Bills burning question: What more does Taylor have to prove? He's a franchise QB
Taylor's resume over the last two years is as good as almost anyone's, yet he's not getting paid like it
The AFC East is home to one of the best quarterbacks in the league, a proven passer who knows how to win, how to protect the ball better than just about any quarterback in the league, and how to give defensive coordinators fits as they try to figure out how to stop him.
That sure sounds like Tom Brady, and the Patriots legend certainly qualifies for everything you just read. But that description also applies a guy going into his third season as starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, a team that's still looking to reach the playoffs for the first time this millennium.
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As the Bills keep the door open for their next franchise savior at quarterback, Tyrod Taylor has proven over the last two years that he's the guy they've been looking for all along.
Better than you think
Taylor is thought of as a dual-threat option who's biggest value comes in his legs, but he protects the football just about as well as any passer in the league. His 12 interceptions over the last two seasons are the second-least for any quarterback with at least 800 attempts, behind just Brady (nine). Only three other passers who have thrown the ball that much have managed at little as 15 interceptions during that span.
Even when you look at interception rate, which theoretically gives the advantage to accurate passers who throw the ball way more than Taylor, the Bills quarterback ranks third in the league with a 1.47 percent rate since the start of 2015, behind just Brady with 0.85 and Aaron Rodgers with 1.27 (min. 800 attempts).
And it's not like he's Sam Bradford, picking up small chunks of yardage while letting the running game do all the work. According to a Pro-Football-Reference metric called Adjusted Yards Gained per Attempt, which incorporates passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions, Taylor is eighth among 24 passers (min. 800 attempts) over the last two years, just ahead of Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger and Rodgers.
Taylor is also one of only 10 quarterbacks who have been graded positively by Pro Football Focus for two years straight while taking at least 75 percent of their team's snaps each season, and while we'll get to whose on the list in a bit, what's notable is who doesn't make it. Roethlisberger missed enough time in 2015 to disqualify him. Ditto Brady, who had to sit for the first four games of 2016. Cam Newton struggled last year and missed the cut, while Matthew Stafford earned a negative grade in 2015 despite his impressive raw stats.
But that's not the only metric that places Taylor among some of the best in the game. Pro-Football-Reference has a statistic called Approximate Value, which is exactly what it sounds like. Taylor's 28 AV over the last two years ties him for seventh in that span among all quarterbacks, behind only Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Rodgers, Newton, Brady and Drew Brees.
Those six guys have 38 Pro Bowls, seven first-team All-Pro honors, six MVPs and 13 trips to the Super Bowl between them. And Taylor ranks right behind them in terms of value (approximately) over the last two years. He's been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since the start of 2015, even if you wouldn't know it looking at his paychecks.
The best bargain in the league yet again
After getting incredibly valuable production from Taylor as a first-year starter in 2015 while he made $1.15 million, the Bills rewarded him with a "five-year, $90 million" deal that basically amounted to pact worth $9.5 million (his guaranteed salary) over one year. One more productive year later, the team signed their quarterback to a new "two-year, $30.5 million" deal that guarantees Taylor $15.5 million over one year and allows the Bills to make a $15 million decision after the season on whether to bring him back for a fourth year as starter.
When you look at the other nine quarterbacks from our PFF sample of consecutive positive grades (75 percent snap minimum), you see a collection of talent being well compensated for their play. Wilson is in the middle of a four-year, $87.6 million extension signed in 2015 that guaranteed him more than $61 million, and the Seahawks quarterback is older than Taylor. Derek Carr just received a five-year, $125 million extension with $70.2 million guaranteed from the Raiders this offseason, and he's just two years younger than Taylor.
Kirk Cousins is on the list, and while he's in the middle of his own yearly prove-it saga, he's making about $44 million fully guaranteed over this year and last, while Taylor's windfall comes in at close to half that. Also, the Redskins quarterback is certain to be guaranteed far more than Taylor's $15 million club option next season, either through another year on the franchise tag (which would pay him more than $30 million) or with a huge guarantee on a long-term deal.
The remainder of the list is packed with veterans who are far older than Taylor and have made well over $100 million in their careers: Rodgers, Brees, Ryan, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer. The one exception is Bradford, who signed a massive deal as the Rams' No. 1 overall pick in 2010 then landed $36 million over two years ($5.5 million more than Taylor's current deal) on his second contract that he'll see in its entirety. Oh, and his 2017 salary will push his career earnings over $100 million as well.
Look, no one is saying that Tyrod Taylor has proven himself to be on the level of a Rodgers or Brees or even Wilson. But even Mike Glennon was able to land a three-year, $45 million deal that locks him in to $18.5 million guaranteed, even if he only sticks with the Bears one year. One day before he agreed to that deal in early March, Taylor saw a smaller payday from his current employer after a second straight excellent season.
Hasn't he proven to be a far superior option than Glennon at this point? Does anyone seriously expect Glennon to outplay Taylor this year? The Bears certainly don't -- they paid a fortune in draft capital to move up one spot in April's draft and select Glennon's successor in Mitchell Trubisky. That's right: the Bears gave $18.5 million guaranteed to a guy they replaced within three months before he ever set foot on the field. Meanwhile, the Bills gave $15.5 million guaranteed to a guy who's been among the best quarterbacks in the league over the last two years.
Taylor ranks 28th at his position in practical guarantees on his current deal -- again, signed this offseason -- sandwiched between two 21-year-olds who have yet to take their first snaps in the league (Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson). Simply put, the Bills are going to have the league's most cost-effective quality starter (who's not still on a rookie deal) for three years running, despite that quarterback signing two new deals in that span. And he just turned 28, meaning he's likely still closer to the beginning of his career than the end.
Another offensive scheme to master
The Bills went through a much-needed overhaul of their coaching staff this offseason, and now Rick Dennison will be Taylor's third offensive coordinator in as many years. Dennison will be getting his first extended look at calling plays on offense, and while that means we could be in for anything, it's likely his offense will resemble that of his long-time boss, Gary Kubiak (and Mike Shanahan before him).
Chris Trapasso broke down how the new offense will likely look for Buffalo Rumblings after the Dennison hire. The formations should be pretty familiar for Taylor, while the reliance on play action and bootlegs figure to mesh well with the quarterback's skill set. Don't expect too much of a learning curve, if any, as the quarterback gets on the same page with Dennison, who was the quarterbacks coach in Baltimore for one year while Taylor was still a backup looking for his opportunity.
Even though Taylor rarely saw the field in Baltimore, he made a positive impression on his new offensive coordinator.
"I was very impressed with his work habits," Dennison said in May, per the Buffalo News. "His study habits, he was always on task. We quiz the quarterbacks every Saturday before a Sunday game, go through the whole game plan, and he was always on task with that. He did everything that we asked of him."
Dennison also sounds like he's not going to make drastic changes to the offense or try and turn Taylor into a different player to fit an ideal quarterback he's built in his mind.
"Right fit or not, he's a good player," Dennison said. "He throws the ball well and he's athletic, so he can do some of the stuff that we want to do when we move him out of the pocket. But I've had quarterbacks that aren't as gifted that can still get that done because they have to defend the run. Obviously with the guys we have up front and LeSean McCoy, I think we can run the ball pretty dog-gone good. They will have to defend a lot of the field."
Expectations for 2017
Taylor has delivered incredible numbers from 2015 on for a guy with basically no time on the field in regular-season action before that. It's certainly possible that he possesses even more upside as he continues to get experience, and his work ethic shows he's willing to do what it takes to reach his potential. He's 30 games into his tenure as Bills starter -- how many veteran quarterbacks were fully formed after their first 30 starts?
SportsLine projects a similar season for Taylor in Dennison's system to his previous work, with a slight uptick in his interception rate:
Playing for his future
2017 figures to be a make-or-break year for Taylor, just like 2016 was a make-or-break year for the quarterback, and 2015 before it. But his level of play -- not only while rushing for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns on 199 carries over the last two years, but as a passer who gets the ball downfield while being as good as anyone at avoiding interceptions -- has already proven that he's one of the better talents at the most important position in the league.
Taylor has a winning record (15-14) under center for the Bills, a team that has managed a winning record just twice (2005, 2014) since 1999 and their last trip to the playoffs. And all indications are that he'll continue to be successful under Dennison in 2017, regardless of what the team's win-loss record looks like at the end of the year.
This is as good as it gets, Buffalo. Taylor simply must be this team's franchise quarterback for the next 4-5 years minimum. General manager Brandon Beane, the most critical part of your job in Year 1 is making sure Tyrod Taylor doesn't become the one who got away.
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