The Tyrod Taylor situation is as unique a quarterback conundrum as you’ll find in the National Football League.
Taylor came to Buffalo as a free agent hoping to start, won the job outright in the summer, and as a result, the Bills enjoyed the most impressive debut season of a starting quarterback they’ve seen in many, many years.
You’d have to go back to at least 2002 — Drew Bledsoe’s first season with the Bills — in which the quarterback threw for 4,359 yards, completed 61.5-percent of his attempts, and carried a 24-to-15 touchdown-to-interception disparity. That, at least, is how long it’s been since a quarterback has inspired as much confidence over a full season as Taylor has.
Taylor’s season can be summed up most efficiently, as, well, efficient.
Over the course of the season, he completed 63.7-percent of his passes for 3,035 yards, threw 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions, and also rushed for a franchise record 568 yards, and added an additional four touchdowns on the ground. And, despite fumbling nine times in 14 games, Taylor only lost one of them.
The stats are a great start to the conversation, which inevitably, is one the Bills need to have and will be having as they move forward, because this is not your typical first-year starting quarterback for one distinct reason: His contract status.
As an unrestricted free agent, Taylor signed a three-year contract with the Bills complete with incentives. One of which, to void his third year of the deal by playing at least 50-percent of the team’s snaps in 2015 — a feat he clearly accomplished this season.
By hitting the mark, it puts some pressure on the Bills with the upcoming season, seeing as how 2016 is the last year they have Taylor under contract.
However, despite the added pressure that goes with locking up quarterbacks for the longterm, the Bills shouldn’t feel forced to rush to extend Taylor — at least not anytime soon.
Why, you might ask? Well, for at least a few reasons.
First, with a quarterback such as Taylor, it’s safest for the Bills to take a wait-and-see approach mostly because he’s still a work in progress.
Make no mistake, Taylor showed a lot of promise in his first season as the starter, but this isn’t the same as a rookie or a second-year quarterback still with years left on his contract. The timetable to make a decision just isn’t the same, which means the Bills can’t make a mistake, or, act recklessly by giving him a huge contract after just one season.
Fueling Taylor’s positive debut season, he throws with anticipation, he has an accurate deep ball, he can keep plays alive with his legs to keep the defense on alert at all times, and perhaps most importantly to the coaching staff, he accepts direction quite well and plays within the confines of the system.
The last factor is the one which helped make the Bills decision relatively easy last summer, and the one that helped him limit his turnovers all season long in 2015. Specifically in Greg Roman’s scheme, which notably has helped quarterbacks to limit turnovers, Taylor’s ability in that category gives the Bills a lot of faith in him going into 2016.
With the good, though, there are also areas Taylor needs to show clear improvement. The Bills won’t acknowledge it publicly, but one clear as day factor when you watch all his starts, is at this point as a starter, Taylor is only seeing half of the field once the snap is taken.
He certainly scans the defense ahead of the snap as quarterbacks should, but, he primarily locks into one side of the field once things are diagnosed and doesn’t stray from it. Unless, however, things break down in the pocket and Taylor has to operate on instincts. When he does, it shows a clear difference in playing style.
While in the pocket, Taylor has a more robotic approach. Whereas when things break down, we start to see Taylor, the playmaker. In order to fully be on board and declare him the quarterback of the future, he needs to rid himself of the robotic tendencies, see the whole field after the snap, and become a natural playmaker from the pocket.
At least, it’s part of what make the great quarterbacks of the league so fascinating to watch.
The second reason to take a wait-and-see approach are things almost out of Taylor’s control. His size — 6-foot-1 and 215-pounds — mixed with his playing style puts him at risk of injury, unless he learns to slide in order to protect himself.
He’ll also be 27 years old by the time next season starts, which shouldn’t affect the overall conversation as to how many years he can remain the starter. However, it should factor in due to this question: How much can a 27-year old quarterback progress, five years into his career?
It may be a bit of a different case for Taylor, considering 2015 was his first year as a starter so he still may be in the developmental stage of his career. But, at the very least, it’s a cause for hesitation in such a dynamic conversation.
Thirdly, and this may be the biggest reason to hesitate for the Bills, is all to do with the pressure existing on the 2016 season for the team.
Ultimatum or no ultimatum, head coach Rex Ryan knows he needs to get things turned around and make it to the postseason in 2016 while the window for the talented roster is still open. If he doesn’t get the Bills to the playoffs, Ryan may well be in trouble as far as the remainder of his contract is concerned.
It bleeds into general manager Doug Whaley, who himself has added multiple quality pieces to the roster over his tenure, but could also be in trouble due to a potential desire to start fresh with a brand new management team — if the Bills decide to hit the restart button.
With all the uncertainty for the future if things don’t get turned around next season, declaring Taylor as the franchise quarterback with a new contract may not be in the organization’s interest just yet — specifically if there is a change in coaching staff that may look for different traits in a starter than what Taylor brings to the table.
Two things, however, should not factor into the discussion under any circumstances — and they both deal with the same premise. An historical perspective, based on how things have gone at that position recently for the organization, should not influence the Bills’ eventual decision on Tyrod Taylor, and it goes both ways.
The lack of a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly has the public yearning for the declaration of the next big thing, while the impulsive Ryan Fitzpatrick extension also sticks in the craw of many fans of the team as well. With respect to both situations, they mean next to nothing in 2016 and how the Bills should approach the decision with Taylor.
The situation isn’t necessarily just black or white, either. The Bills could always try to get Taylor under contract on a bridge deal of sorts — a short-term extension with a bump in salary to get him closer to starting quarterback value in terms of dollars and cents. It would allow the Bills to go through the season, collect more data on the situation, and come to a more informed decision further down the line.
The problem there, though, is a bridge deal may not interest Taylor. If he shows the necessary progress in 2016, he’d likely be in line for a much bigger pay day over a longer span of time. All the same, if he shows the necessary progress and the team gets to the postseason in 2016, the Bills would have no problem giving him a much more substantial raise.
For both sides, it’s in the best interest to see how, at least, a portion of 2016 plays out before making any bold declarations one side could end up regretting. In the interim, Taylor has one year left on his contract and will make $1 million (which could rise up to $2 million if he plays 80-percent of offensive snaps).
The time for action is not now. The best course, is to see where the ride takes you, and then decide from there.
Until then, the Bills should keep checking and holding their cards with Taylor until the right time to go all in presents itself.
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