It comes as no surprise that the Buffalo Bills' quarterback competition will be the most debated and discussed aspect of the team throughout training camp. Fans will monitor every move in a three-way competition between EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor, and Matt Cassel in hopes that one signal caller can separate himself from the pack. Things took an interesting turn during the mandatory minicamp, as Cassel's play did separate him from the competition - albeit in a negative way.
Beat reporters taking notice
If the competition was not scrutinized enough, speculation heated up last week when both Mike Rodak and Joe Buscaglia suggested that Cassel's spring play has landed him on the roster bubble. It's one thing when fans suggest a player could be cut, and another entirely when two respected reporters make that statement. Both Rodak and Buscaglia cover the Bills full-time, and observed Cassel's struggles firsthand. It may still be too early for bubble talk with Cassel, but once the conversation was highlighted on the beat, it became more difficult to overlook.
Should the Bills part ways with Cassel, they'd only be losing out on minimal investment. Buffalo traded a seventh-round pick next year, plus down a round (from five to six) this year, to acquire Cassel. That low cost should be evidence enough of his value across the NFL as a starting-caliber quarterback.
Should the Bills release Cassel prior to the season, there would be a minimal impact on the 2015 salary cap. Cassel would likely receive his $100,000 workout bonus for attending OTAs and minicamp, but there is no guaranteed money as part of his $4.75 million salary. Cassel does have a $500,000 roster bonus, that would only come into play should he make the 53-man roster. Despite conversations back in March that the Bills would look to extend Cassel, it obviously has not happened. Parting ways with Cassel would free up $4.65 million under the salary cap, and the team could roll those dollars into 2016.
Most importantly, Cassel is the only quarterback among the three competitors in Buffalo that the team could cut and save money under the cap. Cutting Manuel would create over $2.8 million in dead money thanks to the fully guaranteed nature of his rookie contract, while Taylor's release would leave the team with just under $267,000 in dead money.
Too early to make a call
A few bad days in May and June does not close the book on any quarterback, especially when your competition is so unproven. Cassel is the one quarterback on the roster with extensive NFL experience, with some success while in New England and Kansas City. In Buffalo, Cassel would be the experienced option that could lead a more conservative, run-heavy approach on offense that allows the defense to carry the team. Rex Ryan obviously had his share of inexperienced and inconsistent quarterbacks with the Jets, and could elect for the steadier veteran option. But should Cassel continue to struggle in training camp and in preseason games, that might not be an option for the Bills.
As mentioned earlier, the quarterback competition is in its early stages, and no one would expect the Bills to part ways with Cassel in the immediate future. As everyone monitors the situation throughout training camp, Cassel will need to show improvements in order to make the team as a starter or backup for the Bills.