By Paul Wanecski
t was April 25th, 2016 when Josh Norman signed a $75 million dollar contract with the Washington Redskins, leaving behind a Super Bowl appearance in Carolina. Just to put that date in perspective, it was a week after offseason workouts had already started for the Panthers. Norman had the right to take offers starting March 7th, meaning he was a free agent for 50 days; In the NFL that is an amazingly long time to be a free agent. He left the team 64 days after the NFL Scouting Combine and 3 days before the NFL draft. McDermott’s team responded by using three out of their first four draft selections on cornerbacks (James Bradberry (Alabama) with the 62nd overall, Daryl Worley (West Virginia) with the 77th overall, and Zack Sanchez (Oklahoma) with the 141st overall selections).
So why is that so important? The Buffalo Bills find number one corner Stephon Gilmore is close to leaving via free agency and McDermott finds himself in the same place he was last year when in Carolina. Initial talks having already taken place, it has been rumored that Gilmore is looking for top-5 money and that is hard to argue with; he would be the premier cornerback on the open market. Complicate that with the depth on the roster in current state and it isn’t hard to imagine that McDermott will likely have something to say about losing Gilmore. The highest paid cornerback on the roster is Nickell Robey-Coleman, set to have a $2 million cap number. Next comes Ronald Darby at $1.2 million. After that come all players making league minimum based on their tenure in the league. They are undrafted free agent Marcus Roberson (Florida) and 6thround pick (218 overall from USC) Kevon Seymour. The cupboards are pretty bare at the position. The Bills will have a chance in the NFL Draft picking 10th overall to secure a cornerback if they choose to do so. Unfortunately, the draft comes with no guarantees, which the NY Jets saw when they lost Revis and attempted to replace him with highly touted Dee Millner (which worked out so well that Revis returned to the Jets a few seasaons later). It is a mixed bag of results when drafting a cornerback that early; Jalen Ramsey and Eli Apple both player really strong this year in their rookie campaign, Justin Gilbert for Cleveland has been atrocious, and the only other player drafted in the top 10 since 2013 is the aforementioned Millner. So the question becomes less of “can we afford him” and turns more into “can we afford to let him go”. Can you say that about Tyrod Taylor?
Tyrod Taylor is currently set to cost just under $16 million against the salary cap for 2017, according to OvertheCap.com. In scope of the average pay for a quarterback, his contract is quite even in salary across all years and is relatively affordable. So what are the Buffalo Bills to do? You could look at available free agents, look for a trade partner, draft a quarterback, or retain Taylor (we did some of the hard work for you here). If we consider Doug Whaley’s history, he shows that he is pretty tentative to make roster moves at the quarterback position (remember, we had EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon as options in training camp...twice). With that being said, I would have to assume that McDermott has already built his coaching staff so it will be interesting to see what the Bills do moving forward.
Assuming the team is unable to work out a long term contract, the team may use the non-exclusive franchise tag which would cost the Buffalo Bills an estimated $14 million, which essentially offsets the cost of retaining Taylor. The Bills in current state, with Taylor on the roster, have about $25 million in salary cap space. They are currently at 42 players figuring to that number, so they are nine players short of having a real cap figure to work with. The non-exclusive tag allows Gilmore to take offers from other teams and if the Bills decide not to match the offer, they would be compensated by two first round selections.
It is possible to keep both players, but with a coaching change, it is common to see productive players get the axe. Not long ago, leading tackler Nick Barnett was shown the door in Buffalo when Rex Ryan took over. It will happen again, but if Gilmore does walk, it will be because they feel they can find his replacement in the draft (because I promise you, that player is not available in free agency).
To answer any doubts, since 2013 five quarterbacks have been selected in the 1st round, but none with the 10th pick. They have been:
-Jared Goff (2016- 1st Overall)
-Carson Wentz (2016- 2nd Overall)
-Jameis Winston (2015- 1st Overall)
-Marcus Mariota (2015- 2nd Overall)
-Blake Bortles (2014- 3rd Overall)
Quarterbacks taken in the 1st round, outside of the top 10 have been:
-Paxton Lynch (2016- 26th Overall)
-Johnny Manziel (2014- 22nd Overall)
-Teddy Bridgewater (2014- 32nd Overall)
-EJ Manuel (2013- 16th Overall)
Needless to say, teams that rank a quarterback outside of the top 3 players on the board are just simply not worth taking in the first round. With this draft class, the Bills could be aggressive to get to the 2nd overall pick if Mitch Turbisky slips by Cleveland because...well, they are Cleveland. (Editor's Note: for the value, I say the Bills grab a WR in the first then see if Kisler from Notre Dame is available in the second round) Regardless, Taylor will have already been told if he is a free agent or not and the team will really tip their draft-hand if only one of the two players (Taylor or Gilmore) are retained.