Monday was the first day NFL teams were allowed to release or waive players who are under contract for the 2018 season.
The Buffalo Bills have about six weeks to make a decision about quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is due a roster bonus on March 16. If the Bills pay Taylor the $6 million bonus, it would be a strong indication they intend to keep him in 2018. Paying the bonus would provide insurance for the Bills against not finding another quarterback, but if the Bills later trade or release Taylor, the $6 million could be viewed as a waste of salary-cap space.
If the Bills trade Taylor, they would save $16 million of his $18.08 million salary-cap number. However, in 2018 they would incur $5.56 million in dead money that would otherwise hit the Bills' cap in 2019 from the restructuring of Taylor's contract last year, which caused the 2019 through 2021 years of his deal to void after the February 2019 Super Bowl.
If the Bills release Taylor, the team would save $15 million of his $18 million cap number. Whether the additional $5.56 million in dead money hits the Bills' cap in 2018 or 2019 would depend on whether Taylor is designated as a pre- or post-June 1 release. If the Bills make Taylor a post-June 1 release -- which they could not do until March 14 -- his entire $18 million would remain against the Bills' salary cap until June 1, at which point the Bills would save $15 million in 2018 and have Taylor count $5.56 million against the cap in 2019.
The bottom line from the Bills' complicated, twice-restructured deal with Taylor is the team could financially manage to part ways with its starting quarterback this offseason in hopes of developing a better long-term option at the position.
If the Bills want to move on from Taylor, here are some thoughts on where they could turn to acquire a quarterback:
The draft: This remains the most likely avenue for Buffalo as coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane pursue their goal of turning the franchise into a consistent contender long term. Beane and McDermott were firsthand witnesses to the Carolina Panthers' rise to play in Super Bowl 50 after drafting Cam Newton first overall in 2011. McDermott also was a young assistant who watched the Philadelphia Eagles draft Donovan McNabb second overall in 1999 and later make Super Bowl XXXIX.
Drafting a quarterback, especially high in the first round, comes with the obvious risk that exists with projecting any young player. But if the quarterback is chosen correctly, it can set the franchise up for years with cost-effective talent that generally does not become available otherwise.
Beane cautioned at the Senior Bowl that the Bills, who own the 21st and 22nd picks in the draft, would have to feel very comfortable with a player to make a trade to move up, and it is too soon in the pre-draft process to know if there is such a player. But the Bills have the draft capital to move up, and there are sensible trade partners (the Colts at No. 3 and the Browns at No. 4) who would create an opportunity for Buffalo to make a move. The Bills also could decide to draft a quarterback high and keep Taylor around until the draft pick is ready to take over.
Trade for Foles: The general consensus Monday from ESPN's panel of NFL insiders is Foles' trade value will never be higher than it is now. Indeed, any team acquiring Foles should consider whether he will ever meet the standard he set in the playoffs with a strong supporting cast on offense and a superb playcaller in Eagles coach Doug Pederson. It is possible Foles could lead Buffalo back to the playoffs, but in the long term, would he offer the Bills a better chance to win a Super Bowl than Taylor would?
There also are the issues of age -- Foles is seven months older than Taylor -- and cost. The Bills would have to surrender a draft pick to get Foles, and doing so would increase the pressure for Buffalo to extend Foles' contract past the remaining one year at $7.6 million. Essentially, Foles might not be good enough to be a long-term starter but might be too costly to be a bridge quarterback until a draft pick is ready to take over.
Go after Cousins: The Bills are not expected to pursue Cousins, who could either hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent or be assigned the franchise tag by the Redskins in hopes of securing compensation through a trade. In either case, the cost to acquire Cousins might not be worth the return for Buffalo.
Add another veteran: Whether or not the Bills draft a quarterback, moving on from Taylor by mid-March probably would necessitate signing a veteran to add experience to a quarterback room that otherwise would include only Nathan Peterman. Among the names that make sense in a short-term bridge role are Sam Bradford, Derek Anderson and Josh McCown.