I call this overthinking season. Free agency has pretty much played out, the draft isn’t for a few more weeks and training camp is but a speck in the distance. These lulls in the action allow us to ponder life’s big questions. For most players, that question is “where will I be playing next year?” If it were up to Tyrod Taylor, he’d be back in Buffalo.
“I definitely think I showed what I can do, and I definitely think that I showed that I’m going to continue to get better,” Taylor said Saturday at his annual youth camp in Newport News, Virginia. “I would love to be the long-term answer.”
Some momentum for a contract extension existed earlier this offseason but now it appears the Bills will let Taylor play out the final year of his contract. He’ll carry a $1 million base salary in 2016. That’s less than E.J. Manuel ($1.62 million) and Matt Cassel ($2 million), the two quarterbacks he beat out for the starting job last offseason.
The fact that the Bills are even considering Taylor as a long-term option would have been inconceivable at this time last year. Back then he was an unknown with just 36 passes on his NFL resume. The 26-year-old went his first four seasons without throwing a touchdown pass but made up for lost time by recording 20 last year. Taylor completed 63.7 percent of his passes while becoming the first Bills quarterback to receive a Pro Bowl nod since Drew Bledsoe in 2002. He edged Tom Brady and Drew Brees in yards per attempt (7.99) and finished with a higher quarterback rating (99.4) than Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers. Taylor also set a Bills record by going 222 straight passes without an interception, a streak that spanned from Week 5 until Week 14.
Taylor’s accuracy turned plenty of heads last year but it was his running ability that really made him stand out. He totaled 568 yards on the ground, the highest total for any quarterback not named Cam Newton. In fact, Taylor actually averaged more yards per game than Cam (40.6 to Newton’s 39.8) with a higher yards per carry (5.5). Newton won the touchdown battle 10 to 4, but Taylor’s rushing display was still impressive.
So what’s not to like? Despite Taylor’s relative inexperience, you could hardly call him an up-and-comer. He’s been in the league longer than Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill. Quarterbacks that rely on running don’t usually age well and Taylor has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game. While Taylor’s scrambling ability is arguably his biggest strength, his reckless style of play could cost him down the line. Last year he missed two games with a sprained MCL and also played through a shoulder injury.
The Bills, as currently constructed, are a team that relies heavily on the run. Buffalo led the league in rushing yards (2,432), rushing touchdowns (19) and yards per carry (4.8) last season. Only Minnesota attempted fewer passes than Buffalo in 2015. With LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams doing the heavy lifting, why would the Bills pay top dollar for a quarterback? It’s probably a coincidence, but the Bills actually posted a better record with Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel at QB in 2014 (9-7) than they did with Taylor at the helm this past season (8-8). Even if Taylor is a sizable upgrade over those two players, it hasn’t shown up in the standings.
Taylor has an elite receiver in Sammy Watkins and a year of experience under his belt. If that formula leads to more success in 2016, the Bills will have to think about making Taylor their franchise quarterback. But until that happens, he’ll continue to be one of the game’s biggest bargains.
A Backfield of Riches
Only seven players rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. That’s the fewest we’ve had since 1991. Teams are passing the ball more than ever and have been for a few years now. That may partially explain why 1,000-yard rushers are becoming an endangered species, but there’s more to it than that.
The workhorse back is what’s really becoming extinct. More and more we see teams employing backfield committees, collecting as many runners as possible and hoping one sticks. It’s a perfectly sound strategy. Dividing the workload between two or three backs is a good way to keep players fresh and reduce injuries.
The game is also more specialized now. We have goal-line backs, passing-down backs, change-of-pace backs, even wildcat backs for teams daring enough to go that route. The cumulative effect is that running backs aren’t getting 300 carries anymore, which makes it much harder to reach 1,000 yards rushing.
While some teams are still resisting—Adrian Peterson has never been challenged in Minnesota—the Chiefs have joined the multi-back movement. Last week, Kansas City signed Spencer Ware to a two-year extension while rewarding Charcandrick West with a three-year pact.
What do those contracts mean? On the surface, not much. Jamaal Charles has made excellent progress in his recovery from a torn ACL and should be ready for Week 1. Before getting hurt last year, Charles averaged 108.2 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns in only five games. Those are RB1 numbers. If he’s healthy, Charles should return as the lead back.
But coming off his second ACL tear in four years, the Chiefs would be wise to ease Charles in slowly, creating a need for complementary backs like Ware and West. Both players showed promise while substituting for Charles last year. West led the team with 634 rushing yards and played an important role in the passing game with 20 catches for 214 yards. While the bulk of Ware’s yardage came during a two-game surge in late November (210 yards on 30 carries), the 228-pounder was a consistent goal-line presence (seven touchdowns including the postseason) and actually out-touched West in two of the Chiefs’ final three games. Both played well enough to earn a role in the Chiefs’ offense going forward, which could potentially complicate Charles’ fantasy value.
Just to establish a point of reference, Charles received 92 of the Chiefs’ 118 backfield touches before his injury last year. The other 26 were split between West (14) and Knile Davis (12). Ware didn’t log a single carry until Week 7 against the Steelers. Obviously Charles was the preferred option early in the season, but Kansas City actually enjoyed more success after his injury. Including the postseason, the Chiefs went 1-4 with Charles and 11-2 without him. That’s no coincidence. Ware and West were game-changers.
Charles has All-Pro pedigree and by all accounts would have had a monster season if he had stayed healthy in 2015. But he’s another year older and hasn’t played all 16 games since 2012. Why not use Charles as the early-down enforcer with West mixing in on passing downs and Ware vulturing along the goal-line? It plays to each of their strengths while keeping Charles fresh for the long haul. Fantasy owners wouldn’t love it, but think of the last two Super Bowl winners and what their backfields looked like. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson split carries for Denver while the Patriots used an assortment of different backs including Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. Maybe this is where the game is headed.
Quick Hits: Aldon Smith signed a two-year contract with the Raiders on Monday. He’s serving a year-long suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and will miss the first nine games of the regular season … Reggie Nelson has a meeting set up with the Raiders. Despite being one of the better safeties in football last year, this will be his first free agent visit … Colin Kaepernick was present for the start of the 49ers’ offseason program on Monday. Kaepernick will receive a $400,000 workout bonus if he attends 90 percent of the team’s offseason practices. Kaepernick, of course, is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery … There’s not much going on in Kaepernick trade talks as the Broncos and 49ers have apparently reached a stalemate. The cap-strapped Broncos need Kaepernick to take a $4.9 million pay cut, but so far he’s not budging … The Broncos still have interest in re-signing Ronnie Hillman. He led the Super Bowl champs with 863 rushing yards last season … The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will not charge LeSean McCoy for his alleged role in a nightclub brawl. The fight, which apparently involved off-duty police officers, took place in February … Stefen Wisniewski has signed a one-year contract with the Eagles. A center for most of his career, Wisniewski is expected to play left guard in Philadelphia … Kam Chancellor staged a lengthy contract holdout last offseason but it looks like that was only a one-time thing. Seahawks GM John Schneider said Chancellor will “absolutely” be on the team in 2016 … Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are both underpaid but don’t expect them to hold out. Each player can earn a $250,000 workout bonus by showing up to 90 percent of the team’s offseason program. Clever contract work by the Pats … Terrance Knighton spurned the Redskins to join the Patriots last week. His one-year deal is worth $4.5 million … New England also gave Pat Chung a one-year extension. The strong safety started 14 games in 2015 … J.J. Watt played with at least five torn muscles in his core area last season. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has never missed a game … Houston re-signed backup quarterback Brandon Weeden to a two-year, $4 million contract. The Texans now have four quarterbacks on their roster, though Brian Hoyer will likely be traded or released … The Jets signed Bruce Carter to a one-year contract over the weekend. He’s expected to split time with Erin Henderson at inside linebacker … The Browns released Donte Whitner on Saturday. Cleveland has now lost both starting safeties from last season. Free safety Tashaun Gipson signed with Jacksonville last month … Here’s something unusual. One of Sean Weatherspoon’s game checks was discovered by his fiancée while the two were moving out of their apartment. Better cash that … Aaron Rodgers played golf with President Barack Obama, PTI’s Tony Kornheiser and astronaut Mark Kelly over the weekend. Rodgers made headlines earlier this offseason after claiming he saw a UFO in 2005 … Sports agent Eugene Parker passed away at the age of 60 Thursday following a three-month battle with kidney cancer. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Greg Jennings and Ndamukong Suh were a few of his clients.