SAN FRANCISCO — Tyrod Taylor could be the future of the Buffalo Bills. He certainly showed enough in 2015 to warrant a 2016 as the team's starting quarterback.
But is he the long-term answer? Does he deserve a lucrative contract extension?
As we examined recently, the experts are torn. The likes of Rich Gannon and Brian Billick loved the first impression but are not completely sold yet. Here at the Super Bowl, that's the theme with two former quarterbacks. The athleticism, the deep ball stand out with Taylor, yet both Trent Green and Boomer Esiason say they still need to see more of the quarterback before anointing him a long-term answer.
Green had a 12-year career, throwing for 4,000-plus yards three times with 162 touchdowns. Esiason made four Pro Bowls and was the 1988 NFL MVP.
“I still have to see a lot more. A lot more," Esiason said. "I know that Coach Ryan was real excited about his athleticism and all of the things that you love. And this is Tyrod’s first time starting. So let’s not jump to conclusions one way or the other. The good thing about Tyrod is he cares. He wants to do it. So that’s the first part that you have to get. I think the limited success he had this year is going to bode well for him going into next year. Even they are not sure if he’s the long-term answer. Only time will tell.”
Right now, the Bills probably couldn't pay Taylor big money even if they wanted to. General manager Doug Whaley says the team needs to see more before making a financial commitment to the quarterback, and that the team "absolutely" would consider drafting a QB in the early rounds. For good reason, too. The Bills have botched this position repeatedly through the years.
False hope in a Losman, an Edwards, etc. has prevented the team from drafting future All-Pros. A quarterback-starved team has drafted only four since Jim Kelly retired in 1997.
Green isn't so sure Taylor is the guy long term. Yet.
“Before giving him the long-term deal, I’d like to see more," Green said. "I think this past year, he showed great signs that’s a real possibility. He has the arm strength. He has the mobility. I think dealing with some of the health issues he did during the season, you just want to see more of it before you give him that big deal.”
Health is one of the three points Whaley alluded to when asked after the season what he still needs to see. The Bills would like to see him slide more often and avoid big hits. This isn't a 6-foot-5, 245-pound Cam Newton. Taylor is 6 foot 1, 215 pounds and suffered shoulder and knee injuries his first season as a starter.
And Taylor missing two games — losses to Cincinnati and Jacksonville — proved costly for the 8-8 Bills. This has to be one concern to the Bills' front office.
Said Green, "The durability factor is a major thing if you’re going to make that type of financial commitment. I know Tyrod’s not as big as Michael Vick was in Vick’s heyday. There’s some concern with that, yeah.”
And Green would know. Injuries stunted his promising career. In 1999, a torn ACL ended his season and opened a door for Kurt Warner. On to Kansas City, in 2006, he suffered a severe concussion on a hit from Cincinnati's Robert Geathers. With the Dolphins, he was once carted off on a stretcher.
As a quarterback, he knows you have to think big picture play to play.
“I didn’t until they started happening," Green said. "I didn’t until later in my career. And I was a lot slower in my career and I had already had a couple concussions. So you start thinking about it in that point in time.”
No, Esiason doesn't believe Taylor's smaller stature will be a major factor in the decision-making process, pointing to other quarterbacks who have found a way to stay healthy. Look at Russell Wilson, at Drew Brees at all the examples, he said.
“When you’re smaller," Esiason said, "you just have to play smarter, you have to play bigger, you have to do things to put yourself in the right position to throw the football. And there’s more to playing the game than the physical stature of somebody. They have to have it in here.
“So I don’t know yet. That’s the best answer I can give you.”
At some point, the Bills will make a decision on Taylor that'll chart the franchise's future. Much of Taylor's success in 2015 came on the run or throwing deep to wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The Bills might need to see him dissect a defense with more regularity in Year 2.
To Green, a quarterback can develop this. It's not something someone either has or doesn't have.
Just look at the quarterback taking center stage Sunday: Cam Newton.
"It’s Cam’s fifth year and everything kind of slowed down for him," Green said. "The turnovers, the touchdowns, all those things. Look at what they’re doing with Mike Shula. When you break down the film, the 3x1’s and the combinations they’re doing, it’s all based on what the defense does. So if the defense rolls this way, you go to that side. If they roll that way, go that way. Cam’s really evolved so I know with Taylor he was in Baltimore, he was with Flacco and Cam Cameron. He’s had some good tutelage and good guys to learn underneath.
"I’d just like to see him have another good year, continue to grow and I think that’s something he can definitely do.”