The 2015 regular season may have come and gone without gifting the Buffalo Bills a definitive solution to their long-standing starting quarterback problem, but it at least gave them a direction to lean in.
A three-player starting quarterback competition in last summer's training camp yielded a starter - March free agent signing Tyrod Taylor - that not only managed to stick for an entire season, but at times thrived. That measure was the extent of the hopes of Bills fans last summer, when we were hoping for a playoff berth despite the game's most important position being a free-for-all; when the year ended, quarterback wasn't the team's biggest immediate problem.
But Taylor has not proven himself as anything beyond a uniquely talented short-term option. He's still young, and he'll be given an opportunity to grow into the role further in 2016, but the Bills have work to do in making contingency plans should Taylor ultimately not prove himself up to the task.
Our bi-annual State of the Bills Roster series begins anew with a look at the Bills' quarterback position. All monetary figures in this article were calculated from data supplied by Spotrac.com.
- Age: 26 (27 on 8/3/16)
- 2015 earnings: $2.15M ($750K salary, $400K signing bonus, $1M playing time escalator)
- 2016 cap charge: $2.13M ($1.87M savings if cut)
- Playing time: 923 snaps in 14 games active (85.9% of total)
- Passing: 242-380 (63.7%), 3,035 yards (8.0 YPA), 20 TD, 6 INT, 36 sacks, 99.4 rating
- Rushing: 104 attempts, 568 yards (5.5 YPC), 4 TD
A mid-season knee injury that cost him two games slowed his development as a first-year starter, and it also hurt the Bills' playoff chances in the long run. Among many on-field concerns the Bills should have about Taylor - namely, his ability to read and quickly process the entire field, his accuracy on certain types of throws, and his consistent skittishness as a pocket passer - durability might be the biggest concern for the run-happy quarterback.
Yet when push comes to shove, Taylor proved in his first year as a NFL starting quarterback that he has a dynamic aspect to his game (he finished third in the league among quarterbacks in rushing yardage), and gave the Bills a level of efficiency as a passer that they haven't seen in years. The Bills have already said that Taylor will be their starting quarterback in 2016, and he more than earned a longer look as a potential long-term solution with his play in 2015.
The Bills have, however, been cautious about pumping Taylor up as anything more than a potential solution to the problem. They'll take another year of play to try to make that determination, and hope that Taylor's agent doesn't push for a new, much larger contract before they're ready to call it his gig long-term. As it stands now, Taylor may end up being one of the lowest-paid starting quarterbacks in the NFL next season.
- Age: 25 (26 on 3/19/16)
- 2015 earnings: $1.21M (guaranteed base salary)
- 2016 cap charge: $2.83M ($0 savings if cut)
- Playing time: 155 snaps in 13 games active (14.4% of total)
- Passing: 52-84 (61.9%), 561 yards (6.7 YPA), 3 TD, 3 INT, 6 sacks, 78.5 rating
- Rushing: 17 attempts, 64 yards (3.8 YPC), 1 TD
When the regular season concluded, GM Doug Whaley tried to convey fairness in evaluating the Bills' 2013 first-round pick publicly, saying that the Bills and Manuel both know he needs to improve, but also saying that statistically, Manuel ranked among the top quarter of the league's backup quarterbacks. That's sort of a sad lens with which to evaluate Manuel, who was drafted to be a long-term fixture at quarterback, but we're in spade's-a-spade territory with Manuel at this point.
Taylor has assumed the role of maybe-he's-the-guy for the Bills, and while Manuel is unlikely to go anywhere this offseason - they gain nothing by releasing him, so why not give him one more go next summer? - his best-case scenario for the Bills in 2016 is to still be the backup. As the only quarterback in the Bills' development pipeline, and with just one year left on his rookie deal, the Bills should be trying not only to upgrade their backup quarterback situation if possible, but to reinvigorate their developmental pool, as well.
- Age: 29 (30 on 5/15/16)
- 2015 earnings: $526K
- Unrestricted Free Agent
- Playing time: 0 snaps in 1 game active
- Age: 25 (26 on 2/8/16)
- Non-tendered practice squad member
The veteran Johnson was a mid-season signing when Taylor was injured, brought in thanks to his familiarity with Greg Roman's offensive scheme. He could be re-signed to compete for a job, but that should depend on the team's plans to add another player in their development pipeline. Dysert was a late-season practice squad add that is currently one of two Bills practice squad players not already signed to a Reserve/Future deal.
Suffice it to say, these two players enter the offseason as afterthoughts when it comes to the long-term direction of this position in Buffalo.
The quarterback position in the NFL is of such incredible importance that even smart teams playing legends under center (see: New England) are persistently trying to develop quality talent behind him. That's prudent and wise not just from an on-field contingency plan standpoint, but purely as an asset management rule, as well. Buffalo needs to find their way into that business this offseason.
Taylor buys them time to do that, regardless of whether or not he pans out. If he does, then bully for him and the Bills. If he doesn't, then the Bills will have at least a year to put a young passer that they like into the system and let him marinate for a while. Taylor was sufficiently good in 2015, and offers sufficient promise long-term, that the Bills don't need to be aggressive about finding a starting quarterback. They should, however, be aggressive in trying to set up a farm system at the position.