105.5 The Team — By now you know all the specifics. The Bills have until March 12 to decide whether or not to pick up an option in quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s contract, which would immediately guarantee him $30.75 million. In the aftermath of Taylor opting to have sports hernia surgery this past week you’ve also likely read through the parameters of the contract’s injury clause, which would require the Bills to pay the Virginia Tech product $27.5 million of that, if he’s unable to pass a physical by the third day of the next league year.
Injury clause aside, the option decision alone presents quite the dilemma for Buffalo, given the QB’s wildly inconsistent two seasons in Western New York. Based on a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter it doesn’t sound like they’re too keen on bringing the two-year starter back. Whether or not that’s the right move is up for debate.
Argument for retaining Taylor
There are a handful of statistical arguments that support the idea of retaining Taylor, starting with his ability to take care of the football. Taylor finished the season ranked 10th with a TD/INT ratio of 2.8. That number came on 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Additionally, the Bills finished the season with a turnover margin of six, which also ranked in the top 10, and were in line to set a record for the fewest giveaways in a season entering Week 17. No, Taylor isn’t slinging it all over the field like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but you know he’ll rarely give freebies to the other team. That’s valuable.
Another area where the six-year veteran finished in the top 10 was total QBR, where he posted a 68.2 rating. That was ninth overall and ahead of quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Cam Newton, all of whom are considered franchise quarterbacks.
Earlier in the week Pro Football Focus published a piece focusing primarily on Taylor’s passer rating when he’s under duress. The article pointed out that his passer rating drops from 94.3 on plays when he’s not pressured to 80.1 on plays when he is. That second figure ranks seventh in the NFL. Part of the reason Taylor remains effective under pressure is because his escapability is second to none, which leads us to highlighting maybe his best trait of all – his dual threat ability.
The elusive QB contributed 580 rushing yards and six touchdowns to the Bills run-centric offense that led the league in total rushing yards (2630) and rushing yards per game (164.4). The mere threat of his running ability makes the offense that much harder for opposing defenses to stop — made evident in Week 17 when he was benched and the Jets simply keyed in on RBs LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee.
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of picking up Taylor’s option is the progress the offense has made going from 26th in scoring in 2014, to 11th and most recently 10th this past season. Buffalo’s run first system is unconventional in today’s league of spread, uptempo offenses, but it’s been undeniably efficient with Taylor pulling the strings. A team should be winning more than seven games when they average nearly 25 points per game.
Also, don’t let that deceiving $30.75 million figure fool you. That number includes his 2017 base salary of $12 million, the entirety of a $15.5 million option bonus – prorated over the final five years of the deal – and $3.25 million of his 2018 base salary. His actual cap hit for this upcoming league year though, would only be $15.9 million, which is the 20th highest salary among the league’s other starting quarterbacks. That’s not exactly breaking the bank.
Oh, and who could forget about his gorgeous deep ball?
Maybe life isn’t as bad as it seems with Taylor under center. It sure would be nice to see what he can do with a complete arsenal of weapons for a full 16-game season.
The argument against retaining Taylor
Sure, Taylor protects the football and has a beautiful deep ball, but in two seasons those are arguably the only things he’s proven to do exceptionally well in the passing game. He struggles mightily to go through his progressions, often missing wide open receivers. Throwing over the middle of the field — where he completed only 20 passes of 10 or more yards this season — is an issue as well.
While the offense has been undoubtedly more efficient scoring wise with Taylor under center, the same can’t be said for the overall passing numbers. Buffalo’s passing attack finished the season ranked 30th in total yards (3,036) and yards per game (190). Individually, the former backup to Joe Flacco had 3,023 passing yards (12 less than 2015 where he played in one less game) and 17 touchdowns, on top of finishing 27th in yards per game (202) and 21st in yards per attempt (6.93). Not exactly eye popping marks.
What makes Taylor most valuable is his dual-threat ability, which is suitable Rex Ryan’s philosophy of running the football and playing good defense. However, in today’s NFL your quarterback’s best trait cannot be his ability to run.
Additionally, quarterbacks are often measured by the number of fourth quarter comeback victories they’ve delivered — something Taylor has managed to do just twice in 29 games as the Bills starter. The first came in Week 5 of the 2015 season against the Tennessee Titans. Buffalo trailed 13-7 with 9:36 remaining in the game before Taylor pieced together an eight-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard TD pass to Chris Hogan to grab the lead 14-13. They’d hang on the rest of the way. His second fourth quarter comeback came in Week 13 this past season in a 28-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. That victory was sealed by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter with nearly 11 minutes to go. There have been a few other valiant attempts mixed in as well; Seattle on Monday night in Week 9 comes to mind, as does that heartbreaking overtime loss to Miami in Week 16 — thanks for nothing Dan Carpenter. But in general those opportunities have been few and far between, combated with the fact that for every comeback victory or near comeback victory there are two or instances where Taylor and the offense disappeared for long stretches and cost the Bills a win. Remember that brutal collapse in Oakland?
All things considered, Taylor has shown little progress from year one to year two under center. So despite the yearly cap hit being reasonable in comparison to other quarterbacks, it’s hard to warrant guaranteeing more than $30 million dollars to an average one. The experiment failed, time for the Bills to cut their losses and move on.
I’ll start by making it abundantly clear; I don’t think Tyrod Taylor is the Bills long-term solution, franchise quarterback — whatever you wanna call it. His running ability is undeniably dazzling — I mean he’s turned making defenders whiff on sacks into an art form. But I continue to go back to what LeSean McCoy said after their Week 3 win over the Cardinals…
Taylor’s best skill is his legs and the Bills have successfully used them to their advantage. But at the end of the day, do you want a running back at quarterback, or a quarterback at quarterback? At some point a quarterback needs to make plays with his arm, and throughout his entire body of work Taylor has been far too inconsistent to convince me that when he needs to make plays in the passing game, he will. The example I use to compare is Derek Carr, who before breaking his leg led the Raiders to a remarkable seven fourth quarter comeback wins this season. Like Buffalo, Oakland’s defense was mostly a disappointment this season, finishing in the bottom third of the league in total defense and giving up more than 24 points per game on average. None of that mattered though, because the guy under center could single-handedly bail them out. Led by Carr, the Raiders won games by scores of 35-34, 28-27, 34-31, 30-24, 35-32 and 38-24. On multiple occasions Carr overcame his team’s deficiencies and carried the Raiders to victory. That’s what franchise quarterbacks do.
Now that said, the numbers prove that since Taylor became the starter ahead of the 2015 season, Buffalo’s overall offensive production has increased. To go from 26th in scoring in 2014 to 11th and 10th the last two seasons isn’t an accident. Regardless of his deficiencies, he fits into this run heavy offense. It obviously hasn’t translated to wins, but there are merits to the argument that with a better defense the Bills makes the playoffs.
Regardless, the fact that reports have already surfaced hinting at Buffalo declining the option, insinuates that those in the Bills front office have already made up their minds on Taylor. Taylor was Rex Ryan’s guy after-all and with Ryan out of the picture he’s become a loose end in the team’s eyes.
Ultimately, whether moving on is the right move comes down to who his replacement would be. Doug Whaley said the Bills are “close,” so it’s hard to imagine they’d hand the offense over to Cardale Jones — the only quarterback guaranteed to be under contract for next season — in just his second year in the NFL. So that leaves free agency/trade or the draft. Redskins QB Kirk Cousins would be an upgrade in my opinion, but he’ll command over $20 million a year on the open market after playing on the franchise tag. Acquiring Tony Romo from Dallas sounds intriguing, but at what price? And in his age 37 season Romo certainly isn’t a long-term solution. Others like Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon and Ryan Fitzpatrick are a tough sell. Draft wise, I’m in the belief that if a team doesn’t have a franchise quarterback they should draft one every year until they do. However, finding a day-one starter for a team that’s supposedly “close” is unlikely in this year’s class of quarterbacks.
The Bills could always decline the option then draw up a new, reduced contract for Taylor, however that would require his stamp of approval, which is highly unlikely after his job was taken from in Week 17, tarnishing the relationship between the two sides.
If the Bills truly don’t view the 27-year-old as their franchise quarterback that’s fine, like I said, I don’t. There is no shame in attempting to get better at the most important position in sports. But it’s a matter of ‘is that guy out there and available or not?’ Unless the Bills want to hit the reset button — and again, Whaley’s pleas of “we’re close” don’t indicate that they do — then it’s either upgrade or find a stopgap. The latter concept has gone on far too long in Buffalo but with limited options out there Taylor could be a formidable fit for the role, especially if Anthony Lynn is retained as head coach.
Still, the Bills also shouldn’t feel inclined to settle for Taylor, because if the last 17 years are any indication, settling on a QB gets you nowhere.
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