Let’s begin with the naming rights, if only because the Bills are desperate for a New Era after missing the playoffs for 16 straight seasons. It wasn’t clear Saturday how much the Buffalo-based cap giant will fork over to slap its name on the stadium, but the transaction was a long time coming.
It’s nothing against Ralph C. Wilson Jr., who founded the franchise and turned the Bills into a communal treasure. Sports were more charming, and more authentic, before major corporations started shelling out big money for brand names to be plastered on buildings and mentioned on television.
Still, the naming rights were an untapped source of revenue for a small-market franchise in a money-driven league. Wilson kept his name on the stadium until he died. You can’t blame Kim and Terry Pegula for wanting a return on their $1.4 billion investment. New Era was a natural business partner.
Look no further than the price of mediocre quarterbacks. Joe Flacco is making $22.1 million per season. Ryan Tannehill is making $19.25 million. At least Flacco won a Super Bowl. Tannehill has some experience. Brock Osweiler is making $18 million a year, never started a full season and hasn’t won anything.
You see their contracts, and suddenly Tyrod Taylor’s six-year deal worth $90 million looks like a bargain. The total package could be worth more than $100 million with bonuses. If the Bills don’t like what they see from him this year, they can pay him $10 million and send him on his way. Maybe they’ll pass the cap to cover the cost.
My, how times have changed for Taylor. He showed up last summer as a free-agent backup and is now viewed as a precious commodity. Considering how much the risks outweighed the rewards, it’s a mystery why he was on the field at all Saturday for the preseason opener against the Colts.
The left side of the Bills’ offensive line was compromised with Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito sidelined with injuries. Taylor took the field with Cyrus Kouandjio and Ryan Groy (who?) protecting his blind side, increasing the chances of the quarterback getting injured in a meaningless game.
Plus, there was the rain-soaked turf and the possibility of lightning and … have they watched EJ Manuel play? Taylor completed two short passes for 7 yards and slightly overthrew Marquise Goodwin down the sideline on his third attempt. He was replaced after one series, which was one series too many.
Manuel actually looked good for a change. He made a nice throw to Chris Gragg for a 19-yard touchdown, but he’s not going to ignite a quarterback controversy. Gragg was the best player on the field. What can I say? It’s the preseason.
Taylor’s contract was a sliver of good news during an otherwise tedious, and sometimes untidy, training camp. The extension gives the Bills a larger sample size to evaluate their quarterback and reduces their chances making a big mistake. Essentially, the Bills gave him a short commitment within the framework of a long-term deal.
It was about right.
Taylor is a serviceable quarterback but not a great one, and that’s how he’s getting paid. Thirteen QBs are making more than $19 million per year, which the Bills owe Taylor if they show him the door. Twenty-two are making more than $15 million, his average salary over the next six years.
Last season, Taylor complemented the NFL’s leading rushing attack, but he wasn’t a dominant player by any measure. Buffalo was 0-5 last season when he threw 30 passes or more. He had a 99.4 passer rating overall, seventh in the NFL, but it plummeted to 70.2 when trailing by eight or fewer points.
He threw for 216 yards per game, which was 30th among quarterbacks with 200-plus attempts last season. He threw 20 touchdown passes, 20th in the league. But nobody threw fewer passes and had more completions of 40 yards or more than Taylor. His six interceptions were the fewest among QBs who had 300 attempts.
Added up, he’s average.
An optimist would argue he’ll be better in his second season as the starter. A pessimist would contend other teams will be more prepared for his ability to throw deep and scramble. Bet the ranch on opposing defenses trying to stop the run and forcing Taylor to beat them with his arm.
Now that the Bills straightened out Taylor – for this year, at least – they can turn their attention toward other issues. Training camp has not been pretty for the team that Rex Ryan said won the offseason. Ryan needs to fix his defense in a hurry or he could face the possibility of getting fired.
Yeah, I know, it’s only his second year in Buffalo. Terry Pegula was quick to remind people last week that it’s only his second season as an NFL owner. He was suggesting that the previous 15 seasons in which the Bills missed the playoffs didn’t matter, that fans should hit the reset button and embrace a fresh start.
Pegula, a fan before he became an owner, should know it doesn’t work that way. I’m sure season-ticket holders would like to forget the thousands of dollars they spent while watching a perennial failure, but the money is already gone. I’d like to forget my mortgage, but the bank keeps telling me it exists.
In the NFL, it’s about results.
The Bills have missed the postseason for 16 straight seasons. Buffalo was out of contention before winning the final two games, beating a Dallas team that finished 4-12 and the Jets after Ryan Fitzpatrick melted down, to finish 8-8. Ryan might not be here if the Bills lost the final two and were 6-10.
Not much has changed. The Bills lost to the Colts on Saturday, 19-18. You remember the bus Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland were stepping off before jumping into the starting lineup? It could be going in reverse.
At New Era, it’s time for a new era.