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What are the Bills' options at backup quarterback in 2016?

Rex Ryan made it clear at his season-ending news conference Monday: Tyrod Taylor will be the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback entering the 2016 season.

But who will be his backup? That's less certain.

EJ Manuel, who served as Taylor's backup this season after Matt Cassel was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, went 0-2 as the starter when Taylor was injured in October. General manager Doug Whaley said Monday that Manuel "has got to play better" based on Whaley's principle that a backup quarterback should post at least a .500 record if he becomes the starter.

Manuel will enter the final season of his four-year rookie contract. The Bills will pay him a fully-guaranteed $1.212 million base salary which, coupled with his $1.2 million signing bonus proration, gives Manuel a $2.4 million cap number for next season. Even if they cut Manuel, that full amount will still count against the Bills' salary cap.

Meanwhile, veteran Josh Johnson spent the final 12 weeks of the season as the Bills' No. 3 quarterback, except for a Thursday night game in Week 10 when a short week led to Johnson serving as Taylor's primary backup instead of Manuel. Johnson, who turns 30 in May and earned a minimum salary this season, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

So what are the Bills' options at the position? Here is an early rundown:

  1. Keep everything the same. This would mean retaining Manuel as the No. 2 and re-signing Johnson, if he wants to come back, for another season to serve as the No. 3 quarterback. This approach would fall in line with the Bills' desire for continuity and they could justify the move by saying that Manuel, in particular, could see improvement in 2016 after a full year in offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system.

  2. Trade or release Manuel, sign or trade for a veteran No. 2 quarterback and draft a rookie for the No. 3 role. If a team would be interested in acquiring Manuel's guaranteed contract for this season, his trade value would likely be limited to a late-round pick. If a team was not interested in trading for Manuel and the Bills wanted to move on, they could simply release Manuel and take the $2.4 million dead-money hit this season. In his place, the Bills could either sign a veteran in free agency or trade for a veteran as they did with Cassel last offseason. He could act as a "bridge" backup until the rookie No. 3 quarterback was ready to move up the depth chart.

  3. Trade or release Manuel, elevate Johnson to the No. 2 role and draft a rookie for the No. 3 role. If the Bills feel as though Johnson, who has a history in Roman's offense, is an upgrade over Manuel, then this is a possibility. However, it would contradict their approach to this season, which was to have Manuel as the primary backup to Taylor instead of Johnson.

  4. Trade or release Manuel and draft a rookie for the No. 2 role. This would likely require the Bills drafting a quarterback in the early rounds because they would need to feel comfortable with him serving as their No. 2 quarterback as a rookie. The risk here would be elevated because of Taylor's potential for injury. Taylor played through an early-season ankle injury, suffered a knee injury that kept him out two games and later suffered a shoulder injury. Whaley said Monday that Taylor "has got to learn to slide" as a runner, a point that coach Rex Ryan and teammate Eric Wood have also emphasized to the quarterback. If Taylor misses more time in 2016, the Bills' playoff hopes would ride on a rookie quarterback in this scenario.

  5. Keep Manuel as the No. 2 quarterback and draft a rookie to serve as the No. 3. This might be the most likely scenario unless the Bills feel as though Johnson is a better No. 2 option than Manuel. This would keep a somewhat experienced player on the depth chart in Manuel and also add a quarterback to develop as Manuel's replacement in 2017 and potentially Taylor's replacement as the starter if he does not pan out.

  6. Keep Manuel as the No. 3 quarterback and sign or trade for a veteran for the No. 2 role. This is an option that would give the Bills' quarterback depth chart an extra layer of insurance if Taylor were to be injured. However, it would mean the Bills passing up the opportunity to draft a quarterback for the third consecutive draft. At some point, they need to take another swing at that position.

  7. Keep Manuel as the No. 3 quarterback and draft a rookie to serve as the No. 2. This is another option, but like option No. 4, it would mean drafting a quarterback in the early rounds who the Bills felt comfortable serving as their primary backup to Taylor.