

Kevin Kolb

  • Age: 29 (30 on 8/24)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Owed a $1 million roster bonus on the first day of the new league year (March 11, 4PM ET). Scheduled to make $2 million in base salary in 2014.

Two factors - his long history with concussions, the latest of which caused him to miss the 2013 season and was called career-threatening, and the cool $1 million the Bills will have to pay him if he's still on the roster when the new league year begins - likely means that Kolb will be released. The odds are slim that we'll see him in a Bills uniform again.

Three Os

Opinion: Buffalo has done good work in supporting Manuel from a coaching perspective; now they need to do the same thing with his skill players. It's time to free C.J. Spiller, and make him a matchup guy whose whereabouts opponents need to account for on more than just one-third of the team's offensive snaps; that will help open up the offense considerably. Perhaps far more importantly, the Bills need to find Manuel a legitimately excellent bail-out option - a go-to receiver that can snare touch catches and make Manuel look great on occasion. Both should be imperative goals to meet this spring.

Observation: In the midst of hubbub surrounding Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham telling Manuel that he thinks the Bills should draft a quarterback in the first round of this year's draft, most fans missed the fact that Manuel is planning at least two weeks' worth of workouts with his wide receivers and running backs this spring. Manuel mentioned Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham and Spiller by name, noting that the workouts will likely happen in California and/or Texas to accommodate Woods and Goodwin finishing up school at USC and Texas, respectively.

Outlook: The Bills are all in on Manuel. They've seen enough from Lewis as a backup to, at minimum, give him a fair shot at keeping that job next season. There's enough that's intriguing about Tuel to see how he benefits from an offseason in the same offense, and in an NFL training program, next summer. If the Bills are going to do anything at this position, it'll be signing a veteran to help Manuel in the classroom and to compete with Lewis for the backup job. Whether or not they can find that type of player without inadvertently creating a quarterback controversy is, however, another matter entirely - and that could play a role in their decision-making process.

Three Qs

As part of our State of the Bills Roster series, which re-launches with this article, we'll ask the community three discussion-starter questions about each position we cover.

No. 1: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being supreme confidence, how would you rate your feelings on Manuel being the guy that the Bills are buying into?

No. 2: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being supreme confidence, how would you rate your feeling on Lewis being a NFL-caliber backup quarterback for the foreseeable future?

No. 3: Aside from what they've done (i.e. coaching staff hires) and what we've mentioned they should do (get better and be smarter with skill players), what one other way should the Bills try to support Manuel this offseason? Is there anything more important, in your opinion, than those two areas of improvement?

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