The past two seasons have seen the debate about Tyrod Taylor shift. What was once discussion about whether Taylor is the Buffalo Bills' franchise quarterback has now become conversation about his immediate future with the team.
The downward trend of Taylor's statistical performance since he won the Bills' starting job in 2015 has made it increasingly difficult to argue Taylor is worth a long-term deal in Buffalo. However, his strengths relative to other options at quarterback still make Taylor viable as the Bills' starter in 2018.
Clarity about Taylor's status seems to be on the horizon. Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus March 16, which is a checkpoint for Buffalo's interest in keeping him next season. Free agency begins and trades can be executed the same week, which would be an opportunity for the Bills to find a replacement for Taylor on the veteran quarterback market.
In the almost seven weeks since the Bills' season ended with a playoff loss to Jacksonville, there has been extensive analysis about the possibilities should Buffalo decide to trade or release Taylor.
But what if the Bills decide to keep Taylor?
Keeping Taylor on the roster March 16 and paying his bonus would not necessarily guarantee he is the starter next season, nor would it preclude Buffalo from swinging a trade to select a quarterback high in April's draft.
Theoretically, the Bills could pay Taylor his bonus as insurance against not finding another quarterback this offseason, and later trade or release him if a better option is acquired.
Here are some pros and cons to consider under each scenario: the Bills trading or releasing Taylor, the Bills paying Taylor his bonus but later moving on, and the Bills keeping Taylor as their starter.
Trade or release Taylor before March 16
Pros: The Bills would avoid an unnecessary $6 million salary-cap charge (Taylor's roster bonus) in 2018, when the team is somewhat limited against the cap. Trading or releasing Taylor before the roster bonus would free up $10 million in cap space, and the team could push another $5.6 million into 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut. Doing so would cause Taylor's entire $18 million cap number to count until June, but the transaction should help Buffalo either use the extra cap space to help fill holes on a thin roster or roll over the cap space into 2019.
After more than a year of uncertainty about his future, Taylor likely would appreciate the opportunity to find another team in March when starting jobs are open as opposed to being traded or released later in the offseason when teams already have set their quarterback plans. Much like the firing of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison last month, the Bills moving on from Taylor would probably receive a positive reception from fans looking for an upgrade from the NFL's 31st-ranked passing offense last season.
Further, making a move with Taylor now would make the Bills a more attractive landing spot for a veteran free-agent quarterback. It is unlikely Buffalo would pursue Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, but lower-cost options would see Buffalo as a much better fit if Taylor was not in the mix. Waiting to trade or release Taylor until later in the offseason could leave the Bills without a capable veteran in the quarterback room.
Cons: The Bills risk moving a chess piece without a plan for the next move. Executing a trade of Taylor might be difficult in the 32-hour window between the start of the free-agent signing period and when his roster bonus is due. Teams pursuing free-agent quarterbacks might not be ready to trade for Taylor until they learn whether they can make another signing. That could leave the Bills in a more desperate position to take a lesser deal for Taylor before the roster bonus is due, or could result in them releasing him without anything in return.
In the case of either a trade or release, the Bills would have a need for a veteran quarterback, which will eat into their salary-cap savings from Taylor. Letting Taylor go, not signing a top veteran free agent and missing on a top quarterback prospect in the draft would leave Buffalo in a precarious spot.
Pay Taylor his roster bonus but later trade or release him
Pros: The Bills would be eating $6 million of Taylor's 2018 salary-cap charge, which could make him more attractive for a trade partner that would then only be inheriting a one-year deal with a $10 million salary and only $1 million guaranteed. While there are several options on the quarterback market this March that could make Taylor less valuable in a trade, there could be fewer players available in August in the event of a training camp injury. Such desperation allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to net a first-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings in September 2016 for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater's knee injury. The Eagles turned the offense over to then-rookie Carson Wentz, and the Bills could theoretically start a rookie if Taylor is traded late in the offseason or preseason.
Taylor also would act as insurance in case the Bills cannot acquire a quarterback they desire in the draft.
Cons: Buffalo might eventually be able to trade Taylor later in the offseason, but they would be essentially paying $6 million for a potentially higher return on the trade, which might not be worth it. Trading or releasing Taylor after June 1 would ensure that $5.6 million of his dead money hits the salary cap in 2019 and not 2018, but overall the Bills would still be paying $6 million more in dead money. With needs across the roster, that could be viewed as a waste.
Waiting until later in the offseason to make a move with Taylor also could preclude the Bills from adding a veteran in the spring. That means, without Taylor by September, the Bills could be left with only a rookie and Nathan Peterman under center -- or be searching for another option.
Keep Taylor as the starter in 2018
Pros: This is what the Bills opted to do after exploring their options last offseason. It was the safe route, and whether Buffalo would have been better off transitioning to a younger quarterback is still up for debate. But the decision to keep Taylor steadied the Bills' ship under first-year coach Sean McDermott and contributed to a playoff berth.
Because of Taylor's restructured contract, the Bills have no commitment to him beyond 2018. That could make him an attractive bridge option who starts this season and eventually yields the job to a draft pick. The Bills might be able to find a cheaper quarterback to fill that role on the free-agent market, but that might either cost more or result in a less talented player. Taylor's cost is still aligned with his value.
Cons: Fan sentiment can be hard to measure, but keeping Taylor for a fourth season as the starter could be a hard sell for a fan base that generally seemed anxious for change by the end of last season. Taylor has not shown he can help the Bills take the next step, and after seven seasons in the NFL, it is fair to question whether Taylor will get any better. McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane helped create a sense of progress around the Bills last season, but keeping Taylor could cause stagnation to creep in.