It’s not fair to hang the Buffalo Bills’ offensive shortcomings entirely on quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
That was the message from General Manager Brandon Beane on Monday, as the Buffalo Bills conducted their season-ending press conference.
"We're not satisfied with the whole offense,” Beane said. “And it wasn't just about Tyrod. There's a lot of hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.”
As he enters his first full offseason as the Bills’ general manager, Beane’s job is to fix that. So how does he do that?
“You want a franchise quarterback. Everybody does,” he said. “I said that back when I got here. That’s one of the GM’s main jobs is to have a franchise quarterback. It’s a quarterback league. Where you get it, I really don’t care. If you give me one, whether he’s on the street now, whether he’s a free agent, whether I draft him, I’ll take one anywhere.”
As Beane and coach Sean McDermott start their evaluation process of the 2017 season, which concluded Sunday with a 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC wild-card playoff game, determining whether Taylor is capable of being that player is one of the biggest decisions they have to make.
“Sean and I, we're going to talk about everything, and we know we have to get better on offense, on defense, on special teams,” Beane said. “We are far from a finished product. I doubt if you're ever going to hear us say we're a finished product. We have a lot of work to do, and we know that. That's going to get started pretty quickly after this press conference.”
The Bills have until March 16 to make their call on Taylor. That’s the third day of the new league year, when his contract calls for a $6 million roster bonus.
“Tyrod has a lot of ability. He really does,” Beane said. “And we saw some of those things. He did a lot of good things this year, but he'll tell you that he's got weaknesses to work on, just like a lot of other guys. The great thing about Tyrod, you can never question his work ethic. The guy is in here early, often, he's watching film, he's stretching. He's in the training room. He does so many good things. He gives himself the best chance to succeed on the field by what he does off. And I know he knows the areas he's got to work on, and I have no doubt that he's going to continue to improve.”
The Bills have room under the salary cap to keep Taylor at his 2018 cap hit, which would come in at just over $18 million. Whether they want to do that, though, is very much up in the air – just as it was a season ago.
“I’m literally going to go back and watch how he played at the beginning of the year, how he played in the middle of the year, how he played at the end of the year,” Beane said. “So, we’ll see. We’re going to take our time and make an informed decision. The easy thing to do is go off the last game, and that’s not fair.”
In that last game, Taylor went 17 of 37 for 134 yards and an interception against Jacksonville. It capped what was the worst of his three seasons as Buffalo’s starter. Taylor threw for 2,799 yards, rushed for 427 and accounted for 18 total touchdowns, all below his totals for the previous two years.
He also was benched in Week 11 for fifth-round draft pick Nathan Peterman, although that move backfired badly when the rookie melted down with five interceptions.
“I know why we did what we did,” McDermott said. “Brandon and I sat down that week and discussed what was in the best interests of this football team, like we do with every decision we make, and we felt that was the right decision at that time for this football team.”
Had Peterman succeeded, Taylor might not have returned to the lineup.
“I get that. I understand where you're coming from on that,” McDermott said. “You're going to draw your conclusions, like you did earlier in the year, you're going to draw your conclusions now. The best I can tell you is we're always going to do what we feel is best for this football team, this organization, and we'll continue to do that moving forward and actively pursue the vision for this football team.”
One of the decisions McDermott has to make that relates directly to the future of his quarterback is what happens with his offensive coordinator. The head coach was noncommittal when asked if Rick Dennison would return in 2018.
“There's a connection there,” McDermott said when asked how much the decision on quarterback and coordinator go hand in hand. “That said, at the end of the day, good coaches are good teachers, and so that's where you start, and you really take it from there.”
If McDermott and Beane determine it’s time to cut ties with Taylor, free agency and the draft would be the two most likely avenues to explore for a replacement.
“The good thing is we have a lot of draft capital. We can stay there and pick. We can move up. We can move back. We can do a lot of different things,” Beane said. “It's so early in the process. I mean, we've seen these college guys on the field, but we've yet to meet any of them, and to know who they are. You rank these guys, what you see on the film, but until you know them, and how they know the game and all that – talking about the quarterback position, there are so many layers of what it takes to play quarterback in this league – and we've talked about them, that we're still a long way to go. So it's too early for me to answer, what we would do, whether we'd do it or not, but yes, we will go where we need to go to get the right players.”
If it’s free agency that the Bills go after, Beane said there not necessarily a cap.
“We'll spend what we need to spend. The key is to spend wisely,” he said. “You know, certain guys you've got to pay up here, certain guys you've got to pay down here, whether it's the quarterback, running back, defensive end, whatever position you name, you know, you just have that limit. What you've got to be able to do is set where you think this guy belongs, and not get caught in chase mode, which can happen. I've been a part of that.”
One thing Beane and McDermott agreed on is they would like to have a veteran presence in the quarterback room in 2018.
“We’d like to have a veteran in the room for a lot of reasons,” McDermott said. “One of which is experience on the field, another in which is leadership – the intangibles that go with some of these veteran players. … There's value in that, but every situation is just a little bit different.”