BEREA, Ohio — Tyrod Taylor's smile is as bright as the early afternoon sun when a visitor from his Buffalo past, carrying a notebook and tape recorder, approaches after a recent Cleveland Browns organized team activity practice.
"Does Sean McDermott know you're here?" he asks.
Taylor's greeting is playful, but there's no mistaking the sprinkle of salt.
After all, it was McDermott who decided Taylor wouldn't be back for a fourth season as the Bills' starting quarterback. It also was McDermott who foreshadowed Taylor's exit with the infamous November benching, followed by Nathan Peterman's meltdown against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Since he brought up McDermott, there was no point in delaying the question: How soon after the coach's arrival last year did Taylor realize he wasn't his guy?
"Whether I was or whether I wasn't, I'm not there anymore. That's his decision moving forward," he said. "I still feel that I'd done more than enough to stay where I was. But at the end of the day, they made a decision to move forward. And that's their decision."
Taylor said he fully understands that, with new people in charge, change is inevitable. He made a point of complimenting McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane for keeping him in the loop before the March 9 trade that sent him to the Browns for a third-round draft pick. In fact, Taylor added, the phone conversation in which they informed him the deal was about to happen "wasn't a bad one. There was actually a positive energy on both sides."
But as much as Taylor wants to stay focused on the present and future ("I'm excited, happy with the place that I'm at now and the team that I'm playing for, and I'm excited about the opportunity"), he can't help but look back at what he left behind.
In 2015, the Bills pulled him out of four years of obscurity as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore and put him on the NFL map. Buffalo will always occupy a prominent place in Taylor's heart. He still stays in close touch with several of his former teammates.
"Shady texted me (Tuesday night) because I told him I could get him tickets to the Cavs (NBA Finals) game" in Cleveland, Taylor said of running back LeSean McCoy. "We talk very often. (Cornerback) Tre'Davious (White), I talked to (tight end) Charles (Clay) last week. I reached out to (receiver) Zay (Jones). I know he was going through the situation he went through, but that's like a little brother to me, so I always try to check in on him. I saw (safety) Jordan Poyer (earlier) in the offseason down in Florida training."
"It was special to be a part of a team last year that was able to break a 17-year (playoff) drought," he said. "We didn't finish the season the way we wanted to, but at the end of the day, we were able to change the culture. That was something that I set as a goal for the team. The main goal, to win a Super Bowl, wasn't accomplished, but we were able to do some very special things in the three years that I was there and I have nothing to regret or to hang my head (about) in my time there. There's nothing to be disappointed about."
"We were able to be in the playoff hunt each year. My first year, we knocked the Jets out of the playoffs the last game. We were eliminated the week before, so (the Bills were still alive for the postseason until the) second-to-the-last week of the season. But that was something that wasn't necessarily the case prior to the time that I was there.
"I'm proud of what I've accomplished in Buffalo and thankful for (former coach) Rex (Ryan), (team co-owner) Mr. (Terry) Pegula, (former GM) Doug Whaley for ultimately bringing me in and giving me the opportunity to start and build myself as a player."
Perhaps the Bills and a large portion of their fans were ready to move on from Taylor and embrace the hope that Josh Allen, the seventh overall pick of last April's draft, will become the franchise QB that has eluded them for the 20 years since Jim Kelly's retirement. Perhaps they feel better that AJ McCarron, or Peterman, will serve as the placeholder rather than Taylor.
But here, things are different. Here, Taylor is seen as an immediate answer for another team hoping it, too, has found a long-term solution in the draft in No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma.
That one of Taylor's best qualities — after his tremendous mobility — is avoiding interceptions is viewed as a refreshing change for a club that paid dearly for the 22 interceptions former Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer threw as a rookie last year.
After finishing 0-16 last season and 1-15 the year before, the Browns have only one place to go. And Taylor, if only by default, actually has a decent enough resume to qualify as an upgrade ... at least, until Mayfield shows he's ready to play.
The mention of that makes Taylor shake his head.
"That's definitely a good feeling," he said, "but you know me, I never really worry about the outside talk. I appreciate it. It doesn't necessarily motivate or doesn't motivate me. I continue to keep approaching the game the way I do and aiming to be a better player each and every year that I step on the field.
"It's always a task each and every year, regardless of the previous season. Of course, I wasn't with this organization in previous years and I know the history the past couple years, but it's my job each and every day to come out and challenge this team to be better and to achieve the goals that we set as a team. Talking with guys, they're excited about this year."
Entering his eighth NFL season, the 28-year-old Taylor is among the more experienced players on the roster. Only fellow quarterback Drew Stanton, who is going into his 12th year, and punter Britton Colquitt, who is going into his ninth, have been in the league longer.
Consequently, Taylor believes he's in "more of a leadership role" than he was with the Bills, whose roster included a higher number of players with greater seniority.
"I welcome that role," he said. "I understand it comes with the quarterback position, first and foremost, but at the same time, it also comes from actual experience in this league, and guys look to me when the times are hard. Of course, we haven't really had too many, we're still practicing. But guys definitely respond to me and look how I respond to difficult situations. I welcome that."
Taylor fully expected the Browns to draft a quarterback, if only because they needed at least one other player at the position besides himself and Stanton. He welcomes the competition, saying it will push each of them to become better and that will, in turn, improve the team.
That makes for a nice sound bite. The reality is that players chosen with the top overall pick don't spend much time watching. Sooner or later, Mayfield is going to start.
"I don't personally look over my shoulder," Taylor said. "I can't control things that are out of my reach, out of my touch. I can control only the things that I do daily — my preparation, my effort, my energy, my execution. But I can't walk around and lead in the way I'm supposed to if I'm worried or looking over my shoulder.
"Things are going to happen in this league. My job is to stay focused on the job at hand."
During a 15-minute interview, Taylor made five references to the Browns having "talented" players on offense, defense and special teams. "I can run down a number of guys that we have on our offensive side of the ball that are very talented," he said. The ones he mentioned were receivers Jarvis Landry, who led the NFL in receptions last year with the Miami Dolphins; Josh Gordon, who is trying to come back from being out of the league for multiple substance-abuse suspensions but once showed spectacular ability; 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman; and Antonio Callaway, a fourth-rounder this year.
Taylor said the Bills had "a bunch of talented players," too, but that they "battled a bunch of injuries and all the guys weren't on the field at the same time."
He's excited about working with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who previously held that spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Taylor has tracked the impressive production of Haley's offenses, including those he oversaw with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, and believes his scheme will bring the best out of the Browns' playmakers.
"You look at what he was able to accomplish over the past years, Pittsburgh being the most recent one, you get excited about watching that offense work," Taylor said. Ben Roethlisberger "was able to go out there and make a bunch of plays and be balanced in it, so we definitely have the weapons around. We just have to find a balance and find out what we do well, and that's what this period (offseason workouts) is right now.
"The main thing is to keep everyone healthy, keep everyone engaged keep everyone's attitude right. If we do that, we can go out and do big things this year."