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Black Quarterbacks

Tyrod Taylor led Bills to playoffs, but his bags are all but packed

The quarterback appears to have played his last game in a Buffalo jersey — for real this time

During a two-week span in the regular season, two stories were written about Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor:

After Bills coach Sean McDermott benched Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman (who would go on to throw a record-tying five interceptions in the first half), we made the case that Buffalo played itself by giving up on its best quarterback since Jim Kelly.

After the team reinserted Taylor in the starting lineup, we forecast that the Week 13 game against the New England Patriots (a 23-3 loss), in which Taylor was knocked out of the game with a knee injury, was likely his last in upstate New York. The Bills were 6-6, losers of four of their last five games, and appeared to be out of playoff contention.

But Peterman and Taylor won three of their last four games and were assisted by the Andy Dalton Fairy in the final week to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons. The Bills’ locker room went nuts. Fans camped out in freezing temperatures to welcome the team home. Donations poured into Dalton’s foundation.

But in the first round of the playoffs, Taylor was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion. The Bills lost 10-3, and that — for real this time — appears to have been Taylor’s last game in a Buffalo jersey.

It makes no sense.

Taylor, despite his height (he’s 6-1), has been making plays since high school. Named the starter as a freshman, he scored 100 touchdowns over four seasons at Hampton (Virginia) High School, winning a state title his junior year. He even spent time at safety and kick returner.

Once he enrolled at Virginia Tech in 2007, it didn’t take long before the freshman (again) was starting (again). After splitting time with Sean Glennon, the younger brother of Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Glennon, Taylor became the starter the next three seasons, leading the Hokies to three bowl games, including the Orange Bowl twice. The Hokies became the first ACC team in 10 years to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 conference record.

Ahead of the 2011 NFL draft, the questions that plague all black quarterbacks started to creep up. Taylor was the winningest quarterback in Virginia Tech history (the Hokies never won fewer than 10 games in a season over his four seasons) and was the dual-threat weapon for which teams would clamor during the “Run-Pass Option” phase a year later (he rushed for more than 2,100 yards).

But his size was a problem (as was Russell Wilson’s), and he didn’t possess “consistent sound decision-making.” (Neither did Johnny Manziel three years later when he was drafted No. 22 overall.) One scout had Taylor, the 2010 ACC Player of the Year and ACC championship game MVP, as the 10th-ranked quarterback prospect behind the likes of Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Greg McElroy, who lasted two games in the NFL. Another scout told Taylor a team would only draft him as a wide receiver.

He sat on the bench for the Baltimore Ravens for four seasons (they drafted him 180th overall in 2011) behind Joe Flacco, who, in 2017, had a worse quarterback rating than Taylor (80.4 vs. 89.2) and ran for nearly 400 fewer yards, for what it’s worth. A season later, after signing with the Bills for a paltry $1 million a year, Taylor promptly usurped EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel for the starting job.

Multiple franchise records were broken, including the highest single-game completion percentage (91.7), and Taylor, behind a Rex Ryan defense that went from first to worst, kept the Bills competitive. While by no means a Tom Brady or Cam Newton, capable of winning with a ragtag offensive cast, Taylor wasn’t the sole reason the Bills were a perennial .500 team.

Nonetheless, after averaging better than 3,000 passing yards and nearly 600 rushing yards between 2015 and 2016, he was rewarded last offseason with the choice of a $10 million pay cut or a threat to release him. Taylor returned to the Bills for 2017.

After ending a nearly two-decade playoff drought, and silently accepting his demotion to Peterman, Taylor still doesn’t have the backing of Buffalo’s front office. New general manager Brandon Beane told reporters last month that the team will continue to “look at quarterback” in the coming months — all but packing Taylor’s bags for him.

As we said back in November, Taylor was never going to be the guy for the Bills; there are only about five quarterbacks in the league capable of being that. He was — like Kirk Cousins, who also was never backed by his team — what a team like the Denver Broncos probably wished they had. With his skill set, which is looked down upon by team scouts (see: Jackson, Lamar), Taylor will someday perhaps be the difference-maker for a team.

It just won’t be the Bills.

Liner Notes

The Undefeated will profile 30 black quarterbacks leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl, which marks 30 years since Doug Williams won the big game.

Martenzie is a senior researcher for The Undefeated. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said "Y'all want to see somethin?"