By Paul Wanecski
Truth be told, it has been mentioned so many times (not always by us) that the Buffalo Bills should release EJ Manuel that we decided to explore if it would make sense or not. Yes, the Bills have plenty of players to take care of with contract extensions and Manuel could/will impact all of them. Hold on, these numbers may scare you.
First off, EJ is in the third year of a four year guaranteed contract which comes built with an option for a fifth year if the exercised by the team. If he were to be cut, he could accelerate $2.8 million against the salary cap this season; the team could split that amount, pushing some of the pending cap hit to next year. His salary this and next year comes fully guaranteed, which means the Bills need to account for that plus his prorated signing bonus regardless if he is on the team or not, all $5.25 million of it. Trading EJ would require the Bills to only have to absorb the amount remaining on his signing bonus against the cap, which would account for about $2.4 million this year, nearly matching what his salary figure is now. So, the team could trade him with no cap savings, cut him with $2.5 million hitting this and next year’s salary cap (or they can choose to take a $5.25 million “dead money bomb” now), or they can keep him. Keeping him actually cares a significant amount of risk if he were to be the starter.
Since the implementation of the fifth-year option (which would impact players drafted in 2011 and 2012 currently), no quarterback selected outside of the top-10 picks has had the fifth-year option exercised. Reviewing both 2011 and 2012 quarterback classes, this is how it all shook out:
Cam Newton – selected 1st (Panthers) – Option Exercised
Jake Locker – selected 8th (Titans) –NOT exercised
Blaine Gabbert – selected 10th (Jaguars) – NOT exercised
Christian Ponder – selected 12th (Vikings) – NOT exercised
Andrew Luck – selected 1st (Colts) – Option Exercised
Robert Griffin III – selected 2nd (Washington) – Option Exercised
Ryan Tannehill – selected 8th (Miami) – Option Exercised
Brandon Weeden – selected 22nd (Browns) – NOT exercised
Even looking past 2013, where EJ Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round, the quarterbacks selected in 2014 present a different dynamic compared to previous classes:
Blake Bortles – selected 3rd (Jaguars) – given the history of this franchise with quarterbacks, adding that the last player at this position selected in the first round by this team also lead the league in total yards lost via sack his rookie season, it is not looking good that Bortles (who also lead the league being sacked 55 times in 2014) will be able to make it to his option year
Johnny Manziel – selected 22nd (Browns) – do we even need to explain this one?
Teddy Bridgewater – selected 32nd (Vikings) – moving up into the first round to select Bridgewater was a genius move to secure his rights with a 5th year option. At this point, he has shown enough to warrant the team selecting his option year, which they won’t need to do for another 3 seasons.
If the Bills were to exercise Manuel’s fifth-year option, using the contracts that are available in 2015, his salary would climb to $12.25 million. Compared against the quarterbacks who have had option years exercised versus those who haven’t, Manuel has not put himself anywhere near the class of player that has been offered an extension. In the case of a player like Ryan Tannehill (who has yet to miss a game in a Dolphins uniform), Miami is well aware that they would not be able to upgrade his position by bringing someone else in either by the draft or free agency. Tannehill is average, if not slightly above. His extension should be viewed much like that of Joe Flacco’s with the Baltimore Ravens; a bit more of a necessity compared to rewarding a player for outstanding performance.
This leads us to several important points. Picture the Bills roster minus any combination of the following:
Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Marcell Dareus, Nigel Bradham, Cordy Glenn, Percy Harvin, Robert Woods, LeSean McCoy, Eric Wood, Aaron Williams, Charles Clay.
The reason these players are listed is because of the salary that they currently make or are in line to receive. If the Bills are seriously considering increasing Manuel’s salary, the rubber will have to meet the road somewhere. Can you find a more serviceable (or equally serviceable) player elsewhere for less money than what Manuel will get? Most likely you would be able to. Also, the fifth-year option is based on the salary of the 3rd-25th highest paid players at the position the year prior to the option being active. Players like Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers will all impact the total dollar that will be offered to Manuel because of the money they make. The Bills can exercise and retract the fifth-year option if they choose, but cannot do so if the player is injured. Given the way Manuel’s seasons have gone, it is risky to select his option as the team may not be able to rescind. If we are judging a player solely based on who the coordinator is, it is highly unlike that in 3 years that same coordinator will be employed by the team. Successful coordinators are offered college and professional head coaching roles, so if Greg Roman can help Manuel develop, that is different than if he can cover up Manuel’s flaws. Watch Colin Kaepernick this season to see if he shows any progress in development compared to his string of starts under Roman.
We noticed on a specific Buffalo Bills group on Facebook (“Bills Fanatics” specifically) that when asked about if the organization could trade for a quarterback, Zach Mettenberger in Tennessee was the clear-cut favorite. The stipulation was using the Bills fifth round selection in 2016 in the trade. Connor Shaw from Cleveland was mentioned, AJ McCarron with the Bengals, Aaron Murray in Kansas City and several others were mentioned but Mettenberger was far and above the choice. He even outranked those that thought the Bills needed to do nothing. The quarterbacks just mentioned are all realistic options; none are starting quarterbacks under their current team.
Would the organization want to start over with another quarterback? None ever do unless the one that they have is an absolute dumpster fire. As debatable as that is, the real question is if his on-field value is worth his contract value and ultimately how replaceable his production really is.