Brandon Beane evaded questions about quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s future with the alacrity of LeSean McCoy evading tacklers on a touchdown run. A zig here, a zag there, and a bunch of answers that offered little but said a lot.
“We’re not satisfied with the whole offense, and it wasn’t just about Tyrod,’’ the Buffalo Bills first-year general manager said at the team’s season-ending press conference Tuesday afternoon. “There’s a lot of hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.”
In a follow-up, an inquiring mind asked Beane if Taylor had the ability to consistently make the throws a championship-caliber NFL quarterback needs to make.
“Tyrod has a lot of ability,’’ he said, again dancing around the topic. “He really does, and we saw some of those things. He did a lot of good things this year. But he’ll tell you he’s got some weaknesses to work on just like a lot of other guys, and the great thing about Tyrod (is that) you can never question his work ethic. The guy is in here early. Often, he’s watching film, he’s stretching, he’s in with the trainer — he does so many good things. He gives himself the best chance to succeed on the field by what he does off (the field) and I know he knows the areas he’s got to work on. I have no doubt he’s going to continue to improve.”
Interpretation: Taylor will be playing football elsewhere in 2018 and the next starting Bills quarterback isn’t on the roster. Of course, I thought the same thing last year at this time, but my sense is that Beane and coach Sean McDermott have seen enough. Like the crazy fan who burned his Taylor jersey after Sunday’s 10-3 wild card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, they’re ready to move on.
With a huge assist from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Taylor will forever be remembered as Buffalo’s signalcaller when it finally ended its 17-year playoff drought. But he’ll also be remembered as the guy who completed just 46 percent of his passes for 137 yards as the Bills mustered a measly field goal in the biggest game of his seven-year NFL career. The afternoon ended with Taylor being escorted to the locker room after suffering a concussion on a brutal and questionable hit while attempting to scramble for a first down with less than a minute remaining.
I felt badly for him because he’s a genuinely good guy who has been a first-class ambassador for his team and community. He deserved a more triumphant exit than this.
Beane is right. It wasn’t just about Taylor. The quarterback clearly has been hamstrung with a sub-par receiving corps, one that lacks a legitimate home-run threat that prevents defenses from ganging eight or nine guys near the line of scrimmage. His interception against the Jaguars was a ball tight end Logan Thomas should have caught, one of several passes mishandled by Bills receivers.
Taylor also was hurt by the play-calling and game-planning of coordinator Rick Dennison, who turned a 16th-ranked offense into a 29th-ranked offense in his first season with Buffalo.
But much of this is about Taylor, whose inconsistency contributed to a passing game that ranked second-to-last with 176 passing yards per game. He has a penchant for not trusting himself, not pulling the trigger. This has resulted in the lowest interception percentage in NFL history — which is great — but it also has resulted in too many plays not being consummated, as CBS analyst Tony Romo adroitly noted during Sunday’s telecast. There were times when Bills receivers were wide open and Tyrod either didn’t see them or misfired — including one that would have been a sure touchdown.
When the Bills trail late in games, especially on the road, you rarely have confidence they will rally. And this is one of those things that separate the great quarterbacks from the good and the good from the mediocre. In three seasons as a starter, Tyrod has engineered just four fourth-quarter comebacks.
Again, I feel badly it hasn’t worked out for him. He is a good leader. He showed how mentally tough he was when McDermott benched him in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman before the Chargers game in Los Angeles. Yes, the Bills had just been outscored 81-31 in losses to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. But with a 5-4 record they were still very much in playoff contention.
“Tyrod could have easily gone off to the media and created division,’’ Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told ESPN. “But he didn’t make an issue about it at all. I’m sure it was eating him up inside, like it would eat up anybody being sat down. But he understood it’s team over self. That’s the type of stand-up guy he is.’’
After the Peterman experiment exploded with five first-half interceptions in a 30-point loss, Taylor returned to the lineup and helped Buffalo right itself with a 16-10 win against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Despite averaging just 15.7 points per game down the stretch, the Bills managed to win four of their final six. But their anemic offense caught up to them in the playoffs
Buffalo may attempt to trade Taylor in hopes of procuring a fourth-round pick. If that strategy fails, they can release him before St. Patrick’s Day and avoid paying his $6 million roster bonus.
The Bills will take a hard-look at available veterans, particularly Alex Smith, who appears expendable after the Chiefs’ collapse in a wild card loss to Tennessee. Beane has stock-piled draft capital, with two picks in each of the first two rounds. If the Bills love Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, they’re going to have to bundle picks in order to move up. Or they might decide to stay put and hope a Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield drops to the 21st spot.
Taylor had his moments in Buffalo. Just not enough of them. He’s a good guy. I wish him well.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.