SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Buffalo Bills could have Cam Newton right now. The general manager, Buddy Nix, sure as heck wanted him.
Toward the end of our conversation this week, we talked about the Bills' current quarterbacks, too. Of course Nix and the Bills drafted EJ Manuel 16th overall two years after missing out on Newton.
Nix believes Tyrod Taylor is a long-term answer for the Bills... if he can stay healthy. And you bet he still believes Manuel will be a NFL success. The former GM said "there's a lot of reasons" Manuel's career has not gone to plan yet but those reasons, to him, are what's happened around the Florida State QB more than anything.
"One of the things when we drafted EJ, we were going to draft him and let him sit behind Fitz or a veteran for a couple of years and learn the NFL game and grow into it," Nix said. "We knew he wasn’t ready when we first drafted him but EJ has all the talent. EJ will be successful somewhere, some time. But he got thrown into it because of injuries and had to start as a rookie. He had some success and then he got hurt. There are just so many things that have to happen, have to fall right at that position. And they haven’t. They fell the other way for EJ.
"But I think he’s a resilient young man. Very intelligent. A physical specimen that—when he gets in the right spot and hopefully it’s Buffalo—if it’s some place, he’ll be successful.”
Three seasons into his pro career, Manuel has gone 6-10 as a starter, completing 59.1 percent of his passes for 3,371 yards, 19 touchdowns, 15 interceptions with a 78.5 passer rating. When Tyrod Taylor suffered a knee injury last season, he lost a pair of games to Cincinnati and Jacksonville in London. That game, of course, he had a string of turnovers that put Buffalo in a 27-3 hole. He did lead a rally back before the Bills fell, 34-31.
Nix said the Bills actually wanted to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick that 2013 offseason, though they released him in March. At the time, Nix said "Our focus remains on adding another quarterback to our roster and we will continue to explore every option available to us."
They signed Kevin Kolb, but yet another concussion that following preseason ended his career in scary fashion.
So Manuel was the Day 1 starter when Buffalo didn't want him to be the Day 1 starter.
"We tried to keep Fitz," Nix said. "We wanted to keep Fitzpatrick to be his mentor—we wanted somebody to be there that he could learn from. We did the same thing with Phillip Rivers in San Diego, which is the ideal thing. It’s like Denver or anybody else right now that has a quarterback who’s reaching the end… and a lot of them look like they’re going to play until they’re 60 or 70 but listen Father Time is undefeated. Age will get them all. And you better have somebody sitting ready when it does.”
Finding a franchise quarterback has been a long, long slog for the Bills, the No. 1 reason they haven't made the playoffs since 1999 or won a playoff game since 1995.
The Bills have often been just good enough to avoid the top pick and a shot at an instant face of the franchise, like Newton. And Nix doesn't want to hear about teams striking gold late with Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, saying, "It's a stroke of luck... If they were as smart as people think they are, they would’ve drafted them in the first round.”
Maybe they have an answer in Tyrod Taylor. Nix believes in him.
“I think Tyrod Taylor is definitely an answer who can take you to the playoffs and make you successful," Taylor said. "And I don’t know why Buffalo can’t see the good things — and I’m talking about fans — everybody still has questions about him and if you look at his record, the guy’s amazing. The only question with Tyrod is hoping you can keep him healthy. But if he still stays healthy, there’s no question in my mind he can be the guy. He’s not as big to take hits and stuff but I’m going to tell you now he has something about him — it’s that ‘it’ factor at quarterback and that sucker makes a lot of plays on his own.”
That "it" factor reminds him of Newton, too.
Said the former GM: "He understands the game. The game’s not foreign to him. He knows what it takes. He doesn’t panic. He has great ability to run. The thing that keeps you from comparing him to Cam is he’s 50 pounds smaller and three inches shorter.”