The odds of Tyrod Taylor returning to the Buffalo Bills in 2017 might have gone up Thursday night.
That's when the team announced Rick Dennison will serve as offensive coordinator on head coach Sean McDermott's staff.
The connection to Taylor is obvious, and potentially quite significant. Dennison served as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach in 2014, while Taylor was Joe Flacco's backup. The Bills are getting a coach who will be quite familiar with their starting quarterback of the last two seasons.
"For Tyrod Taylor, who some people assume is gone from Buffalo, this is pretty good news," NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport said Friday. "It would make no sense if the Bills hired Rick Dennison and got rid of Tyrod Taylor. ... So do not be surprised if Taylor is back, maybe on some sort of restructured contract for cap reasons. But this is very good news for the Bills' starter."
While it may seem presumptuous to suggest a single season of working together guarantees Taylor will be back with the Bills in 2017, there is more evidence to consider.
Dennison followed former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak to Denver in 2015, and there was a widely reported interest in acquiring Taylor at that time.
For what it's worth -- Denver tried to sign Tyrod Taylor in 2015. The Broncos OC at the time? New Bills OC Rick Dennison.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 19, 2017
During Dennison's time as an offensive coordinator in Denver (two stints, from 2006-08 and 2015-16) and Houston (2010-13), he split play-calling duties with Kubiak, although it's believed the now-retired Broncos coach handled the vast majority of that job.
Denver's offense struggled in 2016, finishing 27th in yards and 22nd in points. First-year starter Trevor Siemian replaced the combination of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Siemian went 289 of 486 (59.5 completion percentage) for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts. He was sacked 31 times and had a quarterback rating of 84.6.
His numbers aren't all that different than Taylor, who went 269 of 436 (61.7 completion percentage) for 3,023 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 starts. He was sacked 42 times and had an 89.7 passer rating. Taylor greatly outgained Siemian as a rusher, 580-57, while both players fumbled four times, losing two.
With Manning and Osweiler under center in 2015, the Broncos finished 16th in yards and 19th in points scored, winning the Super Bowl in large part because of a dominant, Wade Phillips-led defense.
Dennison, 58, has a master's degree in engineering. He made three Super Bowl appearances as a linebacker with the Broncos from 1982-90 and won three championships as a coach, with last year's ring joining the two he won as a special teams assistant in 1997 and '98. He became available after Kubiak -- with whom he has spent nearly his entire coaching career -- retired and the team replaced him with former Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. He hired former Chargers coach Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator.
Previous relationship aside, there is also the matter of how Taylor would fit into the offense Dennison is expected to implement. Throughout his 20-plus years of coaching, Dennison has been a disciple of the West Coast offense. The Broncos famously use a zone blocking scheme. That means offensive linemen block to an area of the field rather than a particular defender.
That will be a change from what the Bills did the past two seasons under Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn, but Buffalo has the benefit of an experienced, athletic offensive line that should transition well to the new scheme. Under Kubiak and Dennison, the Broncos depended on their quarterback to make plays on bootlegs and play action. They also use a fullback with regularity, as the Bills did last season with Jerome Felton. Denver's most frequently used offensive sets featured three wide receivers, one running back and one tight end.
Play action and quarterback bootlegs are also frequent features of a West Coast passing scheme. Both should be strengths of Taylor's game, given his mobility and the presence of running back LeSean McCoy to make defenses respect the run game. Quick passes are also a feature of the West-Coast scheme. That should cut down on the Bills' sack rate, but will require Taylor -- if he's retained -- to improve on his short-throw accuracy, which was inconsistent at times.
There will also be a financial component to what the Bills decide with Taylor. If they exercise his contract option, it will activate nearly $31 million in guarantees and tie him to the Bills for at least the next two seasons. Even if Dennison is his biggest fan, that might be more of a commitment than ownership and General Manager Doug Whaley is willing to make.
The Bills' offensive coaching staff under McDermott continued to take shape Friday with the hiring of Andrew Dees as assistant offensive line coach. He'll work under offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Juan Castillo. The Bills have also hired Rob Boras to coach tight ends and Kelly Skipper to coach running backs.