Bills have $27.5 million Tyrod Taylor decision riding on coaching swap

Rex Ryan's decision to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman six days into the regular season raised eyebrows because through the first 18 games of Ryan's tenure with the Buffalo Bills, it has been his defense -- and not Roman's offense -- that has been the weaker link.

But let's not ignore the offense's problems, either. After all, this was a group that was booed by some in the home crowd last Thursday at New Era Field when its first pass attempt was a 2-yard loss to tight end Charles Clay.

Through Sunday's games, the Bills rank 30th in offensive yards per game (276.5) and 29th in third-down conversion rate (26.1 percent), averages that are both well below what the team posted last season (360.9 yards per game and 37.9 percent on third downs). Having left tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) out since the second quarter of the opener hasn't helped, nor has Sammy Watkins' lingering foot injury.

The Bills' biggest offensive question mark, however, remains Tyrod Taylor. The team has a $27.5 million decision it must make on its quarterback after this season, and the development of the second-year starter now rests with new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.

Now 16 games into his career as the Bills' starter, Taylor's growth might be sputtering. Through two games, his statistics align nearly identically with his marks from last season: his Total QBR is 63.9 (it was 65.8 last season), his passer rating is 98.9 (99.4 last season), his average yards per attempt is 7.85 (7.99 last season) and his completion percentage is 63.5 (63.7 last season).

The sample size for the offense is tiny this season, but clearly that hasn't stopped the Bills from forming opinions. Ryan hinted in his Friday news conference after firing Roman that he wanted his offense to take greater advantage of Taylor's "special abilities" as a quarterback, which is inherently a sign that something has been lacking.

Taylor is firmly in the middle of the pack of NFL starting quarterbacks. He typically hasn't been the reason the Bills have lost games, but he has rarely been the reason why they've won them, either.

Lynn is now thrust into the role of trying to help give the Bills some more clarity to what they have with Taylor. Formerly the Bills' running backs coach, Lynn has the unenviable task of deciding what to keep from Roman's playbook, what to scrap, and whether he can introduce new material on the fly before a critical game Sunday against the NFC powerhouse Arizona Cardinals.

Lynn, 47, has been a running-backs coach in the NFL since 2003. He's never called plays and he's never coached another offensive position group, but enough people around the league believe Lynn has the chops to be a head coach that he got an interview for the Miami Dolphins' and San Francisco 49ers' vacancies this past winter.

One way to get noticed for future head-coaching openings? Make chicken salad out of the less-appetizing current state of the Bills' offense.

If Lynn can turn his unexpected chance at calling the shots for the Bills' offense into massive success for the Bills and Taylor, then Lynn will become a hot name on the coaching carousel by the new year. That would entail Taylor pushing his performance into a higher tier and the Bills either making a late run for a playoff berth or earning their first postseason nod since 1999.

Sitting at 0-2 with the possibility of 0-4 looking likelier than ever with the Cardinals and the New England Patriots next on the schedule, that result could be a pipe dream for the Bills.

The more probable outcome is that Taylor continues to plateau as the starter and the Bills can't overcome their early-season turbulence, resulting in a team that is out of playoff contention by early December. In that case, it would be hard to fault Lynn. The bigger concern for the Bills would be whether to shake up the entire coaching staff and fire Ryan.

But what about Taylor? The Bills would need to consider releasing him after the season.

Taylor's contract is clear: the Bills have until the third day of the 2017 league year (in mid-March) to exercise a $15.5 million option, which would trigger the 2018-21 seasons of his contract. In addition to paying Taylor the $15.5 million bonus, the team would also pay him a fully-guaranteed $12 million base salary for the 2017 season once the option is exercised.

If the Bills don't exercise the option and Taylor remains on the roster on the fourth day of the 2017 league year, then Taylor's 2017 base salary will be a fully-guaranteed $27.5 million -- the exact amount they would pay him if they exercised the option.

In other words, the Bills' choices after this season are to (1) pay Taylor $27.5 million, or (2) decline the option and release him before the fourth day of the 2017 league year, and owe him nothing. If Taylor continues at his current performance level, then door No. 2 becomes a real possibility for a team that is staring down the possibility of a losing season and a potential rebuild.

It's not a decision that will, or should, be on the minds of Lynn or Taylor as they begin their week of preparation for the Cardinals. But as the Bills now shove the offense's baton into the chest of Lynn and hope he's ready to sprint, Taylor's future with the Bills rides on what happens next.