Doug Marrone is sticking with Kyle Orton until the bitter end.
The Buffalo Bills’ coach said Tuesday that Orton will remain his starting quarterback for the season finale Sunday against the New England Patriots.
Marrone reiterated the all-too-familiar line about Orton “giving the team the best chance to win” in explaining why he’s not putting 2013 first-round draft pick EJ Manuel back into the lineup so the organization can continue its evaluation of him.
“I can understand the question, but the game means a lot to me,” Marrone said when asked about the possible merits of playing Manuel. “We’re going to play the players who we feel give us the best chance to win. That’s just the way that I’m wired and that’s what my responsibility is to the team. We all have a responsibility to each other and I have to make those decisions each week. “
It’s debatable how much the Bills could learn about Manuel in a meaningless December game that they don’t already know is debatable. But the fact Marrone doesn’t want to take the opportunity to find out is a troubling sign for the second-year quarterback’s future – especially if the current coaching staff returns.
“We just took a step back to take a look at him, get him prepared and get him ready,” Marrone said when asked what gives Orton a better chance to win than Manuel at this point. “In the same sense, Kyle has gone in there. There have been times that he’s done an outstanding job. He’s done a good job managing. He’s done a good job of being a leader for things that need to be done off the field, as well as on the field during practice. I think those things are going to help him in the long run. Right now, we still feel like Kyle gives us the best chance to win from the standpoint of efficiency, control and things of that nature.”
Since taking over as the starter in Week Five, Orton has gone 6-5. But outside of two blowout victories over the New York Jets – and what his garbage-time inflated stats may say – his play has ranged from mediocre to bad.
Orton is due to count $7 million against the Bills’ salary cap in 2015, including a base salary of $5.4 million. He has a player option on his contract that would allow him to void the final year if written notice is given within five days of the Super Bowl. The Bills could also cut him and save $5.5 million in cap space – the amount of his base salary and a $100,000 workout bonus.
Marrone said he hasn’t had any discussions with team President Russ Brandon or General Manager Doug Whaley about the future of the quarterback position.
“Those questions are things that will be discussed in the offseason,” he said. “I have not discussed that with Doug or Russ or anyone yet. It’d be hard for me to say, and I haven’t put much thought into it. I know you guys don’t like those answers, but I’m just being honest with you.”
Similarly, Marrone put off any answer on where Manuel stands within the organization.
“I think those things are for after the season is over, when you look back and you evaluate those things,” he said. “I don’t think that, right now, I’ve put a lot of time into it because we went right to the tape. It’s not a cliché. I mean it. We’re doing everything we possibly can to win this game.”
Moving on from Manuel in the offseason would be more costly for the Bills. He signed a fully guaranteed four-year contract after being drafted, and is due to count $2.4 million against the cap in 2015.
Releasing him would create $5.25 million in dead money against the cap, accounting for the final year of his rookie contract in 2016.
Whether both, one or neither of the team’s quarterbacks are back in 2015, one thing remains clear – as they have been since Jim Kelly – the Bills are still without an answer at the game’s most important position.
“When you look at an organization that hasn’t won for a long period of time, you’re going to look at that position,” Marrone said. “In this league, in my opinion, you can have an opportunity to win 10 or maybe 11 if you’re really good in a lot of other areas, but at the end of the day, what makes those teams the elite teams is the play they get out of that position. That’s not a secret.”