There are two types of teams in the NFL: those that have a QB who's good enough to win a championship and those that don't. On any given week, there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL -- but there aren't 32 human beings on the face of this Earth capable of providing championship-caliber quarterback play.
Unfortunately for the Buffalo Bills -- and, more specifically, Rex Ryan -- they fall into the latter category. The Bills don't appear to have a championship-caliber signal caller on the roster, despite the fact that they spent a first-round pick on the position just two years ago. This is troubling for Ryan because history tells us that, in order to have a successful run as a new head coach, you need to identify your franchise quarterback in your first year of employment.
That said, I did find the race pretty fascinating from a coaching perspective, given that the three quarterbacks possess such drastically different skill sets. Cassel's the typical vested veteran who has shown flashes but lacks the consistency to enjoy sustained success. Taylor's the highlight-reel athlete who has yet to start a game in four NFL seasons. And Manuel, the first-round pick alluded to above, fits somewhere in between. Having three QBs with three divergent styles presents quite the challenge, given how each could differently affect the overall offensive chemistry and identity of the unit.
So did Rex make the right move? Well, let me reassess the three options at his disposal:
EJ Manuel: Given that he was taken with the No. 16 overall pick in 2013, it would have been ideal for him to be deemed "the guy." Current general manager Doug Whaley was the assistant GM when Manuel was selected, so he has some ownership of the pick. The Bills didn't draft a QB this year -- of course, it didn't help that they didn't have a first-round selection, thanks to the draft-day trade that landed them Sammy Watkins in 2014 -- so Ryan also accepts some ownership of the situation. Manuel has the basic abilities to be successful, but multiple injuries have robbed him of valuable time in his first two seasons, and inherently, we don't know if Manuel is greater than the sum of his parts. His size, arm strength and athleticism all look good on paper, but entering his third season in the NFL, his production still resembles that of a rookie -- with a 58.6 career completion percentage and almost as many turnovers (15) as touchdown passes (16). Despite this lackluster production, when Manuel played in the last couple years -- in my perspective -- the game did not seem too big for him. Therefore, I see him as Buffalo's best long-term bet. But in today's NFL, when it comes to job security, there is no such thing as the long term. Manuel brings an old coaching adage to mind: "Son, your potential is going to get me fired."
Matt Cassel: We have seen this movie before. Cassel's Cinderella story of taking over for Tom Brady and leading the Patriots to an 11-win season is well-documented -- but, quite frankly, it's old news. More old news: The outlier season of 2010, when Cassel helped guide the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs by racking up 27 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions in 15 starts. Since then, he's posted pedestrian production. At first glance, Cassel might have looked like the logical choice for Ryan in this race. Theoretically, a proven veteran who can manage the game and let the defense and small-ball skill positions carry the day would be ideal. But that's just not Cassel. In his last 30 games, Cassel completed just 59.1 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns against 34 picks. Those numbers make Manuel look pretty good!
Tyrod Taylor: Taylor fits into a new category of quarterback that stems from what I call "Russell Wilson Syndrome." The entire league is taking note of what Pete Carroll has done in Seattle, winning with a dominant defense and a quarterback who can make plays outside of the design of the offense, especially on third down. But here's the difference between Wilson and most all of the imitators: The Seahawks' QB, in my opinion, could be productive in a season where he attempts greater than 500 throws. (For the record, he's attempted 393, 407 and 452 passes in his first three seasons, respectively.) The Bills have the defense to match the Seahawks, but not the punishing running game (a.k.a. Marshawn Lynch) to complete the formula. Though it's based off a limited sample size, given how little Taylor has played, in my opinion, Taylor is no Wilson. How confident can you be staking your future on a guy who has been in the league four seasons and attempted a grand total of 35 passes? Then again, Carroll took a chance with Wilson when no one else believed -- and now the quarterback is my standard of comparison.
So was Ryan's decision the correct one? Well, there really wasn't an obvious choice. Taylor is a flip of the coin, sure, but Manuel hasn't shown us much in 14 NFL starts. Cassel, meanwhile, is more error-prone than you'd expect an 11th-year pro to be. That's a crucial point, because given the makeup of this roster, the quarterback will be asked to just not screw everything up, as opposed to going out and winning games on the strength of his right arm. While the Bills' personnel department has struggled with the quarterback position, Buffalo must be given credit for assembling a highly talented surrounding cast, including one of the best and most diverse groups of offensive skill players in the league.
Sammy Watkins is the real deal -- a dynamic playmaker who can take a one-step hitch or a shallow crossing route and turn it into a 50-yard touchdown. Robert Woods is a solid intermediate threat, while Percy Harvin is a Swiss army knife type of player who can be moved to any position on the field. Free-agent addition Charles Clay logged 127 catches and nine touchdowns in the past two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Last but certainly not least: splashy trade acquisition LeSean McCoy. If healthy -- he's been bugged by a hamstring ailment this month -- McCoy is one of the most explosive dual-threat backs in the NFL. With all of these talents at their disposal, the Bills are likely to employ a small-ball approach that lends itself to protecting an unqualified quarterback -- similar to what Ryan did in his first two seasons in New York, when he guided the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. In those two seasons, Sanchez completed just 54.4 percent of his passes with a 29:33 TD-to-INT ratio.
Long story short, the 2015 Bills need their quarterback to limit turnovers and convert third-downs, helping Buffalo win the time of possession battle. Tyrod Taylor gets the first crack at meeting this standard. If he cannot do this, Rex must swiftly move on to the next guy. Yes, this could create issues regarding the overall chemistry of the offense, but given the career résumés of the Bills' quarterbacks, no one has earned the right to play his way out of a slump.