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Bills’ QB decision: It’s about the money

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ORCHARD PARK — After nearly six months of competition, Tyrod Taylor was head coach Rex Ryan’s pick to start at quarterback against the Indianapolis Colts. It was not a decision that came easily.

Taylor, EJ Manuel, and Matt Cassel all made reasonably strong cases, and Ryan said, “I think that the decision, as I mentioned, was going to be tough because all three guys did a tremendous job for us.” But in the end, Taylor’s ability to run the read option and provide a legitimate threat with both his arm and his legs was what swayed Ryan.

What happened next came as a surprise to some, but it actually made perfect sense. On Saturday, the Bills released Cassel, an 11-year veteran who would have counted $4.15 million against the salary cap, and decided to go with Manuel as the backup.

Cassel’s cap figure, about $2.5 million less than Manuel’s, drove this decision. The Bills are trying to re-sign defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to a massive contract extension – ideally before the opener, though that could be difficult – and they need every penny they can find. Since the roster paring began late last week, the Bills have released 21 players and have trimmed more than $14.3 million in salary-cap space, second only to the New York Giants.

It made no sense to keep Cassel on the team once Manuel showed that he made strides and seems to have a nice grasp of the offense. A month ago, this move wouldn’t have been made because Manuel was looking in training camp like he has looked during his first two seasons with the Bills: inconsistent, inaccurate, and slow to make decisions with the ball. However, he played very well in the preseason games, and also looked better in practice, so Ryan cut ties with Cassel, a player who is limited in what he can do.

Manuel put up a 146.9 passer rating in the preseason, the fifth best in the NFL as he completed 20 of 30 passes for 358 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ryan trumpeted the fact that he gave all three quarterbacks a fair shake to win the job, and that was certainly the case in the practice setting. Cassel was the assumed No. 1 quarterback throughout the offseason and at the start of training camp, but once the games began, Manuel received 77 snaps, Taylor 75, and Cassel only 35. Cassel played just four series, and he completed 13 of 15 passes for 83 yards.

“That’s neither here nor there,” Cassel said on Friday following what turned out to be his final practice with the Bills when he was asked if he felt he was given a fair chance to win the job. “We went through an entire offseason, we competed, and at the end of the day I did the best I could with the reps that I got and they made a decision to go a different direction.”

Clearly, when he was speaking he didn’t think he’d be getting cut. He assumed he’d be the No. 2, but instead, he’s available on the open market and chances are he will land somewhere with 71 career starts under his belt.

–Cornerback Leodis McKelvin missed the entire training camp and preseason schedule due to a problem with his surgically repaired left ankle, and the Bills placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list, meaning he has to sit out at least the first six games of the season. McKelvin broke the ankle last year, missed all of the offseason program, and then reinjured the ankle before training camp and spent most of the summer in a walking boot moving around with the help of a scooter.

“It’s disappointing, there’s no question that’s disappointing,” said head coach Rex Ryan of McKelvin. “Here’s a guy … you talk about a proven player, he is a very proven player. He’s an outstanding returner, outstanding corner, I love his passion, all that that he plays with. But yeah, we’ll definitely miss that.”

In McKelvin’s place, rookie second-round pick Ronald Darby has struggled. He was victimized often in the preseason, either getting beat or committing penalties, though Ryan said he purposely put Darby in difficult situations to test his mettle.

“I’m confident that he’ll do a good job for us,” said Ryan, who felt Darby was improperly penalized a couple times on ticky-tack calls. “I’ve been confident in training camp and everything else.”

–Kicker Dan Carpenter is officially on notice. Despite the fact that he has made 67 of 74 field-goal attempts (90.5 percent) in his first two years with the Bills, Carpenter’s job could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t get straightened out. He missed three field goals and an extra point in the preseason as he is still trying to battle back from a hamstring injury that cost him plenty of time in the offseason, and then early in training camp.

Notes: Running back LeSean McCoy’s availability for the season opener is still in question as he and Ryan continue to be non-committal on the topic. … Running back Karlos Williams, who sat out the last three preseason games, is ready to return to practice and should be available for the opener. … Free safety Bacarri Rambo earned a roster spot, beating out Jonathan Meeks. … Wide receiver Percy Harvin did not play in the preseason due to a hip problem, but the plan is still for him to be ready for the opener. … Wide receiver Chris Hogan sat out the last two preseason games with a knee injury, but said he will be ready to play opening day.


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