There's a cliche around the NFL that the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, however, theirs - EJ Manuel - might be the most polarizing player in town. That's not likely to change this offseason.
Heading into the 2015 season, the Bills held a three-way quarterback competition ultimately won by Tyrod Taylor. He'll be the starting quarterback heading into 2016, too, as mentioned during the team's year-end press conference. Matt Cassel ended the competition as the primary backup, but after he was traded during the first month of the season, the former first-round pick, Manuel, moved up the depth chart. He'd finished a close third in the competition, but ultimately started two games in place on an injured Taylor in 2015.
The team was 0-2 with Manuel at the helm, falling to the surging Cincinnati Bengals and the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn't play particularly well in those games, completing 52-of-84 passes (62 percent completions) for 561 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and two fumbles, with many of the passing stats coming with Buffalo far behind on the scoreboard. The Jaguars game, in particular, turned fans against the former top pick, as three turnovers in a span of just a few minutes put Buffalo in a hole it couldn't dig completely out of in a 34-31 loss.
If, however, you are a fan that wants to move on for the sake of moving on, you'll probably be disappointed. Looking at the 2016 offseason, there is little hope of the Bills upgrading at backup quarterback for fans frustrated with Manuel. Three factors contribute to this lack of hope.
Manuel's rookie contract is fully guaranteed, so the Bills will pay him the $1.6 million he is owed next year whether he is on the roster or not. The cost to the cap is also the same whether he is in Buffalo or elsewhere. With Buffalo currently over the projected 2016 salary cap, according to Spotrac.com, Manuel would be costly to replace with zero return.
As you saw during the season, there isn't a wealth of backup quarterbacks available. Alex Tanney played an actual NFL game this year, as did Josh Freeman. The top-paid backups will be off the table, so upgrading on the cheap will mean a guy further down the list.
The Bills have publicly backed Manuel in his current role. Here's what general manager Doug Whaley had to say Monday, via The Buffalo News (emphasis ours):
"EJ Manuel is somebody that, he's got to play better. You ask him, he knows - he's got to play better. But at this time, if you look at him, and if you look at, I'll let you guys do some research on the backups that played and started in this league, he's in the top third and maybe quarter of those guys. But he knows it all comes down to winning and losing. And we need a backup quarterback that can come in and keep us .500 when he's playing. He did not do it. So he has to get better, yes."
The Bills will probably add a quarterback or two this offseason but they are more than likely coming in the middle to late rounds of the draft. They could re-sign Josh Johnson, a seventh-year player who ended the season with Buffalo and made just over $500,000 in 2015 between gigs with three teams, but it seems unlikely that Buffalo will make a significant move at quarterback this offseason to replace Manuel as the team's primary backup heading into 2016.