Bills Bench EJ Manuel and Bring in Kyle Orton


The Buffalo Bills have benched starting QB EJ Manuel in favor of journeyman Kyle Orton in an attempt to stabilize a season that may have been slipping away. The decision was somewhat notable because Manuel was drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft and was expected to be the future of the organization.  Such moves often spell the end of a player’s run with a team as a viable option as a starter.

The move again shows the importance of the new CBA in the role QB decision making,. Though Manuel would not have been very highly compensated under the old system there would have been more hoops to jump through to benching him and holding him as a potential trade piece. From 2011 through 2013 there were nine quarterbacks drafted in the first round. This season we are now down to just three starters from that group- Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill. Of the other players, Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden were given up on by the organizations and moved, Robert Griffin III has battled excessive injuries and ineffective play, Christian Ponder was benched and Jake Locker has been consistently injured in his run with Tennessee. It is almost a given that five of the nine players will not make it to a fifth season with the team that drafted them. The jury is still out on Tannehill and Griffin getting that far.

The last time we had a movement rate this quick would have been the 2005-2007 draft classes, which saw the uncapped year help teams move on from their draft mistakes. In 2010 Jason Campbell, Jamarcus Russell, Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart were all cut or traded. The year before the Broncos traded away Jay Cutler. The only players to see a 5th year with their team in that timeframe were Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, and Vince Young.

The Bills are one of the more strangely constructed and managed teams in the NFL. At almost every turn they send mixed signals about where their team is. A few years ago they signed Mario Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Stevie Johnson to big contracts. They parted ways with the latter two and seemed prepared to become a younger team. The Bills selected Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft and this year traded up to draft a receiver, a position that usually pays dividends two to three years down the line, not right away.

Their financial decisions resemble seat of your pants management. They paid Johnson a large roster bonus to turn around and change their minds and trade him for peanuts later. He is not the first player where they have paid the player offseason bonuses only to change course weeks later and release them. They put the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd but never made a real attempt to keep him in Buffalo.  At the end of the day they received nothing for him.

The decision to bring in Orton when they did likely signaled another one of their changing courses of action. I have to believe that they sent feelers out to Orton when he was under contract to the Cowboys and it was clear they never would have pushed so hard for Orton if they believed in Manuel. There was nothing on the Bills season that really hinged on the health of Manuel. They were never going to win because of him that made it so imperative to have a quality backup. There is nothing in Orton’s game or history that would indicate he would be a good mentor to the young QB. This was about replacing the QB from day 1.


Their timeline was likely diverted when Manuel won the first two games of the year, but after back to back losses it was time to make the move. It’s not as if Manuel had shown anything of merit last season or in those first two games to make someone think they could win because of him. I’m not sure any team can win because of Orton, but the team will likely have more confidence in him which is important when you get down in the second half of a game.

I think this was a move made to try and help make one last push at the playoffs. The Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL and with the decline of the Patriots and general ineptitude of the Jets and Dolphins the division was wide open for the taking for the first time in a very long time. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jackson, are not getting any younger.  Mike Williams and CJ Spiller may be in their last seasons with the Bills as may Jerry Hughes. Their offensive line has its fair share of older veterans and two of their corners will make the turn past 30 next season. For half the team this is probably about it and an opportunity to make a push for the playoffs.

Dumping Manuel does not impact any of the other young players on the roster moving forward. If the organization has effectively thrown in the white flag and is likely going back to the draft to grab a QB in the future it’s a no lose situation. If Orton is passable they may be relevant for a season. If Orton is passable and they are not relevant then there are no excuses that it’s the QB and it’s an easier to task to blow up the team. If Orton fails the team still gets a strong draft pick in the future.  EJ Manuel isn’t so damaged that the team cant trade him, which may have happened if he continued to start.

You can not wait until 0-4 to make this move. That is a backwards way to approach the situation and why the New York Jets at this point should not bench the young QB for a veteran. The reason to insert a veteran into a lineup is to avoid falling out of the playoff race. At 0-4 you are out of the playoff race and there is no reason to put a veteran out there. There is nothing for the veteran to salvage except some pride. At 2-2 Orton can still make a difference in the Bills season before it slips away.

It may not be the most popular approach in many circles but the timing was right to give this a chance. How it works out is anyone’s guess but in the future the Bills need to stabilize their business planning if they want to have a more consistent approach to roster management. Maybe then the franchise can get back to where they were in the Jim Kelly era.


Looking at the Young Quarterback in the NFL


With all the recent talk about the young QB’s in the NFL I wanted to take a look using my incremental yards matrix as to how they are performing in 2013. For those unfamiliar with these numbers that I use the way it works is that using data supplied by Pro Football Focus relating to length of passes we can determine how many yards an average QB would pass for on a similar set of throws. By comparing the two we can determine just how many yards the QB actually contributed to the team. The average YPA is as follows:

Behind the Line- 5.8 yards

0 to 9 yards- 6.2 yards

10 to 19 yards- 9.5 yards

20+ yards- 11.7 yards

In addition we can calculate the expected interceptions and use that to calculate yards allowed/prevented by maintaining possession of the ball. A turnover should lead to an average of 30.8 yards being gained by the opposition. So for every interception above the expectation we consider the player to have contributed a negative 30.8 yards to the team. In the past I have considered rushing yards, but I tend to think long term that is unsustainable and we have seen major cutbacks in those numbers this year for a number of “running” QB’s.

Young QB yards

What I found most interesting in the results is that for all the talk about how great the young QB’s in the NFL are only two players truly stand out- Nick Foles and Russell Wilson. While I have not run the numbers for the entire NFL these totals should be right at the top of the NFL. In Foles’ case it’s exceptionally impressive since he does not have as many snaps as other players. Both players are improved over last season when Foles was at -85 pass yards and Wilson at 285 pass yards. After two years of numbers like this I think Wilson has cemented himself as the real deal and should be paid accordingly after the 2014 season. Foles I think we all want to see a full year of work, but its certainly a good start.

Cam Newton is getting more love this year because his team is winning but statistically he’s worse this season. Last year he was at 388 passing yards and this year is down to 125 with 6 games to go. His turnover rates are higher as well. Cam can be extended after this season but the Panthers salary cap situation may prevent that. In many ways that might be a good thing because he has draft cache and name value which can sometimes lead to bloated contracts.  I’m not sure if you want to consider elite dollars to him yet or not. RGIII is not as bad as people are making him out to be but he is a shell compared to last season when he was close to 400 yards. His turnovers are also way up and I wonder if some of the regression is his inability to run this year.

Andrew Luck has also been overvalued the last two season, though this represents an improvement over last year where he finished with -272 passing yards. Luck is still young but right now I could see a bit of Eli Manning in there in that he gets passes for being a number 1 pick, wins games, and has late game rallys. He is not the same style player as Manning but I could see the perception being bigger than reality. He has cut down on turnovers. At this stage it’s ridiculous to compare him to Wilson, who is just a superior player.

Colin Kaepernick has crashed. He was incredibly productive last year and this year just is not. San Francisco has to think long and hard before extending him in the offseason. I doubt they offer him more than $15 million a season.  Andy Dalton is a turnover machine and if not for that would be a slightly above average player. He’s certainly helped by his WR corps. but the turnovers are terrible.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was how low Ryan Tannehill ranked. Why did he rank so poorly?  Basically anything he throws 10 yards or more down the field leads to nothing. Pin some of that blame on the Mike Wallace failure, but the bottom line is Tannehill only completes 50.5% of his passes between 10 and 19 yards and just 26.5% of his deep throws. His team calls far too many intermediate passes for his skillset right now and that hurts. 31% of his passes are travelling between 10 and 19 yards. The next closest from this group is Newton who threw about 28% of his passes in that range. Newton completes 64%. I tend to think if they had him shorten the field his numbers would improve.

Of the guys getting their first chances this year we see two camps. Neither Mike Glennon or EJ Manuel are having success passing the ball but both are at least doing something positive by limiting interceptions. This is in direct contract to Terrelle Pryor and Geno Smith who are producing average pass numbers but horrific turnover numbers. Smith’s -256 yards is nearly double the next worst player. The only players worse than him lass season were Matt Cassel (-309 TO yards) and Mark Sanchez (-332 TO yards). He is on pace to shatter those numbers. Why does his passing rank as high as it does?  He completes 46.5% of his bombs. He is below average on every other throw. If that balances out his final numbers could be scary on the season.