While some may have been surprised by a report that the Buffalo Bills were willing to pay Tyrod Taylor $6 million near the start of free agency, this contingency shouldn’t be all that surprising. We discussed the very possibility in January with fans on multiple sides of the issue generating a lot of discussion.
With few viable free agent options and no guarantee that the Bills will be able to trade into the top 5 to get a QB that Buffalo wants, the smart play may be to pay Tyrod Taylor his $6 million on March 17. He would be an expensive bridge/backup if the Bills are able to get a genuine franchise QB prospect. Retaining his services relieves the pressure of not having a QB at all if the Bills can’t get into position to draft that potential franchise QB. If the Bills do get the quarterback Beane and McDermott want in the draft the Bills could then look to trade Taylor after the draft and eat the signing bonus as quarterback insurance.
Since that article was posted, Alex Smith – one of two viable free agent options – has been unofficially traded to Washington and unofficially signed to a new contract. Meanwhile, the other option, Kirk Cousins, is destined to sign a deal that the Bills can’t hope to touch with or without playing Taylor $6 million. (If the Bills did make a run at Cousins it would be before Taylor got his money.) All of the other available QBs come with question marks, such as health (Bradford, Bridgewater), inexperience (McCarron), or erratic performance histories (Keenum, Foles).
There have also been reports of the Bills checking in with teams in the top 10 of the upcoming draft. Part of that may be due diligence but it seems much more likely that Buffalo really is interested in moving up for a specific QB prospect. In theory, the Bills could be bluffing, trying to get other teams to trade up for quarterbacks and push talent down the board to them. That doesn’t make much sense, though, since all of the QB-needy teams draft ahead of Buffalo already.
Knowing the Bills are wanting a QB, it is possible that those exploratory calls have led general manager Brandon Beane to realize that the cost of moving up for the QB he and head coach Sean McDermott want will be exorbitant. With no viable free agency options and uncertainty about Buffalo’s ability to get into draft position for the QB they want, keeping Taylor around makes sense given what we know about Beane.
While some of the comments in the story about Buffalo being willing to pay Taylor $6 million as an insurance policy regarded such a move as salary cap lunacy, it is worth looking at a pair of moves Beane made in 2017:
First, he shipped WR Sammy Watkins off to Los Angeles, seemingly due to uncertainty about the ability to sign Watkins to a long-term deal. That deal was reportedly contingent on getting WR Jordan Matthews from Philly, subbing in one WR for another. While Matthews was also in the last year of his contract, re-signing him – if Matthews played well enough to merit it – looked to be less daunting than re-signing Watkins. (If you want to go for the jaded outlook, you can factor in that playing in Buffalo would depress Matthews stats, allowing for a cheaper contract.) This shows that Beane isn’t one for just winging it and hoping it all works out in the end somehow. He had a plan with Watkins and undoubtedly has a plan with Taylor.
Second, Beane traded DT Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville for some used stadium seat covers. He willingly accepted $14.2 million in dead money to get Dareus off the books. True, he saved a paltry $2.4 million overall in salary cap in 2018 but looking exclusively at the numbers and the stat sheet would lead any NFL fan to conclude it was a really bad move. Gaining $2.4 million in cap space while losing a third overall pick defensive tackle in the prime of his career makes zero financial sense. Beane did it anyway because he thought it was right for the team. He certainly sent a message to the locker room as well as to any 2018 prospective free agents and draft picks that Buffalo isn’t messing around when it comes to team discipline. In other words, Beane sees more than just the cap numbers. While spending $6 million on Taylor – possibly trading him away a month later – seems like cap suicide, he’s keeping his options open because there is an element of uncertainty in moving up in the draft. That flexibility may be worth more to Beane than the cap space.
Nothing is done until it is actually done. If Beane can close a deal to move up in the draft ahead of the start of free agency, then he will have the certainty he needs to jettison Taylor without paying him the $6 million. Barring that, look for the Bills to indeed write that check even if Beane’s plan includes parting ways with Taylor during or after the draft.