Topics this week include Tyrod Taylor's future with the Buffalo Bills, quarterbacks who declare for the NFL draft before they have four seasons of college football under their belts, the turnover of NFL head coaches, a pair of top 2014 draft picks who will meet on the postseason stage and first-year coaches who have had quick success.
Is Tyrod Taylor's time in Buffalo over?
When the Bills didn't play quarterback Tyrod Taylor in their regular-season finale on Sunday against the New York Jets, it sent the message that the team does not intend to pick up the $15.5 million option bonus in his contract that they have until March 11 to decline or exercise.
Picking up the option would guarantee Taylor $30.75 million over the life of the contract, tying him to Buffalo for the next five seasons, and the Bills don't have any intention of paying it.
Taylor's core muscle surgery was performed this week with the Bills being aware of, and involved in the process to have it done, per league sources. This was not a surprise to the Bills. Taylor was diagnosed with a core muscle issue late in the season and played with it until Week 17. Bills doctors told Taylor that surgery was possible and they even recommended that he visit Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia. Dr. Meyers determined there was no medical alternative; surgery was the only option. Taylor's recovery is expected to be six to eight weeks, possibly longer.
Buffalo is instead planning to move on from Taylor, despite the fact that their scoring has increased dramatically since he arrived. The year before he got to Buffalo, the Bills were 26th, and they've been 10th and 11th in the two years he has started. He's clearly a huge part of the difference.
He also was seventh in Total QBR last season, and ninth in 2016. People in that company get major dollars.
-- Adam Schefter
There is such thing as too soon
When Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya announced he would forego his senior season to enter the 2017 NFL draft, there were a few personnel men who were shaking their heads. One cautioned that Kaaya would be wise not to enter into an oral or written agreement with an agent because it would remove the one back-door escape he has from his decision to turn pro: Underclassmen have 72 hours following the Jan. 16 deadline to submit for the draft to withdraw their name and maintain NCAA eligibility.
Kaaya is projected to be selected between the third and fifth rounds of the upcoming draft, if he stays the course. There are no guarantees with that assessment from the NFL's college advisory committee.
But here is what's being whispered in the ears of these college players and their parents: Forget the "grade," it's a weak quarterback class and NFL teams always reach for quarterbacks.
Sounds logical. Only it's full of flaws.
Dak Prescott was drafted in the fourth round and look how that worked out. Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round. Great things can happen, for sure. But here's the deeper thought: Brady spent four years at Michigan and Prescott spent five years at Mississippi State. Their maturity was beneficial for a lot of reasons.
The general rule is that if you're a quarterback and you have no certainty of being a top draft pick, you're better off staying in school.
Of the 12 quarterbacks starting in the NFL who were underclassmen when they entered the NFL, 10 of them were top-three picks. The other two are Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, the latter of whom actually spent four years at Miami (Ohio), but had a redshirt season and was technically an underclassman when he was the 11th pick of the 2004 draft.
Current NFL starting quarterbacks who had four-season college careers: Brady, Prescott, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Trevor Siemian, Ryan Tannehill, Tyrod Taylor, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson and Connor Cook, who will start for the Raiders on Saturday.
That's not even to mention Tony Romo's four-year career at Eastern Illinois. He was an underrated free agent out of a Division I-A college, but he honed his gifts, had a great senior season and was physically and socially mature.
Brock Osweiler was a junior with only one full season of starting at Arizona State, and he went 57th overall as a second-round pick to Denver, where he really didn't play until his fourth season due to Peyton Manning's injuries.
So, yes, if you're Luck, Newton, Stafford, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford or even Blake Bortles or Robert Griffin III -- reasonably assured of being a top draft pick or better -- then the bet is worth making if you really want to bypass your senior season. Just don't listen to the other kind of quarterback whisperers, whose words satisfy your dreams without a dose of honest reality. Those dreams have become nightmares filled with regret.
And, remember, those players who declare for the draft can still make a U-turn by Jan. 19.
-- Chris Mortensen
Rate of turnover
The tumultuous nature of being an NFL coach is best captured by the head coaches hired from 2009 through 2013, a five-year stretch not that long ago.
During that time, the league hired 31 head coaches, and of them, only six remain: Seattle's Pete Carroll, Dallas' Jason Garrett, Carolina's Ron Rivera, Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano, Kansas City's Andy Reid and Arizona's Bruce Arians.
Twenty-five others already have been fired, which just goes to show most coaches are just being hired to one day be fired.
-- Adam Schefter
Hits and misses in the 2014 draft
When Houston and Oakland square off in a wild-card matchup Saturday, two of the top picks from the 2014 NFL draft will be showcased: Jadeveon Clowney, who went to the Texans with the first overall pick, and Khalil Mack, who went four picks later to the Raiders.
What's interesting are the three players who were sandwiched between the two.
At No. 2, the Rams selected offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who was a healthy inactive for a game this season and struggled when he did play. At No. 3, the Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles, who spent this season struggling to play through two separated shoulders and wrist tendinitis. And at No. 4, the Bills selected wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who is scheduled to undergo another foot surgery during what has already been a medically challenged career.
After his own medical issues, Clowney has asserted himself as a defensive force, while Mack has developed into one of the game's top young defensive players. Bottom line: The teams in the top five who hit with their first-round picks in the 2014 draft have made it to this season's playoffs; those who missed did not. Probably not much of a coincidence.
-- Adam Schefter
The common denominator
Nobody should be surprised that rookie NFL head coach Adam Gase has helped lead Miami to this season's playoffs. Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum knows capable coaches when he sees them.
Since 2001, Tannenbaum has helped hire four NFL head coaches, all of whom have led their team to the postseason in their first year. The first was Herm Edwards, whom Tannenbaum helped hire in 2001, when he was the Jets' assistant general manager. New York promptly went to the playoffs that season and in three of the five years under Edwards.
In 2006, Tannenbaum next helped hire Eric Mangini, who led his team to 10 wins and a playoff spot in his first season as the Jets' head coach. Three years later, Tannenbaum helped hire Rex Ryan, who led the Jets to the AFC Championship in each of his first two seasons as a head coach. And this year, Tannenbaum helped hire Adam Gase, who despite Miami's 1-4 start, has the Dolphins in the AFC wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Even after the Jets fired Tannenbaum, and he went into the agent business, the coaches he represented included Dirk Koetter, Dan Quinn, Anthony Lynn and Steve Kerr.
As NFL teams now scramble to hire head coaches, Tannenbaum has a track record of identifying qualified candidates that is difficult to match. On teams that were struggling enough to fire theirs, he helped zero in on coaches who were good enough to get those teams back to the postseason the very same year.
-- Adam Schefter
Emptying the notebook
For New York Jets fans clamoring for Christian Hackenberg and wondering why the rookie quarterback never got his chance this season, the answer was evident to others within the organization. One Jets coach said Hackenberg "couldn't hit the ocean." Another team official said Hackenberg has regressed throughout this season; he has struggled with his play and his confidence. But if there's an encouraging aspect, it's this: The Jets think Hackenberg will benefit from some time away and an offseason honing his talents. They still believe he can be salvaged and will benefit from being redshirted during his rookie season. But there are concerns with what the Jets saw this season. It's up to Hackenberg to improve.
When Dallas hosts its divisional-round matchup a week from Sunday, Cowboys running back Darren McFadden will play in his first NFL playoff game. During his seven seasons in Oakland and a previous one in Dallas, neither team McFadden played on ever made it to the postseason.
Further testimony about the frustration of facing a Bill Belichick-coached team came from this week's "Inside the NFL" on Showtime, in which NFL Films caught veteran Dolphins defensive line coach Jim Washburn telling his unit: "They're in the right protection every [expletive] time!" Yes, credit goes to Tom Brady, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
The Chargers' priority of interviewing coaches with defensive backgrounds, most recently Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith, is further evidence the team prefers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to stick around to maintain continuity with quarterback Philip Rivers. Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub is also on the San Diego list to replace Mike McCoy.
The Bills have had another strange season, and it's well-documented they haven't reached the playoffs since 1999. Even after that season, well-established GM John Butler declined several contract extensions before he was "fired," which allowed him to take the same job with the Chargers in 2000. He later died of lung cancer in 2003. Two coaches since that time also have quit on the Bills: Mike Mularkey in January 2006 and Doug Marrone in January 2014.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn's vision and development of 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley paid off with 15.5 sacks in 2016, which was one of the very specific strengths the Seahawks cited when Quinn served as their Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator. Said Seahawks GM John Schneider: "[Quinn] is a really good evaluator, he's going to develop players and he's going to make sure the player has every chance to have success in a specific role within his system."
-- Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter