Sports are like politics in the sense that they're populated with skilled speakers who rarely say a darned thing. Circumventing the truth without actually lying has evolved into an art form, one that requires trained eyes and ears to interpret nuance in their message and translate it into simpler terms.
If you’re in this business long enough, you learn to listen for subtle catchphrases and buzzwords that are generally accurate but actually are designed to shift the direction of the conversation. You read between the lines, knowing words unspoken often are more critical than anything blabbed into a microphone.
About six weeks ago, there was a sense the Bills would cut ties with veteran Tyrod Taylor and search for a franchise quarterback. At the time, after breaking down their comments, I came to the conclusion that they viewed Nathan Peterman as their short-term answer over Taylor while they continued looking.
Last week during the NFL Combine, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane gave the impression that Taylor could be back next season after saying they had no plans to release him. But you need to examine every word of their message. Certainly there were people out there who figured they were changing their tune when really they were speaking in measured tones.
McDermott is extremely calculated with his words, so let's review his comment about Taylor:
"I've learned being around this league around 20 years that it's way too early to take anything off the table other than cutting him at this point, which is not in our plans," McDermott said. "He's a good football player who has been instrumental in getting us to the playoffs. At this point in the process, whether it's Tyrod or any of our players, you look at what's out there, you look at your options and you make decisions based on the best interests of your football team."
McDermott made it sound like Taylor would remain with the Bills for the foreseeable future. Technically, that's true, but the foreseeable future is less than two weeks. It should not be confused with the distant future. All it really meant was the Bills were keeping Taylor until a better option came along, which is expected.
The three keywords in McDermott's message, while brushing over "the process" and "best interests of my football team" were "at this point." Translation: The Bills planned to keep Taylor until he was no longer an asset. There's a very good chance – but less than 100 percent – that he's a goner before next season.
Is that splitting hairs? Maybe.
The Bills aren't going to announce their strategy, of course, just like Taylor wouldn't get under center on third-and-8 and announce that he's going to drop back to pass, miss an open receiver over the middle and take off even though everyone in the stadium knows that's exactly what is about to happen.
To me, it seemed McDermott also was letting other teams know the Bills were picking up his $6 million signing bonus with the intention of trading him. It could make Taylor attractive bait for a team desiring a heavy discount on a veteran quarterback. In exchange for the markdown, the Bills are looking for a larger return.
Beane was equally judicious with his words as they pertained to Taylor. Once you dissect his answer, which was consistent with the one McDermott delivered, there's a greater sense that Taylor will be packing his bags than sticking around.
"Tyrod's on our roster right now, that's the plan," Beane said. "We're just taking it day by day."
Keywords: "right now." Taylor would be gone tomorrow if the right offer came along. The "plan" and "taking it day by day" amount to the same thing. The plan calls for keeping Taylor on the roster and shopping him daily with the intention of getting something back for him.
In essence, the Bills are gambling with their insurance policy.
All this posturing is silly, if you ask me, but that's the game behind the game. The Bills know Taylor's limitations and have no real intention of keeping him. It was clear when Peterman started against the Chargers with the Bills in playoff contention. McDermott lost faith in Taylor and hoped Peterman would be better.
They should release Taylor now and save the $6 million. If he's on the roster next season and doesn't start, people will call for him every time the No. 1 quarterback makes a mistake. And every time Taylor reverts to being the quarterback everybody knows, McDermott will be under pressure to replace him.
So what's the point?
McDermott knows the Bills have several holes in their roster. He reiterated in Indianapolis what he told me two months ago. When he says things along the lines of "remaining true to who we are as an organization and our core values," he's talking about building a team with staying power, not some one-year wonder.
Since Day One, it has been his message.
McDermott made sure to compliment Taylor, but he wasn't exactly making a case for the guy as some might have assumed. When he said Taylor was "instrumental in getting us to the playoffs" and the experience was something he can "add to his resume," McDermott was simply stating the obvious.
Taylor plays the most important position on the field. Of course he helped them to the playoffs, almost as much as Andy Dalton did. It didn't mean Taylor was the long-term answer. The fact he beefed up his resume actually helps the Bills more than it helps Taylor. It makes him more valuable in the trade market.
Look, folks, McDermott wants a major upgrade, someone who will use the entire field, win games with his arm, lead his team from fourth-quarter deficits and take them to their first postseason touchdown in 18 years. He might have more faith in Peterman than Taylor. McDermott was effusive in his praise of his young backup.
"I'm confident that he is wired the right way and he'll learn from the moments both high and low that did or didn't go his way," McDermott said. "He's an extremely confident young man and a guy that works hard.
"Sometimes as a rookie, in this case as a rookie quarterback, you're thrust in a situation where everyone sees your body of work. I know his second year will be better than his first year. I thought he did some really good things his first year. When you look at the DNA, he's a fit for us in that regard."
Funny, but he never mentioned how Taylor was "wired the right way" or how his DNA was a "fit for us" in any regard. Why? Because he's not and he doesn't, which is why the Bills have no intention of keeping him for the long haul. But until they can replace him, he'll remain in the organization.
It would be nice if they said so, but that's why you have me.