Why Benching E.J. Manuel Means The Bills Gave Up On Their First-Round Quarterback

EJ Manuel

E.J. Manuel is out. Kyle Orton is in.

That’s official. Following the Buffalo Bills’ second loss in as many games, a quarterback switch in Upstate New York has been made, head coach Doug Marrone confirmed on Monday.

And with that, the team’s 2013 first-round pick has been relegated to backup duties, a decision made solely by the coach, who told ESPN.com he did not confer with the front office prior to making up his mind.

So what’s the motive behind making this switch a month into the season? According to Marrone, the Bills simply need more production from the quarterback position.

“It’s not all EJ’s fault, but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position,” the coach said. “We have to make adjustments. We’ve got to make some changes, because we can’t keep going in the direction that we’re going. … (We) can’t keep going in direction that we’re going,”

Through four games this season, Manuel has thrown for 838 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions and completed 58 percent of his passes. For numbers that just scrape mediocre, it’s fitting the Bills are 2-2.

Manuel looked to have turned a corner when Buffalo began the season 2-0 with wins over the Bears and Dolphins, but Marrone and his coaching staff successfully masked the quarterback’s deficiencies. As a game-manager and his team up early, it was easy to do that with the running game. But as the Bills have struggled each of the past two weeks against quality opponents in San Diego and Houston, reality has seemingly kicked in.

Next up is Orton, who this offseason pretty much opted for retirement from the NFL instead of being the backup quarterback to Tony Romo in Dallas. But Orton surfaced from his couch to Buffalo to be the No. 2 for the Bills. And despite Marrone previously expressing disdain about the signing of the veteran journeyman because it “undermined” Manuel, he’ll now have a chance to fill in as the team’s glorified game-manager.

Yes, a glorified game-manager.

Because switching from Manuel, a second-year player with fewer than a full 16-game season under his belt, in favor of Orton, a career-long stop-gap quarterback with a 79.9 rating, essentially means the Bills are throwing in the towel on Manuel.

The Bills elected to draft Manuel in the 2013 draft then trot him out Week 1. Those actions suggest Manuel is the guy and they’re backing him now. They hoped for the same success Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck had as rookies. They envisioned him being a star right out of the gate; that’s what they thought, at least, by making a rookie their starter.

But Manuel didn’t show any flashes of being a Luck or a Wilson or an RGIII. He was inconsistent, like most rookies, and injuries forced him out of the lineup. After a horrific preseason, he looked decent in the first two games, then struggled the next two. So are the Bills benching him for two sub par performances against potential playoff teams, or because they just haven’t seen what they had hoped to 14 games into his career?

Either way, moving him to the bench is the wrong move. It’s a confident-buster for a young quarterback, especially one who hasn’t had a chance to sit behind a veteran at all and hasn’t enough time to truly get a gauge of whether he’s developing or not.

Whether that’s what Marrone and the Bills front office wanted to do is irrelevant. What’s been done has already been done, and reversing the course of action and going back to Manuel seems like an admission of a mistake, which is rarely done in the NFL. For now, Manuel is just another first-round pick that never amounted to expectations, whether it was his own doing or his coach’s.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.