Since Jim Kelly retired, I've fallen back on a simple rule when struggling for an idea for a Bills column. When in doubt, write about the quarterback.
My readers seem to have the same philosophy. The Bills have a big game in Oakland on Sunday, but the majority of the mail was about Tyrod Taylor. Maybe I attract a skeptical crowd. But not all fans are blind apologists. Many have a wary, critical view of the team, and they're not confident that Taylor is the long-term answer.
As Vic Carucci said, we're in "full-scale Tyrod watch." Playoff runs are fun, but the predominant story in this up-and-down season is whether they have their franchise quarterback and what to do with Taylor after the season. On to the mail:
Will Klimowicz asks: What are the Bills likely to do in the offseason regarding their QB situation? They are ranked No. 32 in passing.
Sam Ruggiero asks: If Tyrod doesn't perform well enough, is it possible that a compromise could be done that would be acceptable to both sides?
Paul Kinsella asks: Taylor is a doubtful franchise QB, but if he's let go, what do the Bills do next year? Can his contract be renegotiated and draft another QB in the first round?
Steve Fort asks: Do you get any indication that coaches or players are begging Tyrod to throw the damn ball? How can they not be?
Sully: That's a fair representation of what the skeptics are thinking. I suspect that barring a total meltdown over the next five weeks, Taylor will be the starter next season, but at a renegotiated price.
The Bills will put $27.5 million in Taylor's pocket if they keep him next season -- a guaranteed $15.5 million option bonus and $12 million salary. His cap hit would be $15.9 million, not extravagant for a starting NFL quarterback nowadays but much more than they're accustomed to paying.
There's surely room for compromise. The Bills put a one-year out in the five-year, $90 million deal to protect themselves. If Taylor had a monster season, it would be a bargain. If he didn't progress, they had room to renegotiate. The deal presumed that it could be reworked.
Taylor bet on himself by signing the deal. It's not as if he's hit the jackpot. The Bills are 32nd in passing, and while he has been a playmaker and mistake-free QB, he has not performed to an elite standard.
Rex Ryan believes in Taylor and wants to keep him. Doug Whaley's commitment is less clear. Whaley said he needed to see more from Taylor, and Tyrod has been essentially the same as last year. I sense that management isn't convinced and will want Taylor to make concessions.
They could appeal to Taylor's competitive side and spread out more of his money to afford other players on a top-heavy roster. If he wants a better supporting cast, they need to pay them. They re-worked Charles Clay's deal for that purpose.
The question is whether Taylor's agent, Adisa Bakari, is amenable to reworking his client's deal. Bakari has overvalued Taylor all along -- that's his job -- and might believe Tyrod is better off testing the market.
Ryan needs to make the playoffs. He said last week he didn't mind being last in passing if his team won. There could be a power struggle over Taylor, but Ryan has the most clout, so as long as he's here, I think Taylor will be here.
But they need to draft another quarterback soon. Cardale Jones is still a project. They can't continue to lose ground by allowing young QBs like Derek Carr, Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins -- none a first-rounder -- to wind up with other teams and lead playoff resurgences.
I think they're spinning their wheels with Taylor. But when simply making the playoffs is the goal, you compromise and settle in the short term. In the end, it shouldn't be about the money but whether Taylor is a good enough passer.
In answer to Steve's question, I imagine coaches and players might get frustrated with Taylor's unwillingness to throw over the middle of the field. Open receivers can't be pleased when Taylor doesn't see them or bails out of the pocket too soon. Offensive linemen praise him publicly, but it's not entirely their fault that Taylor is the NFL's second-most frequently sacked QB.
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Jason Thomas asks: Bills are notably absent from recent national articles about mid-career breakout stars or rookies and second-year players exceeding their draft position. Is this national bias or Whaley's weak draft results?
Sully: Most of Whaley's finds have been in free agency. I'm trying to think of a Bill who has exceeded his draft position since Whaley became GM. Ronald Darby qualified before the season, but has regressed.
Linebacker Preston Brown, guard John Miller and rookie defensive tackle Adolphus Washington are third-round starters. That's as close as I can get to young guys exceeding their draft position. But breakout stars? Hardly.
The first- and second-rounders over the last four years: EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Kiko Alonso (gone), Sammy Watkins, Cyrus Kouandjio, Darby, Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland. It's too early to tell on Lawson and Ragland, but I don't see breakout guys. It's not national bias against Buffalo, either.
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Bob G asks: I'm struck by how the Sabres played with Jack Eichel. One player making such a difference is a problem. I don't care who the GM is, we still have a team full of wilting flowers who fall back on the first excuse. Other teams do more with less, why can't the Sabres?
Sully: Harsh, but fair. Eichel is a fabulous player. His performance in his first two games back was stunning. But it did expose the rest of the team for its slovenly play in the first quarter of the season, when the Sabres dug a hole they're not likely to escape.
As exciting as those wins were, they showed the team is too reliant on a 20-year-old star. I understand that Eichel creates a trickledown effect. Players move into roles more suited to their talents. The first power play is more potent.
Still, he's not a basketball point guard who plays most of the minutes. Eichel plays roughly a third of the time. The rest of the roster isn't deep or tough enough. The defense was shaky again in those two wins.
GM Tim Murray has done some nice things, but it remains to be seen whether he can assemble the kind of deep, physically accountable roster that's consistently hard to play against.
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@TheBush84 asks: Any chance UB or St. Bonaventure make the Big Dance?
Sully: The UB and Bona men's hoop teams, who face each other Saturday at the Reilly Center, have a decent chance at the NCAA Tournament, same as a year ago. UB won the MAC tourney to get in. The Bonnies got jobbed by the selection committee, losing in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament after going 14-4 in the conference.
Both should have winning records and contend in their leagues. UB has a strong returning cast, led by Blake Hamilton. I like what I saw of freshman point guard Davonta Jordan against Creighton. But the Bulls' team defense left a lot to be desired.
UB has to win a third straight MAC tourney to get in. They've played a tough early schedule, losing to Xavier (fourth in the RPI) and Creighton (second). But the MAC hasn't received an at-large berth to the dance in nearly two decades.
The A-10 is the seventh-ranked league and gets multiple bids. But the Bonnies are competing with the likes of Dayton, Davidson, VCU and Rhode Island, all currently in the top 50 in the power rankings. The Bonnies played well in a loss at Florida, but their non-conference schedule could hurt them again.
The Bonnies have an all-league player in junior guard Jaylen Adams. They generally outperform expectations under coach Mark Schmidt. For both teams, the key will be peaking in February, which both did a year ago.