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Buffalo Bills lack long-term, short-term direction at quarterback

Now that the Buffalo Bills' coaching situation has taken shape, it's time to turn our attention back to the team on the field - and where they need to improve heading into 2015. Naturally, that conversation starts under center.

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On the one hand, it's fair to wonder why new Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan would choose this situation - one lacking long-term (and, heck, maybe even short-term) direction at quarterback - when it so closely resembled what he'd dealt with for the previous six seasons with the New York Jets.

Then again, it'd be tough for even the Bills to replicate what Ryan dealt with under center in his time with the Jets. In his six seasons in New Jersey, Ryan's starting quarterback - Mark Sanchez from 2009-12, and Geno Smith for the last two years - produced more turnovers than touchdowns in a given season four different times. Sanchez turned the ball over 89 times in his four years on the job (juxtaposed by 80 touchdowns), while Smith produced 41 turnovers to 32 touchdowns in '13 and '14.

By comparison, the young quarterback that Ryan inherits in Buffalo, EJ Manuel, has started 14 games, turned the ball over 15 times, and produced 19 touchdowns. That must seem like nirvana for Ryan, who rode a similar season from Sanchez in 2011 (14 turnovers, 20 touchdowns) to an 11-5 record and a berth in the conference championship game. Perhaps the only step in the right direction a Ryan team needs at quarterback is the ability to not shoot oneself in the foot.

Still, there is that lack of long-term direction at quarterback, and for what feels like the hundredth time in the last two decades, the Bills are going into an offseason with the game's most important position atop their needs list.

Current personnel

EJ Manuel

  • Age: 24 (25 on March 19)
  • 2015 cap: $2.42M (-$2.83M savings if cut)
  • 2014 snaps: 259 (24.4%)

Four games into his second season as a pro quarterback, Manuel officially fell out of favor with the team's previous coaching staff, starting with departed head coach Doug Marrone. Manuel watched the last 12 games of the 2014 season from the sidelines while the since-retired Kyle Orton took a stab at leading the Bills to the playoffs. Now, with Orton out of the picture, the odds are looking solid that Manuel will have a shot at re-earning the starting job in 2015.

Make no mistake about it, though: Manuel earned his benching last season, and he was not the best quarterback on the roster. For all of Orton's glaring flaws, he was lightyears ahead of Manuel in terms of pre-snap processing, reading defenses, and finding the correct read on a given passing play. The Bills willingly sacrificed Manuel's athleticism behind a terrible pass-blocking line for gains in those areas, and they stand as the biggest weaknesses in Manuel's game, and the biggest hurdles in his long-term prognosis.

That said, the Bills are shifting back to an offense that will be highly run-oriented under new coordinator Greg Roman, and Manuel may be a part of that given his athletic ability. But ultimately, teams have to be able to throw the ball in critical situations to succeed in this league, so the ability to not turn the ball over shouldn't be Manuel's saving grace under Ryan. He deserves another look, especially from a fresh set of eyes, but nothing more.

Jeff Tuel

  • Age: 23 (24 on February 12)
  • 2015 cap #: N/A
  • 2014 snaps: 0 (practice squad)

Still a popular name amongst Bills fans - a sign of the times - Tuel was retained on a reserve/future deal after the season, if only because Buffalo needs warm bodies under center. He spent 2014 on the practice squad, and should not be considered part of the team's long-term plans by any fan - even though he will be.

Offseason needs

Worthwhile quarterbacks rarely become free agents, and without a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Bills don't have much in the way of ammo to barter for a worthwhile quarterback, either. Knowing that they still have a developmental project on hand - one that still offers upside, but doesn't merit a starting job being handed to him - the most likely course of action for the Bills in the short-term will be to find a veteran they're comfortable with to compete with Manuel in 2015.

They could also stand to add another long-term project to the mix (and no, folks, Tuel doesn't count there). Marrone made the decision to bench Manuel last season, but Whaley also signed off on it, and at minimum there has to be some lost confidence in the 2013 first-round pick permeating throughout the organization. Buffalo is not in a position where they can only have one iron in the fire at this position. They should be spending a lot of time scouting early- to mid-round quarterbacks for this May's annual selection meeting.