Over the past month-and-a-half, there have been more and more questions about the Buffalo Bills that have arisen, but nothing that holds a candle to the topic that remains on the mind of fans.
"What is going on with Tyrod Taylor?"
"Who is the quarterback going to be next year?"
There has yet to be any clarity on the situation, mainly due to indecision within the building. The truth of the matter is that we don't know what the Bills are going to do because the Bills don't yet know what they are going to do.
There is a case to be made for both sides. If they were to keep Taylor, it's to try and play to the strengths of the team as it's built today, and in the hopes of securing a playoff spot. To part ways with Taylor, they would essentially be saying that it's time to rebuild the roster.
There are many exclaiming that Taylor is a player to build around and to develop, but it's more complex than that. The player himself is someone that's good enough to get you to the playoffs but also has his downfalls that prevent the offense from really taking off.
The refrain 'We wanted to make him into a quarterback,' was common amongst the Bills' opponents in the 2016 season -- which, isn't exactly the biggest testament to him as a player.
Still, he's an exciting option, and clearly much better than what they've had.
However, should the 'better than what they've had' argument be the thing that makes the decision, because of the lack of a celebratory option at quarterback since Jim Kelly's retirement? Also, there's the fact that general manager Doug Whaley -- who needs to find a plan at quarterback -- risked alienating Taylor by benching him the final week of the season.
Starting next week, once the Bills take the temperature of the rest of the league and the possible quarterback market this offseason, that's when we might actually start to see a plan get put into motion.
What might the Bills do at quarterback?
Step 1: Release QB Tyrod Taylor
Now, say what you will about the merits of Doug Whaley as the GM of the team, but it's clear he will be the person in charge of the direction of the roster for this offseason at least. Especially considering that pushing the restart button on the quarterback position would likely buy him more time as the GM, it makes sense for Whaley to move on from a quarterback he very clearly does not believe in for the long-term.
Even during the season in his radio appearances, Whaley remained critical of some problem areas in Taylor's game, and never fully committed to the starting quarterback past the current year. Taylor was Rex Ryan's pick at quarterback, and that was abundantly clear when the Bills benched him in what felt like the second after the head coach was fired.
Furthermore, if the Bills were to pick up the option on Taylor, it would essentially commit them to him for the next two seasons. Taylor would get all the guaranteed money, but it's the dead cap that skyrockets in the event that the Bills change their mind shortly after picking up the marriage.
If he were to return in 2017, that would cause his dead money hit in 2018 to be just under $18 million -- and given his '18 cap number of $16.78 million -- you can sure that Taylor will be around that year. His dead cap in 2019 would still be sizeable -- just under $11 million -- although it would provide some cap saving from his number of $17.38 million.
By picking up the option, the relationship becomes a marriage between player, team, and GM. And if it's Whaley making the final call, I think he'd be strongly inclined to have the Bills move on. If McDermott has more of a say than most head coaches would, then hope remains for bringing Taylor back.
Step 2: Sign a veteran free agent to compete for a starting job
If the Bills release Taylor, that means its rebuild time in Buffalo -- barring the event that the Bills somehow actually bring in Tony Romo to be on the roster. Taylor's release would provide more financial flexibility this offseason, and they could take a low-cost flier on a veteran free agent to compete for the starting job.
While the names that would be talked about to fill this requirement would be eye-roll-inducing for a lot of fans out there, it would essentially be a move just to kill some time until they take their next big swing at quarterback -- or if someone on their own roster develops into the answer.
Step 3: Don't select a QB at No. 10 in the 2017 NFL Draft
The biggest question that comes after thinking about the potential release of Tyrod Taylor is simple: "So then who starts, and who is better?" Outside of Romo, the rest of the crop seems to be a bit of fool's gold. And to me, that also includes the 2017 quarterback draft class.
Over the last two weeks, I took the opportunity to really study the presumed top-tier quarterbacks in this year's draft class. While there are some that I like the potential of (See: Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech, and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame), I'd stay away from using the 10th overall selection on those players -- specifically with the Bills' situation in mind.
If they can get one of those two players in the second round, that's where the idea becomes a bit more fruitful. There will be less pressure on that pick to play right away, and they can still use the 10th overall selection to make the rest of the team better to build around the player they eventually decide as 'the guy.'
Mahomes and Kizer are really the only two I'd think about in the second round, but considering the overdraft nature in the NFL Draft when it comes to that position, I wouldn't trust that those players would be there by the time the Bills are up again. The smartest idea, given all the Bills' needs this offseason, would be to trade down from 10th overall in what is thought to be an extremely deep draft at several positions of need.
Step 4: Make him "earn it," but use 2017 to make an assessment on Cardale Jones
Whaley is clearly intrigued by the young player, and still with some solid options at his disposal on offense (see: LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins), they can learn a lot about Jones as a passer.
If Jones flops in training camp and isn't able to win the starting job that would clearly be slanted to him, then you wipe your hands of it and say, 'Well, he was only a late-fourth round pick.'
If he wins the starting job and doesn't do well with it, you've got your answer on Cardale Jones, and probably a top flight draft pick in the upcoming draft to try something new at the position.
And the best scenario for the Bills: if he succeeds and shows flashes of being 'the guy,' you've got a young player still with two years on his rookie contract that showed a lot of promise in his first year of starting.
Step 5: If Cardale doesn't work, draft a QB in the first round in either 2018 or 2019
It depends on what quarterback becomes available in either of these years, but at that point in time, the Bills will have a much better young nucleus of talent specific to Sean McDermott's philosophies (if they draft well enough), and they'll have loads more cap flexibility by that time.
According to Spotrac, with the estimated cap number in 2018 and without Taylor's contract off the books, they would already have right around $80 million in cap space next offseason.
Eventually, they are going to need to take a big swing on finding a quarterback but given their situation and if they elect to part ways with Taylor... the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft doesn't look or feel like the right time to do so.
You can never truly rule it out because humans can convince themselves of basically anything, but that's the most logical approach in my mind. If they're going to go through with releasing Taylor and starting this whole thing over again, patience must be observed, and the effort to find a quarterback in 2018 or 2019 seems a lot more well-reasoned.
While it's certainly not an ideal scenario to tell fans that have been waiting for a long time to have a winning team on the field to wait longer, it might be a necessary evil given how the team is constructed today. Just as with any breakup, sometimes you feel worse about it at the beginning of the alone time, but eventually, you know you're better off for the long-term.
The decision on Tyrod Taylor -- barring a Romo-like acquisition -- will define the short-term future of the Buffalo Bills. They know it, we know it, and that's why they're taking their dear, sweet time with delivering the answer so many people want to know.