Bills

Bills’ Tyrod Taylor finds himself having to prove he’s a franchise QB

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New Years’ Day, MetLife Stadium in the swamps of New Jersey, and Tyrod Taylor’s career with the Buffalo Bills seemed as deceased as Jimmy Hoffa, the long-ago Teamsters honcho whose body, legend has it, is buried somewhere on the Meadowlands sports complex property.

One week earlier, the Bills lost in overtime at home to Miami, officially eliminating them from the wild-card playoff chase. That defeat triggered a pair of seismic events — the firing of Rex Ryan and his brother, Rob, and the benching of Taylor for the season finale against the Jets for reasons that had nothing to do with football.

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Taylor’s contract stipulated that if he could not pass a team physical on March 11, the Bills would be on the hook for the full $30.7 million he was due to be paid in the second year of the lavish contract extension he had signed in August. Thus, with the Bills out of the playoffs, the team essentially tipped its hand regarding Taylor’s future with the team. It was ready to move on, so Taylor was a healthy scratch in New York to make sure he didn’t get hurt.

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The next day, after cleaning out his locker, Taylor acknowledged that his time in Buffalo was probably over after two flashy but ultimately uninspiring seasons. “I mean that’s fair to say,” Taylor said. “That’s what it showed. That’s what I think it showed. But at the same time, the conversation wasn’t detailed enough to know if that was the case or not.”

Turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. Sean McDermott was hired as the new head coach less than two weeks later, and he met Taylor the day he arrived at One Bills Drive. Before long, the two had forged a relationship while Taylor was at the facility rehabbing after sports hernia surgery, and the future changed.

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The Bills brought back Tyrod Taylor, and now he must reward the faith Sean McDermott showed in him. (Photo: Jamie Germano/@jgermano1/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

When the new league year began March 9, rather than cut Taylor loose, he and the Bills came to agreement on a restructured contract that saved the team a load of money, and allowed Taylor to remain as the starting quarterback for a still pretty sizeable sum.

And so, as the Bills begin training camp at St. John Fisher College on Thursday, Taylor is back for a third season, hoping to finally establish himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback.

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“I’m comfortable here, comfortable with the guys,” said Taylor, who could have told the Bills to buzz off when they proposed a new contract and taken his chances in free agency. “Even with the news guys, we still have a lot of our core back.”

He reeled off the names of LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Charles Clay, the offensive line, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Ronald Darby.

Of course, the “core” guys, of which Taylor is one, have never won a thing in Buffalo. That aside, it’s easy to see why Taylor was comfortable taking some money off the table to return to a familiar situation.

His future was uncertain in free agency, and you can bet his agent tested the waters to gauge interest before agreeing to the new deal. In Buffalo, he knows he’ll be virtually unchallenged as the starter. Also, it’s clear Taylor thinks McDermott is the real deal, and the fact that he hired Rick Dennison as his offensive coordinator, whom Taylor worked with briefly in Baltimore, was comforting, too.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott believes Tyrod Taylor can excel in Buffalo’s news offense. (Photo: Bill Wippert, AP)

Not so comforting is the fact that, essentially, for the second year in a row, Taylor has to prove his worth. The structure of the previous contract provided a relatively painless exit for the team after 2016, one it came close to exercising. The new contract is similar. Taylor has to play well, has to show he is progressing, or the Bills will probably walk away after 2017, and he understands this.

“I feel like at my position, you have to prove it every year,” he said. “Contract or no contract, that’s my mindset. It’s a standard you set for yourself and a standard we set as a team and you want to go out there and prove that every week. That’s my focus, meeting that standard and even exceeding it as well.”

Some doubt he can do it. Taylor has many detractors, mainly because he has proven to have limitations in the passing game. Sure, he’s the best running quarterback in the league, but that doesn’t win in this pass-happy modern era.

Greg Cosell of NFL Films, one of the most respected evaluators of quarterbacks, has long had reservations about Taylor.

“There’s a number of concerns,” Cosell said. “He is very inconsistent with his accuracy, he misses too many routine throws. He’s not a natural timing anticipation player. Quarterbacks who can move around and make plays with their legs, which he can do, at times I think you can compensate for that. But just in terms of playing the position the way it’s ultimately structured to play with consistency over time, that’s not a strength of his game.”

New Bills general manager Brandon Beane came from Carolina where Cam Newton is undoubtedly a franchise quarterback. He knows you have to have a viable quarterback to win in the NFL, and Beane isn’t quite sure what he has in Taylor.

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“I’ll tell you this about Tyrod; I come in early to work out with some of the guys and he’s in here early,” said Beane near the end of mini-camp. “The guy does every single thing asked of him, above and beyond, and that’s what you’re looking for. I respect the heck out of what I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I’m looking forward to watching him take this challenge on and see how it goes in camp, then obviously two weeks in that leads to games, and see how it progresses.”

Beane has never seen Taylor play live, only on film, so he isn’t ready to make any hard, fast judgements just yet. “I mean he’s got some tools,” Beane said. “He wasn’t accidentally thrown into a starting role here, he’s earned his opportunities.”

When asked about Taylor during the spring practice sessions, McDermott pointed out many of the same qualities Beane did, those related to Taylor’s dedication, his work habits, his leadership ability.

“I’ve really been impressed with the intangible qualities that are inherent, or must be inherent, to that quarterback position,” McDermott said. “I’ve watched him develop in those areas and that’s important as we look to move forward. There’s leadership qualities at that quarterback position that are important to winning football games and I think he’s done a nice job in that area.”

That does not, however, speak to his ability to throw receivers open, to go through progressions, to deliver the ball accurately and on time. Taylor has to be better at all of it or his career will remain stuck in neutral.

“To be in this league, whether it’s Tyrod or name the quarterback, you have to make plays consistently from the pocket,” said Beane. “The quarterbacks that are succeeding year after year after year consistently make plays from the pocket. Whoever the franchise quarterback is going to be, that’s what he’ll have to do.”

Besides amazing athleticism, one other thing Taylor has in abundance is confidence in his ability. He believes he’s the right quarterback for this team, and he can’t wait to prove it.

“I’ve been excited for this year,” said Taylor. “I love the new coaches, they bring a great atmosphere to this organization, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do. Definitely a big year for us, everyone knows that, we just have to keep chipping away and getting better. This team is very close and we need to make that jump over the hurdle this year.”

MAIORANA@Gannett.com

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