The 2016 NFL offseason is proving to be one of the more eventful in recent memory. With the draft about two weeks away, there’s still uncertainty about the status of several starting quarterbacks across the league. The most talented one who could be seeing unexpected competition is Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
While it’s not surprising that Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick have met lukewarm interest via the trade market and free agency, respectively, Taylor would be the hottest commodity available if the Bills opened discussions. The 26-year-old is coming off a solid first season as a starter that resulted in a Pro Bowl nod and nearly a playoff appearance.
Yet, the Bills haven’t been publicly selling Taylor as their next potential franchise quarterback. Their decision to be cautious with him isn’t necessarily the wrong decision, but it will set the franchise back if they overplay their hand. After studying every pass Taylor attempted in 2015, he’s by far their best option for the foreseeable future, even if there are downsides with his game and a new deal will affect the outlook of the roster.
It’s not hard to see the Bills are clearly exploring other options at the quarterback position. According to the Buffalo News reporter Vic Carucci, the Bills have made little progress on an extension with Taylor, who is set to be a free agent after 2016. One reason why is their own trepidation whether he deserves the immense financial investment that a new contract means.
On his current deal, Taylor is set to earn just $3.1 million in 2016, per Spotrac. This makes him the lowest-paid starter in the NFL not on a rookie contract. He’s an absolute bargain, considering the Houston Texans signed Brock Osweiler to an $18 million-a-year deal and Kirk Cousins received the franchise tag from the Washington Redskins.
#Bills ate dinner with Paxton Lynch, will visit with Connor Cook, Cardale Jones, did extensive work on Jared Goff… they are in the QB market— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 6, 2016
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Bills have been highly active scouting rookie quarterbacks to find a long-term solution. At least in terms of cost, a rookie quarterback allows much more financial flexibility than a new deal for Taylor.
2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston will cost the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just $25 million over the next four seasons, per Spotrac. The Bills, who pick 19th this year, would owe a first-round pick $9.4 million over four seasons if the 2015 salary slot stays the same this year.
But are the possible savings worth alienating the best quarterback this franchise has seen since the late 1990s with Doug Flutie or early 2000s with Drew Bledsoe? Maybe, but it could be as disastrous for head coach Rex Ryan as his committal to Mark Sanchez when he was the New York Jets head coach. Instead of making the difficult but correct choice to move on from Sanchez, Ryan and company stayed with him, and it led to the downfall of a great team.
Staying mediocre at quarterback is something the Bills likely want to avoid, and Taylor was an average quarterback last season. But his performance was impressive considering he had barely seen the field since leaving Virginia Tech and he was in a new situation. There’s certainly reason to believe that he could improve with continuity, with offensive coordinator Greg Roman and a talented cast of playmakers around him.
Unfortunately the cost of business with average or slightly better quarterbacks comes with a preposterous contract, and general manager Doug Whaley may be maximizing leverage by threatening to draft another quarterback high. That type of gamesmanship is common in the NFL. But as seen with Osweiler, players don’t want to be put second, and Osweiler bolted from Denver because of the way the Broncos handled his situation with Peyton Manning.
What will ultimately determine Taylor’s fate with the team is his on-field performance. Both Taylor and the Bills will benefit from quality play. His 2015 season was a good indicator that he could continue to blossom.
To help track Taylor’s progression from the beginning to the end of the season and also get a feel for his skill set, I charted each of his passes. By charting his passing attempts and logging which passes were catchable, we get a snapshot of his strengths and weaknesses.
If I deemed a pass reasonably catchable, I marked it as accurate. I also filtered out all throwaways. Here are the results:
Tyrod Taylor's 2015 accuracy chart, measuring what percentage of throws were reasonably catchable. pic.twitter.com/5P4qG8emuB— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) April 12, 2016
This chart encapsulates his overall ineffectiveness, as a 66 percent accuracy rate is well below average. For comparison’s sake, Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins threw a catchable pass on 76 percent of attempts, Washington's Kirk Cousins was at 72 percent, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers was at 66 percent, and the Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with 63 percent.
More important are the trends we can take from this little piece of the puzzle. Roman created a vertical passing attack that relied on the Bills’ excellent receiving core and effective running game. In turn, Taylor was tasked with being an effective deep-ball thrower who could maximize his receivers with explosive plays.
Taylor executed this very well, especially targeting Sammy Watkins. The duo connected for eight of nine touchdown receptions Watkins registered, with each complementing the other well. Taylor has the ability to hit Watkins in-stride, and Watkins’ big catch radius assisted in several highlight catches.
Overall, Taylor is an accurate passer working on intermediate and deep throws. This is a unique skill set because he’s so good delivering passes outside of the numbers, whereas this is a weakness for many of his peers. Twelve of his touchdown passes came on passes at least 11 yards in the air.
Although he is accurate, his precision is quite inconsistent on shorter throws. This limits what Roman can do with his offense, and may have contributed to Taylor’s third-down struggles. Taylor tends to attack deep on third-and-short situations, even when it’s not necessary.
Whether this is due to poor situational awareness or a lack of confidence is unknown, but the Bills finished 21st in third-down conversions in part due to Taylor’s reduced efficiency on the “money downs.” That’s not good enough for a franchise quarterback and is likely an area where the team needs to see more out of Taylor before showing more public confidence in him. Big-time players rise to the challenge in pressure situations, but Taylor’s seven touchdowns and six interceptions on third down are a concern.
Roman’s experience working with unique skill sets like Taylor’s and Kaepernick’s is encouraging for a young quarterback. The offense he created for each is not overly difficult, which is partially why Taylor rarely targeted the middle of the field. He relied on slow-developing plays to open running room for Taylor, who is a fantastic scrambler.
Taylor will have to show more precise ball-placement on short routes and increase his usage of the middle of the field to take the next step in development. He doesn’t have the benefit of a rookie contract to buy him time with the front office, who seem to hesitant to deal with the roster constraints that come with a megadeal at the position.
For the organization, the biggest positives of investing in a first-round quarterback would mostly be financial. The team could trade Taylor prior to the 2016 season to maximize their return, or start him this season and net a compensatory pick in 2018 if he walks in free agency next year. But this move would be ego-driven as Whaley and Ryan bank on their ability to find a better quarterback.
The Bills are a playoff-worthy roster needing a few adjustments. Instead of replacing Taylor, building around him is the best move for the short term, with reasonable potential of becoming the best long-term option as well. It’s not as if the team is dealing with a player in his mid-30’s.
I don’t blame the Bills for taking the wait-and-see approach with Taylor. Rushing to extend him would be foolish. But showing some public confidence in him and giving him a fair chance to improve on a standout 2015 season is the best way to promote his development.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.