The past two seasons have seen the debate about Tyrod Taylor shift. What was once discussion about whether Taylor is the Buffalo Bills‘ franchise quarterback has now become conversation about his immediate future with the team.
The downward trend of Taylor’s statistical performance since he won the Bills’ starting job in 2015 has made it increasingly difficult to argue Taylor is worth a long-term deal in Buffalo. However, his strengths relative to other options at quarterback still make Taylor viable as the Bills’ starter in 2018.
Clarity about Taylor’s status seems to be on the horizon. Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus March 16, which is a checkpoint for Buffalo’s interest in keeping him next season. Free agency begins and trades can be executed the same week, which would be an opportunity for the Bills to find a replacement for Taylor on the veteran quarterback market.
In the almost seven weeks since the Bills’ season ended with a playoff loss to Jacksonville, there has been extensive analysis about the possibilities should Buffalo decide to trade or release Taylor.
But what if the Bills decide to keep Taylor?
Keeping Taylor on the roster March 16 and paying his bonus would not necessarily guarantee he is the starter next season, nor would it preclude Buffalo from swinging a trade to select a quarterback high in April’s draft.
Theoretically, the Bills could pay Taylor his bonus as insurance against not finding another quarterback this offseason, and later trade or release him if a better option is acquired.
Here are some pros and cons to consider under each scenario: the Bills trading or releasing Taylor, the Bills paying Taylor his bonus but later moving on, and the Bills keeping Taylor as their starter.
Trade or release Taylor before March 16
Pros: The Bills would avoid an unnecessary $6 million salary-cap charge (Taylor’s roster bonus) in 2018, when the team is somewhat limited against the cap. Trading or releasing Taylor before the roster bonus would free up $10 million in cap space, and the team could push another $5.6 million into 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut. Doing so would cause Taylor’s entire $18 million cap number to count until June, but the transaction should help Buffalo either use the extra cap space to help fill holes on a thin roster or roll over the cap space into 2019.
After more than a year of uncertainty about his future, Taylor likely would appreciate the opportunity to find another team in March when starting jobs are open as opposed to being traded or released later in the offseason when teams already have set their quarterback plans. Much like the firing of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison last month, the Bills moving on from Taylor would probably receive a positive reception from fans looking for an upgrade from the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing offense last season.
Further, making a move with Taylor now would make the Bills a more attractive landing spot for a veteran free-agent quarterback. It is unlikely Buffalo would pursue Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, but lower-cost options would see Buffalo as a much better fit if Taylor was not in the mix. Waiting to trade or release Taylor until later in the offseason could leave the Bills without a capable veteran in the quarterback room.
Cons: The Bills risk moving a chess piece without a plan for the next move. Executing a trade of Taylor might be difficult in the 32-hour window between the start of the free-agent signing period and when his roster bonus is due. Teams pursuing free-agent quarterbacks might not be ready to trade for Taylor until they learn whether they can make another signing. That could leave the Bills in a more desperate position to take a lesser deal for Taylor before the roster bonus is due, or could result in them releasing him without anything in return.
In the case of either a trade or release, the Bills would have a need for a veteran quarterback, which will eat into their salary-cap savings from Taylor. Letting Taylor go, not signing a top veteran free agent and missing on a top quarterback prospect in the draft would leave Buffalo in a precarious spot.
Pay Taylor his roster bonus but later trade or release him
Pros: The Bills would be eating $6 million of Taylor’s 2018 salary-cap charge, which could make him more attractive for a trade partner that would then only be inheriting a one-year deal with a $10 million salary and only $1 million guaranteed. While there are several options on the quarterback market this March that could make Taylor less valuable in a trade, there could be fewer players available in August in the event of a training camp injury. Such desperation allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to net a first-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings in September 2016 for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater‘s knee injury. The Eagles turned the offense over to then-rookie Carson Wentz, and the Bills could theoretically start a rookie if Taylor is traded late in the offseason or preseason.
Taylor also would act as insurance in case the Bills cannot acquire a quarterback they desire in the draft.
Cons: Buffalo might eventually be able to trade Taylor later in the offseason, but they would be essentially paying $6 million for a potentially higher return on the trade, which might not be worth it. Trading or releasing Taylor after June 1 would ensure that $5.6 million of his dead money hits the salary cap in 2019 and not 2018, but overall the Bills would still be paying $6 million more in dead money. With needs across the roster, that could be viewed as a waste.
Waiting until later in the offseason to make a move with Taylor also could preclude the Bills from adding a veteran in the spring. That means, without Taylor by September, the Bills could be left with only a rookie and Nathan Peterman under center — or be searching for another option.
Keep Taylor as the starter in 2018
Pros: This is what the Bills opted to do after exploring their options last offseason. It was the safe route, and whether Buffalo would have been better off transitioning to a younger quarterback is still up for debate. But the decision to keep Taylor steadied the Bills’ ship under first-year coach Sean McDermott and contributed to a playoff berth.
Because of Taylor’s restructured contract, the Bills have no commitment to him beyond 2018. That could make him an attractive bridge option who starts this season and eventually yields the job to a draft pick. The Bills might be able to find a cheaper quarterback to fill that role on the free-agent market, but that might either cost more or result in a less talented player. Taylor’s cost is still aligned with his value.
Cons: Fan sentiment can be hard to measure, but keeping Taylor for a fourth season as the starter could be a hard sell for a fan base that generally seemed anxious for change by the end of last season. Taylor has not shown he can help the Bills take the next step, and after seven seasons in the NFL, it is fair to question whether Taylor will get any better. McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane helped create a sense of progress around the Bills last season, but keeping Taylor could cause stagnation to creep in.
Seattle Seahawks re-sign Damarious Randall, moving him to CB
Randall played cornerback for his first three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him 30th overall in 2015. He has also played safety and some nickelback.
Most of Randall’s 35 defensive snaps last season came at safety. He appeared in 10 games with the Seahawks — mostly on special teams — after joining their practice squad in September.
It’s not clear if the Seahawks see Randall as an option at nickelback or on the outside.
At 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, the 28-year-old is smaller than what the Seahawks typically prefer in their perimeter cornerbacks. But D.J. Reed emerged for Seattle on the outside last season despite not having prototypical size.
The Seahawks’ other perimeter cornerbacks include free-agent addition Ahkello Witherspoon and Tre Flowers, who has started 37 games for Seattle over the past three seasons. Safety Ryan Neal has played cornerback in the past. Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair are returning at nickelback, although Blair is coming off a torn ACL.
Randall has 14 interceptions and 47 passes defensed over six NFL seasons. He spent three with Green Bay and two with the Cleveland Browns before landing in Seattle last year.
North Dakota State’s Trey Lance to hold second pro day
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance has scheduled a second pro day on April 19, sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
Lance held his first pro day in front of 30 NFL teams on March 12. Lance completed 58 of his 66 attempts during the workout, but didn’t participate in the other drills.
Lance is not the only quarterback prospect holding a second pro day. Justin Fields will work out for NFL teams during Ohio State’s second pro day on Wednesday. Fields’ second pro day was first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by ESPN.
The NFL draft will be held April 29-May 1.
Is Camaron Cheeseman, aspiring dentist, the NFL draft’s top long-snapper?
Back in 2018, No. 12 Michigan was holding on to a 13-7 lead over No. 15 Wisconsin during the first drive of the second half.
The Wolverines were facing a fourth-and-6 from their own 44 and lined up to punt. As they got the kick away, a flag came out for roughing the snapper, giving Jim Harbaugh’s squad a fresh set of downs.
Five plays later, the Wolverines were in the end zone, the first of 25 consecutive points in a 38-13 rout of the Badgers.
But that would all come later. For a moment, those watching the game were consumed by the name of the long-snapper on the receiving end of the penalty: Camaron Cheeseman.
“All the Wisconsin fans are like, ‘Why didn’t he come to Wisconsin?'” Cheeseman said.
Ever since he could remember, his last name has always been a point of discussion.
“People always ask me, ‘Is it Cheese-man or is it Cheese-min?’ And I’m like, ‘I think it’s Cheese-min.’ … But yeah, people just call me ‘Cheese.'”
And Cheeseman notes that the fun doesn’t stop there, since his first name means “shrimp” in Spanish.
“So it’s like Shrimp Cheeseman is my name,” he said. “I’ve never seen anybody else spell it that way, and I can never get a keychain at a [gift shop].”
But in a couple of weeks he might be able to find his name on an NFL draft card. Because while the name might be the first thing you notice about Cheeseman, he’s also one of the nation’s top long-snappers, currently at No. 2 in Mel Kiper Jr.’s rankings. (Each of the past six drafts has seen one long-snapper selected.)
There’s not a lot of glory for long-snappers. Their greatness can’t be measured by completions, yards or touchdowns, and attention usually comes only when they make a mistake.
To have one of the 32 long-snapping jobs in the NFL requires consistency, and that’s what Cheeseman and his coach Casey Casper of Kohl’s Kicking, Punting, and Long Snapping go for. Keeping that consistency after the past year has been a challenge, but one he’s been able to meet.
Cheeseman says he opted out of the 2020 season because Harbaugh told him a scholarship wasn’t available. (The former walk-on had been awarded a scholarship back in 2018.) At the time, Cheeseman needed to know if he would have one before renewing the lease on his apartment in Ann Arbor.
A native of New Albany, Ohio, Cheeseman and his family weren’t in a position to pay out-of-state tuition and, with the added uncertainty due to the pandemic, he decided to forego a final season and train for the NFL from home.
“A few weeks later, that’s when they brought the Big Ten season back and I was home,” Cheeseman said. “And I couldn’t do anything about it. I was helpless at that point. I already left, I graduated.”
“It was emotionally draining,” he added. “It was unfortunate. It was tough for me. That was my first season in 14 years I hadn’t played football.”
At that point, Casper said, “I told him, ‘You know that taking a year off like this kind of sets you back because these guys that are still playing are going to be training with the team and working with the team. And you know, the food, resources, you name it, just gotta work that much harder.
“‘It’s gonna be that much more enjoyable when you make it, but it’s going to be that much harder. You need to stay after it.'”
So throughout the fall of 2020 and into 2021, Cheeseman held himself accountable. He purchased a tripod for his iPad so he could take better film of himself. He would send film to Casper, and they’d go over it trying to pick out things he could do better.
“It’s cool where he’s gotten to with his knowledge of the game, just the little nuances,” Casper said. “It’s been fun for him and I because that’s what I do for a living, I break down long-snapping and film, tens of thousands of clips a year and figure out little things and why, and talk to guys like him and other NFL guys, and it’s just cool to have that. Guys that take it to that level where he’s a student of it, it’s like he’s becoming an expert kind of thing.
“How can we get better? How can we get faster, better rotation, more accuracy, all that stuff?”
Cheeseman takes those little details with his mechanics to his workouts, and takes it a step further by making his workouts feel as close to game situations as possible.
“A lot of times you’ll see snappers just want to keep snapping back to back to back, you may have five snaps in a minute,” Cheeseman said. “That’s unrealistic to how the game is. I kind of like to picture the situation. I may just stand over the side, and then I might do a little jog out to the ball. Visualize the fronts, visualize four guys on my left, four guys on my right, or five guys on my left, three guys on my right. And picture what the personnel protection is going to tell me and take my specific steps.”
Michigan’s pro-style punt system is also an advantage for Cheeseman. Most college teams run spread punts, where they snap the ball, and immediately run downfield. So for most long-snappers entering the NFL, there’s an adjustment.
“Easily the hardest part of being a good NFL snapper is your blocking,” Casper said. “Because you have to snap a ball, backpedal, catch up to a guy that’s in a dead sprint next to you. It’s very, very difficult to do and that’s why guys lose their jobs, is blocking. Cam’s been doing that already for three, four years, and he’s training on that. He’s not having to learn all that stuff now.
“He just checks every box. He really does.”
The rest of Cheeseman’s days are filled with taking an anatomy class at Columbus State Community College in order to be able to attend dental school at Ohio State. He took the Dental Admission Test (DAT) back in August, and scored over the 92 percentile on the exam, which helped him get into Ohio State.
Along with his workouts and classwork, Cheeseman has been working at an orthodontic practice in Gahanna, Ohio. He checks the wellness of patients who come in by taking temperatures, handing out mouthwash and having them fill out symptom forms.
And while Cheeseman has dental school in front of him before he can actually practice dentistry (presumably after football), he already has impressed Dr. James McNamara in Ann Arbor, who has been working in the field for half a century.
“He’s taking this NFL thing really seriously,” McNamara said. “But he’s taking the dentistry thing just as much. I mean, he got admitted to Michigan and Ohio State on his own merits. This wasn’t because he was a football player, I can tell you that.”
McNamara has known Cheeseman since 2018, and started inviting him to observe at his office. Eventually McNamara hired Cheeseman as a research assistant through the University of Michigan, where the two co-authored the first significant article on the carriere appliance, which is a method of fixing an underbite.
“To be a co-author on a major paper as your first paper was a big deal,” McNamara said. “And that doesn’t happen very often that I would put somebody in that, but he worked so hard and was not just putting in the hours, but was putting in the mental time to understand the significance of what we were doing.”
As far as dentistry and dental school goes, Cheeseman said, “It’s kind of just like a security blanket. I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, and I applied, and I got accepted. So I have that in my back pocket.
“But if the NFL works out this year, then I’ll just reapply.”
For now, he’ll keep grinding in the run-up to the draft.
“Long-snapping is unique, you have to be perfect,” Casper said. “That’s the expectation. And it’s unachievable, but you can keep working towards it.”
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