ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rex Ryan was true to his word.
Ryan gave all three quarterbacks a fair shot to win the starting job, on that point there was no debate. And ultimately, he was true to his word in that it would be a true competition, may the best man win.
The best man turned out to be Tyrod Taylor, who was probably the third choice back in the spring when this all began, but clearly was the best candidate ahead of Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel by the time the third preseason game was complete Saturday.
"I think that the decision, as I mentioned, was going to be tough because all three guys did a tremendous job for us," Ryan said. "It came down to basically that explosiveness that Tyrod brings to us. I think he has a great grasp of our system and again, it certainly wasn't an easy decision, all three guys made it difficult."
Taylor is in his fifth NFL season, but he has never started a
game and he has thrown only 35 regular-season passes, mostly in mop up duty as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore.
The Ravens selected Taylor in the sixth round of the 2011 draft after a record-setting career at Virginia Tech.
Taylor was the ACC's player of the year in 2010, as well as the ACC championship game MVP the same season. He set school records for career total offense (9,213 yards), passing yards (7,017 yards), rushing yards by a quarterback (2,196), touchdown passes in a season (24), and was 34-8 as a starter.
However, with Flacco in front of him, he was never going to get a shot to start, so when free agency dawned, he jumped on the chance to sign with the Bills, knowing their quarterback situation was in flux and he'd get a chance to compete.
"Waiting four years in Baltimore for this opportunity, and in free agency this is one of the things I looked for, the opportunity to come showcase my talent and get a chance to be a starting quarterback in this league," Taylor said following practice Monday.
"Coach Ryan and the Bills' organization gave me that opportunity. ... I'm excited moving forward."
And it also helped that Ryan was someone who recognized his talent.
At the time of the signing, Ryan said, "I actually tried to trade for this player when I was with the Jets. If he's not the fastest quarterback in the league, he's certainly up there with him. He's
got great run skills.
"I'm not going to say he's Russell Wilson, but he's got a little of that in him where he's able to run zone reads and pull the ball down
and be effective."
Throughout the offseason program and then into training camp, Taylor seemed to mesh well with offensive coordinator Greg Roman's offense, and what surprised some people was his arm strength and accuracy.
Everyone knew he could run, but many weren't sure if he could throw.
In training camp, and the three preseason games, Taylor showed that he can function as a dropback passer in the pocket, and he was accurate when he threw.
In three games, Taylor completed 24-of-31 passes for 236 yards, and he rushed 11 times for 108 yards with one touchdown, that a 20-yard scamper Saturday in the 43-19 victory over Pittsburgh.
The Bills now have to decide what to do with Cassel and Manuel. They could keep both, but it's also possible one of them is released.
Cutting Cassel would open up $4.2 million on the payroll, and with
contract negotiations ongoing with defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, every penny counts.
The downside is that Cassel has 71 career NFL starts and has thrown
for 15,727 yards with 96 touchdowns and 70 interceptions. He has valuable game experience and could prove useful if Taylor fails, or gets hurt.
Manuel's resume consists of 14 NFL starts, and his value as a backup is still unknown because he hasn't proven to be reliable in game situations.
However, he was showing positive signs in the second half of camp, and he played very well in the games with 20 completions in 30 attempts for 358 yards and four touchdowns.
--If it was possible to overshadow the decision on who would be the
starting quarterback, the Bills did it when they announced the release of veteran running back Fred Jackson on Monday. At 34, Jackson was the NFL's oldest running back, and it seemed like the writing had been on the wall for Jackson the entire offseason.
Jackson was starting to slow down a bit in 2014, and then the Bills acquired LeSean McCoy in a trade from Philadelphia to be their primary
back. McCoy is an every-down player, and Jackson's playing time was going to be curtailed greatly. The Bills followed that up by selecting Karlos Williams in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, another indication they were willing to move on without Jackson.
"A decision like this doesn't come lightly, something we
put a lot of thought into," general manager Doug Whaley said. "It makes it tough with everybody that you cut because they're being rejected, but it makes it tougher when you're talking about a guy like Fred Jackson.
--The Bills on Monday also released defensive end Michael Buchanan,
cornerback Russ Cockrell, defensive tackle Justin Hamilton, linebacker Andrew Hudson, offensive tackle Tarren Jones, cornerback Ellis Lankster, safeties Kenny Ladler and Wes Miller, guard DJ Morrell, defensive end Cedric Reed, and running back Ricky Seale. They also waived/injured wide receiver Austin Willis, and placed cornerback Cam Thomas on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
NOTES: Quarterback EJ Manuel had a great day against the Steelers as he completed 7-of-8 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns. ... Wide receiver Marcus Easley caught six passes for 42 yards, and also threw a pancake block that sprung running back Fred Jackson for a 41-yard run early in the game. ... Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin suffered broken ribs against the Steelers and his status is uncertain for the opener against the Colts. ... Cornerback Stephon Gilmore injured a shoulder against the Steelers, but Rex Ryan is optimistic he'll be ready for the opener. ... Tight end Chris Gragg continued his late push for a roster spot with four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. ... Cornerback Ronald Darby had a brutal night against the Steelers. He was beaten several times and committed two interference penalties. ... Running back Boobie Dixon (calf) is close to returning to full action. He had several reps in practice on Monday. ... Wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) missed the Steelers, but practiced Monday. ... Running back Bryce Brown has returned to practice after missing three weeks because of a hamstring injury.