An article written by WKBW’s Joe Buscalia created some national buzz on Monday. Joe B wrote that Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel “may be done” in Buffalo if he doesn’t make significant progress this offseason. Have we really seen the last of the former 1st Round pick in a Buffalo Bills uniform already?
I would like to put at ease those who support EJ; Joe is paid to write articles that get talked about by as many people as possible. It is likely speculation as we haven’t even hit OTA’s. However, since he wrote the piece, why don’t we indulge the news with some merit and see where it leads us.
EJ Manuel was drafted under retired General Manager Buddy Nix. I have seen members of the media write that Doug Whaley was the mastermind behind the pick, and Whaley himself came out earlier on in his tenure as GM to say “we’re all-in with EJ”. He made the bold move to surrender two 1st Round picks and a 4th Round pick to add to Buffalo’s offensive arsenal with the selection of Sammy Watkins; a move made with the hope of helping EJ progress as fast as possible. The idea to surround the young and raw quarterback with as many dynamic weapons as possible fizzled out quickly, as former coach Doug Marrone pulled the plug after four games of last year’s campaign.
In those four games, EJ was extremely inconsistent– missing wide open wide receivers and often taking the safer options: checking down to the tight end or running back. Despite his inconsistent play, he was 2-2 through those four games. During interviews this offseason, Manuel hinted that he was being held back by the previous coaching regime.
We as fans have had countless discussions on whether the player under center will be Manuel for the long term. The fact of the matter is that nobody in a position of power- from the Pegula’s, to Rex Ryan’s coaching staff, and to some extent, Doug Whaley- has a direct tie to EJ Manuel. Buddy Nix was the man in charge and had the final say on the pick, regardless of whether it was a decision backed by Doug Whaley (then assistant General Manager) and the scouting staff or not.
Now, to ponder whether it makes sense to move on from the polarizing player that is EJ Manuel:
From a financial standpoint, Manuel’s cap hit for the 2015 season is $2,423,264. The Bills would be on the hook for $5,250,405 in “Dead Money” if they were to release him this season. There is no value to cutting EJ financially, his contract is fully guaranteed. You could attempt to trade him, however if he has fallen out of favor with the Bills, it is unlikely that the team would find a partner to take on the contract as it sits now. If he were cut, the Bills would be on the hook for the remainder of his contract. If there is offsetting language in the contract, a team could sign him to a league minimum contract taking that number owed to him down ever so slightly.
An argument could be made that his roster spot is more valuable given to another player if he is 3rd on the depth chart and unlikely to be active on Sundays. Many teams carry two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, however those teams usually have an established starter. As stated by Rex Ryan and Greg Roman, this will be an open competition for the starting spot at QB. At the moment, the Bills have no clear-cut starter, as everyone has been given a clean slate to win the job.
Tyrod Taylor has 35 career passing attempts in his four years in the league. A former 6th Round pick, he is as much, if not more of an unknown than EJ, in relation to what he is capable of doing on the field. Matt Cassel made one Pro Bowl during his 10 years in the NFL. Despite that accomplishment, Cassel was unable to continue his success and eventually lost his job in Kansas City. After winning the starting job last season in Minnesota, Cassel’s season was cut short with a foot injury.
Cassel’s career completion rate is 59%, which is eerily close to the 58.6% of Manuel. Cassel led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs one year and nearly did winning 11 games for the Patriots filling in for an injured Tom Brady.
EJ has been working this offseason with Steve DeBerg, a former NFL quarterback, hoping that a reformed throwing motion emulating some of the elite passers in the game will help him emulate their success.
After these past two seasons, there is no arguing that consistent play from Manuel is a must going forward. The problem for the Bills is the team is built to make the playoffs now. Whoever is starting at quarterback needs to minimize mistakes and be able to deliver the football to the talented wide receiving corps when called upon. Does this mean if EJ doesn’t win the job and show he has made progress in his development that he should be cut?
I have an example of another first round quarterback who had early woes in his career. Steve McNair started 6 games in the first two seasons of his career. He had a completion percentage of 51.3 in year one and 61.5 in year two. Winning both games he started his rookie season, he went on to have a 2-2 record as a starter his second year. In his third season he started all 16 games and leading his team to an 8-8 record and an abysmal 52% pass completion rate. The former third overall pick was given an opportunity to grow as a leader and a passer, also adding the dimension of scrambling and piling up five seasons with at least 400 yards rushing (his highest being 674 yards in 1997). McNair increasingly became a more consistent passer, and had a completion percentage of at least 60 percent the last eight years of his career. He led the Titans to a Super Bowl and came up inches short of winning the game. McNair was also named the Associated Press NFL MVP in 2003.
Patience and the opportunity for growth was given to McNair who ended up having a career filled with accolades. Unfortunately patience is something that has disappeared this day and age of the NFL and the handling of EJ Manuel is a prime example of this.
If the Bills do in fact decide to move on from EJ, I believe it to be after a fair competition. This coaching staff has nothing to lose by utilizing the opportunity to try and get EJ’s career onto a successful track.
Every draft pick is valuable, but first-round picks are seen as franchise cornerstones, and are expected to produce as such. Manuel was considered to be a reach in the first round because he was far from a finished product coming out of Florida State. That “reach” was a calculated one, however. There’s no doubt that EJ Manuel has physical tools that very well could lead him to be a productive player in the NFL, but those tools need refinement and he needs to go through a maturation process.
Manuel was thrown into the fire from the get go. No one should feel sorry for EJ because he is getting paid to be ready play at a high level even if it was too soon for him. He has been given an opportunity to become a vital player in the NFL. It clicks for players at different times and in different ways. The Bills may be sorry however if he is let go and given an opportunity to sit and let those physical tools matchup with the mental aspect of the game because with quarterbacks you never really know. In my opinion EJ isn’t a future Hall of Famer, but he has the ability to manage an offense predicated on run and play action.
If respected players like Fred Jackson feel EJ can lead a team, then I won’t argue with him. He sees him everyday in practice. He interacts with him on a personal level. This could be the fire that needed to be lit under a player who has shown glimpses of promise. Whatever the decision is, I respect EJ for the way he has handled himself throughout these past two years as a member of the Buffalo Bills. I would be sad to see him go. He might be a better person than a player, but two years is too soon to make that decision. I wish EJ the best, and hopefully it clicks for him and this is an article we can forget about because we are talking about success of the Bills with him as a member in some capacity.
UPDATE: Greg Roman has dismissed the rumor regarding Manuel. Roman gave praise to EJ saying “He’s busting his hump everyday and doing a very good job. There’s a lot of clay to mold there. Whatever people are talking about, I don’t know where that’s coming from. He’s doing a good job.”