All of the recent talk about Tyrod Taylor’s status as the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback potentially being in jeopardy should be looked at as just that – talk.
The reality is, the Bills don’t have a better option on their roster. Barring injury, Taylor will be under center when the season opens Sept. 10 against the New York Jets.
The real question, however, is what will happen after this upcoming season. It’s clear by now that the Bills aren’t yet convinced Taylor can be the starter here for the long term.
The first indication of that was the prolonged negotiations that ended with him signing a restructured contract in the first place. That new deal, which amounted to a $10 million pay cut for Taylor, includes a cap hit of $9.713 million in 2017 – cheap for a starting quarterback in the NFL.
The figure balloons to $18.08 million in 2018, though, meaning the Bills will have a decision to make on Taylor again much like they did earlier this offseason. If he’s released before the 2018 league year starts, the Bills would carry a cap hit of $8.64 million. That’s not ideal, but the team could live with it.
When his restructured deal was announced, new coach Sean McDermott released a statement saying he was “excited about the opportunity” to retain Taylor. The last three words of it, however, were the most interesting.
Referring to former General Manager Doug Whaley, McDermott concluded his statement by saying “Doug and I are confident this was the best move for the Bills at this time.”
At this time.
Even though the Bills celebrated Taylor’s return on social media as if it were the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers, their actions the past few weeks have spoken loudly.
First, the team made a draft-day trade with Kansas City that resulted in the Chiefs sending their first-round pick in 2018 to the Bills. While a lot can happen between now and next April, draft analysts have suggested as many as five or six quarterbacks could be selected in the first round next year. With two first-round picks, the Bills have put themselves in a spot to possibly draft one of them.
Then, they drafted Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman in the fifth round. Again, that should not be considered an immediate threat to Taylor. Even though Peterman was considered the most “pro ready” of the quarterbacks in this year’s class, he fell to the fifth round for a reason. His presence is merely another option for the team moving forward.
Lastly, there was what coach Sean McDermott had to say after the draft was completed.
“Nothing’s promised to anyone on this team,” he said. “We’re going to compete every day.”
Asked if that competition extended to the starting quarterback job, McDermott was blunt: “Competition is there. You earn the right to start on this football team.”
McDermott’s message has been reiterated by new General Manager Brandon Beane since he took over.
“Obviously Tyrod’s going to be the starter,” Beane said, before distancing himself from that vote of confidence as quickly as possible. “There’s some other guys on the roster. I’ve only watched Tyrod from afar. We had a quarterback in Carolina so we weren’t in the market a lot to be overly researching these guys.
“I actually got to meet Tyrod on my tour. Great young man. He’s done a lot of good things on tape and look forward to getting to know him and see how he leads this team and it’s just going to be an open competition at every position, not just quarterback.”
Beane’s initial response was the truth. It is obvious Taylor is going to start in 2017. The more the Bills’ new GM talks, however, the less convinced he sounds about Taylor’s long-term future.
During an interview with WGR-550 on Monday morning, Beane was answering a question about in-game strategy when he dropped in this nugget: “It will be very important for whoever the quarterback is, if Tyrod wins the job, or whoever it is, for them to be on the same page as Sean and Rick Dennison.”
That’s a lukewarm vote of confidence if there ever was one. Asked a natural follow-up question about Taylor being the starter, Beane again went out of his way to stress that it will be an open competition.
“Well, you know, listen I'm new here. I met Tyrod the other day,” he said. “Obviously I’ve seen Tyrod on film. If we walked out there today I would say Tyrod’s probably the starter. But we haven’t even gone through OTAs.
“You know we got the young guy, Peterman, I thought he did some nice things this weekend at the minicamp. Cardale Jones has huge arm and talent. I don't know anything about him personally. T.J. Yates has done some starting in his career, so there are some guys on the roster. I am for open competition. Sean has said ‘earn the right,’ for whatever job you have, whatever position you're trying to get, so I'm not in the business of handing out positions on May 15. We’ve got a long way to go. … I got a lot of belief in Tyrod, but you know we got other guys that are going to challenge for that, as well.”
The comments from McDermott, and Beane for that matter, amount to coachspeak, which is fine. Neither of them should be expected to say anything less. Encouraging competition is what anyone in their roles should do.
Maybe Taylor makes huge strides under a new coaching staff and shows he really should be the quarterback of the future. If that happens, the team has him under contract in 2018 at a reasonable rate. McDermott and Co. have an entire offseason and 16-game schedule to make that call.
And if that doesn’t happen, there are other ways to address the position. Maybe Peterman or Jones flashes something that convinces the coaching staff they are the answer.
Or maybe the 2018 draft class will live up to the hype, and the Bills will be in a good position thanks to having two first-round picks.
"The draft is generally where you get a top level quarterback," Beane said on WGR. "Doesn't mean you can't find it somewhere else, and look, we're going to look at every avenue to do that. If you just look at history, I would be lying if I said you didn't need to draft one."
That doesn’t mean Beane subscribes to the theory of “take a quarterback every year until you hit on one.”
“Nah, you don't just draft them to draft them," he said. "You have to believe in them. I'm not just going to stand up here with a blindfold and throw darts and hope I hit something. We're going to do our homework and our research every year until we find one.”
The most important thing to take away from the last few weeks is that the Bills have given themselves options to do just that.