Almost three weeks after being eliminated from the playoffs, where do the Buffalo Bills stand at quarterback?
Head coach Sean McDermott declined to address the future of Tyrod Taylor with reporters Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, saying, "We're still going through our evaluation and those decisions will come at some point down the road here."
Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2018 league year, which begins March 14. The Bills could decide to pay the bonus and later a make a decision on trading or releasing him, but it seems more probable the organization will avoid an unnecessary cost and make a call about Taylor before the roster bonus is due.
One way or another, the Bills must weigh several options at quarterback this offseason. There at least 11 possible choices for how Buffalo might construct its roster at the most important position, and an even greater number of available quarterbacks who could fill specific roles.
McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane said this week that they have yet to make decisions about their quarterbacks for 2018, but here is a ranking of what seems to be the most likely to least likely paths they might take:
1. Trade or release Taylor and keep Nathan Peterman; sign a veteran backup and draft an early-round quarterback. This would be the most cost-effective option, avoiding a large salary-cap hit from Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith and clearing most of Taylor's $18 million cap hit off the books. Not signing a sure-fire veteran starter would put the Bills under the gun in April to draft -- and potentially trade up to select -- a quarterback who could potentially start as a rookie, but the worst-case scenario would be the veteran backup acting as a bridge QB to keep the seat warm for the rookie to start down the road.
2. Trade or release Taylor and keep Peterman; sign or trade for a veteran starter and draft a mid-to-late-round quarterback. Instead of investing a first-round pick -- or multiple picks to trade up -- to gamble on a quarterback prospect, the Bills would settle their QB position in March by adding a veteran. Cousins would be one option, although Beane has preached responsible spending in free agency and Cousins' deal would probably break the bank. Smith would come much cheaper against the salary cap but might require draft assets to win a bidding war. Another possibility would be to take a chance on Teddy Bridgewater or A.J. McCarron, two younger quarterbacks with upside. In addition to adding a veteran starter, the Bills would then attempt to develop a young quarterback selected later in the draft.
3. Trade or release Taylor and keep Peterman; sign or trade for a veteran starter and draft an early-round quarterback. This would cost the Bills the most in salary-cap space and draft assets but would best position the franchise to win in the short and long term, which has been a stated goal of McDermott and Beane. The Bills would not be likely to sign Cousins if they intended on drafting an early-round quarterback in April, but pairing Smith with a high draft pick would give the team the best chance to make the playoffs in 2018 and beyond. The cost would be steep, but this choice would satisfy fans more than any other.
4. Keep Taylor and Peterman; draft an early-round quarterback. The possibility of keeping Taylor cannot be ruled out. In this scenario, Taylor would be the "bridge" quarterback before handing the job over to the high draft pick. Starting Taylor for a fourth season would be a hard sell to fans, but his $18 million salary-cap hit in 2018 is reasonable and would not require the Bills potentially giving up draft assets, as could be the case with Smith.
5. Keep Taylor and Peterman; draft a mid-to-late-round quarterback. This would be less popular with fans than No. 4 because there would be no clear succession plan to move away from Taylor. However, it would save draft assets to secure a blue-chip quarterback in 2019.
6. Trade or release Taylor and keep Peterman; draft an early-round quarterback. This would leave the Bills with a second-year quarterback in Peterman and a rookie, which strips the position of any experience. Consider it possible but less likely than No. 1.
7. Trade or release Taylor and keep Peterman; sign a veteran backup and draft a mid-to-late-round quarterback. This is the slow-play option that saves salary-cap space and draft assets to add a top-flight quarterback in 2019. It would not give Buffalo a strong chance to make the playoffs in 2018 and could disappoint fans, but it could be a backup plan if they cannot acquire a veteran starter or miss on a quarterback early in the draft.
8. Keep Taylor and Peterman; make no other moves. This would be the status quo. Similar to how former general manager Doug Whaley was strangely satisfied with his quarterback depth chart of EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel in the 2014 offseason, this would be a mistake for Beane and McDermott.
9. Keep Taylor and Peterman; sign or trade for a veteran backup. The Bills would be passing up all quarterbacks in the 2018 draft and keeping Taylor, which would upset fans and leave the team without any long-term direction at the position.
10. Keep Taylor and Peterman; sign or trade for a veteran starter. Keeping Taylor's $18 million cap hit and adding another large cap hit for a veteran starter would not make sense financially.
11. Trade or release Taylor and keep Peterman; draft a mid-to-late-round quarterback. The problem here would be the same as No. 6, except the Bills would be without any legitimate starting option. That would be less than ideal.