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Draft, free agency or trade? Breaking down the Bills' options at QB

Now that the 2017 season is over, the Buffalo Bills can begin to wrestle with an annual riddle: Who’s going to play quarterback next year?

Three years of Tyrod Taylor have produced middling results for the passing game. Buffalo has finished 28th, 30th and 31st in total passing since Taylor became the starter in 2015. He’s started 43 of 48 regular-season games over that time, with a 23-20 record.

Before leaving Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a little more than a minute remaining because of a concussion, Taylor completed just 17-of-37 passes for 134 yards and one interception.

Taylor is due a $6 million signing bonus on March 16, the third day of the new NFL league year. So any decision on his future will have to be made before then.

The decision by coach Sean McDermott to bench Taylor with the Bills 5-4 and in the thick of the playoff race before the Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Chargers portended the end of his time in Buffalo. To Taylor’s credit, however, he rebounded to help the Bills make the postseason after rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman melted down against the Chargers. That could have the front office rethinking things.

Here is a look at four different avenues the Bills can explore at the position this offseason:

• The status quo: Taylor is under contract for one more season, and would cost $18.08 million if the Bills brought him back with no changes to that deal. As laid out above, that seems unlikely.

Peterman will also return, although his propensity for turning the ball over in limited action in 2017, including the interception that ended the Bills’ season Sunday, is a major concern. Going into 2018, penciling Peterman in as anything more than a backup would have Bills fans reaching for the Rolaids.

• The draft: There are up to six quarterbacks who could be drafted in the first round: Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. The first two on that list, Darnold and Rosen, are the favorites to be the first two picks, in no particular order.

The Bills hold the 21st and 22nd picks in the first round, as well as two picks in the second round, giving them ammunition to move up for a quarterback they fall in love with. There is no guarantee that the teams at the very top of the draft would be willing to move down, though, because both Cleveland and the New York Giants have a need for a quarterback. That means the Bills would look to teams like Indianapolis with the third pick or the Browns, who also have the fourth pick, to make a deal with.

There is no consensus on the order of the other four quarterbacks, and still plenty of time for that to change with the pre-draft all-star games, NFL Scouting Combine and pro days all still to come.

There is also the question of whether the team would want to immediately start a rookie even if he was a first-round pick.

• Trade: The most common name mentioned here is Kansas City’s Alex Smith, because the Chiefs have rookie Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. Smith, though, would come with a $17 million price tag for 2018, which is a significant investment for someone who might not be that much of an upgrade from Taylor. The Bills would also have to give up an asset to acquire him.

'I'll bet' Bills will be interested in Chiefs QB Alex Smith, ESPN's Louis Riddick says

• Free agency: On the surface, it looks like a great class, but the reality is a couple of the quarterbacks scheduled to become free agents aren’t going to make it that far. New Orleans’ Drew Brees and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo are going to be re-signed by their current teams.

The most attractive remaining free agent would then be Washington’s Kirk Cousins, but he will come with a massive price tag. Cousins made just a shade under $25 million in 2017, and figures to command somewhere around that amount next year.

After Cousins comes the Minnesota trio of Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings are in an absolutely fascinating situation, with all three of their quarterbacks reaching unrestricted free agency and each possessing intriguing traits and reasons to be concerned.

Keenum led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and could lead the team to a spot in the Super Bowl, which will be held in their home city. If he does that, would the team really let him get away after he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns — blowing away his career numbers?

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Bridgewater’s return from a devastating knee injury before the 2016 season has been a great story, but he hasn’t started a game in more than two years, so it’s difficult to know how he’ll perform after the injury. At 25, would he sign a shorter, prove-it contract, or hold out for something longer? Bridgewater’s status will be one of the most interesting to follow this offseason.

Bradford, meanwhile, has made enough money to fill up several Brinks trucks. He’s been paid more than $114 million over eight years, with not much production to show for it. Bradford has played well in Minnesota, though, and teams seem to continually fall in love with his skill set.

The only other player scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent who might be looked at as a starter is the New York Jets’ Josh McCown, but he’ll be 39 before the start of next season. McCown is coming off a good season in New York, but his age might limit the number of teams willing to give him a chance at earning the starting job.

The remainder of the class is made up of backup options (EJ Manuel! Ryan Fitzpatrick! ... Brock Osweiler?), none of whom figure to be of much interest to the Bills.

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