BREAKING NEWS: LeBron James is NOT going to be the Buffalo Bills Quarterback

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

So, how would you feel if I told you that your team was going to have a quarterback competition between:

  1. a former Pro Bowler who had two double digit win seasons under his belt and one year where he had the third highest passing touchdown percentage in the NFL, and
  2. a first round draft pick who had received rookie of the week accolades, and before which was Florida State University’s team offensive MVP two years in a row and the Senior Bowl MVP before entering the draft?

I’d assume you’d feel pretty good about that.

Now how about if I told you that those two players were Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel?

Well, that gut punch you just felt is basically how every Buffalo Bills fan feels this off season.

At least on offense, the Bills appear built for a 2015 playoff run in every respect, except for quarterback.  A dynamic LeSean McCoy arrived to head up the backfield with a reliable Fred Jackson.  Promising rookie Sammy Watkins returns to lead the receiving corps along with newly acquired Percy Harvin and Charles Clay.  And directing these elite weapons behind center will be…well, that’s a good question.

Is Matt Cassel The Answer?

At this point, it appears Cassel could be bringing up the rear as far the three man competition (including Tyrod Taylor) is concerned.  Mike Rodak of ESPN thinks that Cassel might not even make the regular season roster:

“There wasn’t a practice open to reporters where Cassel stood out among his peers, while there were at least one or two sessions where he was just downright bad. I went into OTAs thinking Cassel had the best chance to be the opening day starter, given his level of experience, but I now question if he will make the roster. The Bills can wipe his $4.15 million base salary off the books if they release him prior to the start of the regular season, an appealing option if Cassel’s struggles continue into training camp.”

I’d be shocked if Cassel doesn’t make the roster with how thin the Bills’ options are at quarterback, since even if Cassel completely face plants in the preseason, he still has the most experience of the three competitors.

Matt Cassel - Getty Images

Matt Cassel – Getty Images

Let’s not forget that he had a great season in 2008 with New England, passing for 3693 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions winning them 10 games.  And perhaps more importantly, Cassel had an arguably better year in 2010, when he even earned a Pro Bowl bid on the back of 3116 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions for the Kansas City Chiefs.  In fact, Cassel earned his highest quarterback passer rating of his career in 2010 where he ended up with 93.0.

Unfortunately, there’s also the recent lean years in Minnesota to contend with, but keep in mind that the skill set still appears to be there.  First of all, Cassel obtained a decent quarterback passer rating of 81.6 while playing for Minnesota in 2013.  And second, Cassel has had 8 fourth quarter comebacks in his career, 2 of which were in his breakout season in New England, 1 of which was in his Pro Bowl year in Kansas City and 2 of which were while he was at Minnesota.  So whatever it is that makes Cassel a serviceable NFL quarterback is still there.  Perhaps his lack of playing time in Minnesota is more to blame than a declining skill set.

Of course, not everyone at ESPN thinks that Cassel is a bust of an off-season acquisition for Buffalo.  In fact, former NFL player and current analyst Tim Hasselbeck believed that Cassel would get the starting gig and he doesn’t think “it’s that close”.

How About Incumbant E.J. Manuel?

E.J. Manuel

E.J. Manuel

I find myself somewhere in the middle, as we’ve already seen what E.J. Manuel can do for the Bills over the last two years, and it hasn’t been good.  Perhaps his 2013 could have been better but for the sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee that caused him to miss five weeks.  But being benched for journeyman Kyle Orton after the fourth game of the 2014 season, although not performing terribly during those starts, didn’t bode well for Manuel’s long term prospects.

Lucky for Manuel, there’s a new coaching staff in town.  And, honestly, putting up a combined quarterback passer rating of 78.5 over 14 games (totaling 2,810 passing yards, 238 rushing yards, 19 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions) isn’t terrible.  Heck, that’s actually better than new Bill’s coach Rex Ryan’s previous quarterback while in New York.  Geno Smith, also drafted in 2013, has had a combined quarterback passer rating of only 71.5 over his first two seasons, and that never stopped Ryan from keeping him as his starting quarterback.

How Does Career Backup Tyrod Taylor Fit In?

Tyrod Taylor - USA Today Photo

Tyrod Taylor – USA Today Photo

There’s also the possibility that former Joe Flacco backup, Tyrod Taylor might have a shot at it.  According to Taylor:

“The coaches have done a good job of splitting reps, and getting us all equal reps, getting us an equal opportunity to work with the ones, twos and threes. All of us have worked with each group an equal amount of time. That’s all I can ask for.”

It’s unlikely that Taylor will find his first ever start in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills in 2015, but stranger things have happened.  Like Tim Tebow getting signed by the Eagles.  But I guess it isn’t cool to hate on Tebow anymore, so I’ll stop there. Except to say that he’s a terrible quarterback and, at best, a mediocre broadcast announcer. OK, now I’ll stop.

Reading Tea Leaves

My ultimate prediction is that all three competing quarterbacks will make the roster, and no matter how bad Cassel is, he’ll get first shot at starting with the new regime.  But he’ll have a short leash, with Manuel up next.

One thing is for sure, and that’s what Rex already told reporters about his quarterback issue:

“Safe to say we won’t have LeBron [James] at quarterback.”

With that statement, I’m not convinced that Rex believes Buffalo will contend in 2015.  I think Rex is planning for the long run and is hoping to contend in 2016 and 2017.  Which leaves 2015 as a tryout or bailout year for all the quarterbacks currently on the Bills’ roster.

Someone rises to the top? Great, they’ll ride the hot hand.  But if not, I can see Rex going all out in 2016 to snag Cardale Jones, Christian Hackenberg or Conner Cook.

And if I were a betting man?  I’d say Hackenberg would look pretty good in red, white and blue…

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg - Getty Images

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg – Getty Images