New Bills Bosses Are Sending Tyrod Taylor a Mixed Message Loud and Clear

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 16, 2017

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Steelers won 27-20. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert/Associated Press

Tyrod Taylor is the future of the Bills franchise. Or he isn't. He's just their starting quarterback. Though he has to earn that starting job. And he might not make the roster.  

That's the message the Bills' new brass is sending. Confused yet? It's not so much a mixed message as a liquefied one.

Peter King of The MMQB asked Bills head coach Sean McDermott and newly appointed general manager Brandon Beane whether the team's quarterback of the future is currently on the roster. It was a whiffle ball question, yet McDermott and Beane verbally short-circuited like a nervous couple trying to convince their marriage counselor that they never argue about anything.

"He is, in Tyrod Taylor," McDermott said. So far, so good.

"And then when you look at the competition we have behind him," McDermott continued. "We've drafted Nathan Peterman, we've added T.J. Yates, and then Cardale Jones in the draft a year ago."

If Taylor is the future, why immediately mention two younger quarterbacks? And why mention Yates ever, unless all your other quarterbacks were injured in a bizarre snowmobiling accident?

"We have open competition everywhere," added Beane, who is new to the interview game and trying on standard cliches for size. " ... Let them fight it out and earn the right to start on this team."

New Bills GM Brandon Beane
New Bills GM Brandon BeaneJeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

In other words, Taylor must win the job from a super-raw second-year player with 19 regular-season snaps (per Pro Football Focus), a fifth-round pick and pro football's pluckiest fourth-stringer. That's significantly different from "quarterback of the future," guys. But it gets nuttier.

"Can we guarantee he is on our roster right now?," McDermott asked, rhetorically. "That remains to be seen and that is true at a lot of positions on our roster."

Whoa. That was a sudden nosedive from starter-with-a-future to the roster bubble. You have to admire a coach and general manager who aren't afraid to ask themselves the tough questions. It's a good thing King didn't ask these guys what is on their MP3 players.

"Mostly Metallica," McDermott might say. "But there is also some Nickelback, Smash Mouth and Herman's Hermits."

"We're reformatting a variety of electronic devices," Beane might add. "There will be open competition for Sean's playlist."

The new Bills braintrust sounds disenchanted with Taylor for some reason, and McDermott and Beane aren't afraid to vaguely hint about it. The last staff felt the same cloudy ambivalence toward Taylor, and it slowly and haphazardly cost them their jobs.

It's time to wonder whether there is something wrong with Taylor or if something about working for the Bills stir-fries everyone's brain whenever Taylor's name comes up.

Taylor is likely not the problem. He's a smart, likable guy who handles himself like an NFL quarterback. The former sixth-round pick has been relatively successful for a team that saddled him with a receiving corps of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter whenever Sammy Watkins was hurt. The best second option in the Bills passing game was usually Taylor running for his life, which he excelled at.

Taylor also spent four years backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore. If he were a prima donna or troublemaker, he would have disappeared from the NFL long ago. The notion that he's sideswiping coaches' cars, falling asleep in meetings or doing something worthy of being put on passive-aggressive blast is a little far-fetched.

With few consistent receiving options in Buffalo recently, Tyrod Taylor ran for 1,148 yards over the last two seasons.
With few consistent receiving options in Buffalo recently, Tyrod Taylor ran for 1,148 yards over the last two seasons.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

It's also nearly unprecedented for a coach and general manager to serve up this kind of left-handed commentary on a starting quarterback during OTAs. This is the time of year when we hear that Blake Bortles is much improved, Jared Goff "wants to be great," Carson Wentz will benefit from an offseason of big-game hunting in New Zealand and Mitchell Trubisky is humble because he drives an old Camry.

This was the time of year when we would hear about how hard Johnny Manziel was working. But Taylor? He's gotta prove he can beat T.J. Yates.

If the Bills did some intensive self-scouting, determined Taylor was not the long-term answer and decided to change directions at quarterback, it would at least be an understandable, defensible position. But that is not what the Bills have done. Instead, they have:

  • Mysteriously benched Taylor for EJ Manuel in Week 17. It was never made clear whether that decision came from outgoing head coach Rex Ryan, interim head coach Anthony Lynn or then-general manager Doug Whaley; there's a chance everyone assumed someone else gave the order.
  • Fired Ryan, let Lynn go to San Diego and Manuel go to Oakland, but retained Whaley, the lead suspect in Taylor's mystery benching.
  • Hired Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator. Dennison served as the quarterbacks coach in Baltimore for one season while Taylor was there, so his arrival would presumably help Taylor adjust to the new system.
  • Allowed Whaley to restructure the mammoth five-year, $90 million contract he gave Taylor in 2015 into a more manageable two-year deal, which appeared to be a vote of confidence in one or both of them.
  • Fired Whaley after the draft.
  • Drafted limited mid-round quarterback prospects in back-to-back seasons, neither of whom should pose a serious short-term threat to an established NFL starter.

That's not planning. It's chaos. Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Ryan and Whaley. But McDermott and Beane are supposed to restore order. The Bills now contradict themselves about Taylor in both deed and word.

The Bills miraculously came out of this mayhem with an acceptable quarterback situation. Whaley didn't trade or release Taylor before McDermott could grab the keys to the organization from him. No one got a Jay Cutler wild hair. Drafting Deshaun Watson may have brought clarity to the Bills' opinion of Taylor (perish the thought), but the Bills improved the roster by addressing other needs instead.

There shouldn't be any mystery or controversy when it comes to Taylor. If you run McDermott and Beane's comments through a Coachspeak-to-English Decoder Ring, this is what they were trying to say...or trying not to say:

McDermott: I want to reshape this roster with my own guys. As a defensive coach, I prefer safe, conservative pocket passers to unpredictable scramblers. The only real quarterback on this roster who isn't some holdover from the past regime is Peterman, so I really want him to climb the depth chart and seize the job.

Beane: Taylor's cap number in 2018 is $18 million. As far as I'm concerned, he's on a one-year deal, and my job gets much easier if Peterman emerges and we get four years of quality quarterbacking essentially for free. Also, I just got here, like, four days ago and haven't even met most of these people yet, so I may be faking my way through major portions of this interview.

McDermott: Would I love Peterman to go full Dak Prescott this year and make me look like a coaching wizard? Absolutely. But yeah, when August arrives, Taylor might be the only one who can get through a 7-on-7 drill without somehow getting sacked by a trash barrel, so let's wait and see.

Fifth-round draft choice Nathan Peterman may be the Bills' quarterback of the future, even if they aren't ready to admit it just yet.
Fifth-round draft choice Nathan Peterman may be the Bills' quarterback of the future, even if they aren't ready to admit it just yet.Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press/Associated Press

Taylor is a veteran quarterback in a "prove it" situation. Lots of quarterbacks find themselves in the same boat every year. Alex Smith is one of them. Full-time custodial quarterbacks like Josh McCown get rich by going from city to city and getting hurdled by the latest prospect.

The difference is that Taylor is much better than McCown and Co., and even when a starting quarterback is on a banana peel, most coaches and general managers are too polite to mention it.

The executives and coaches who handpicked Taylor, offered him an inside track to the starting job and signed him to an extravagant contract are long gone. The new bosses see Taylor as tangled within the last administration's web of intrigue. They may be too inexperienced with the media to realize what a garbled message they are sending, or they may be purposefully garbling the message in a bumbling attempt to motivate their quarterbacks or plant the seeds for Taylor's departure.

The problem is that Taylor is a pretty good quarterback, and teams that toss aside pretty good quarterbacks for silly reasons are doomed to take the field with awful ones.

Maybe McDermott and Beane will figure that out over the next few months. It better happen before they talk themselves out of it.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.