My Dream For EJ Manuel

I would absolutely love to see EJ Manuel become the franchise quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. To lead the team to the playoffs year after year, for the next, oh, I don’t know, 15 years. To see him reach his potential in Ralph Wilson Jr. Stadium, surrounded by blue and white number three jerseys and little kids outside at the tailgate imitating his evasive moves in the pocket. Every fiber of my being wants to see those things happen.

But that is not my dream for Manuel.

It’s not my dream for Manuel because I am almost positive that won’t happen. His fate with the franchise was sealed the day that Rex Ryan was hired. But Ryan isn’t the scapegoat—at least not the only one. This was a systematic failure and unlucky process that derailed Manuel.

For starters, Manuel was not drafted with the intention of starting his rookie season opener. The plan originally included a lot of clipboard holding, some note taking and a heavy dose of watching Kevin Kolb run the Buffalo Bills offense. That went down in flames partially because Kolb was a mediocre quarterback likely still in need of his own mentor, and more because Kolb slipped on a mat in training camp and suffered a career ending concussion. Thus, Manuel was forced into the starting quarterback role.

Next came the injuries. And boy did they come. In week five of his freshman campaign Manuel suffered a knee injury that kept him out four weeks. Again in week 14 the quarterback suffered a season ending injury. The instability left Bills fans and the coaching staff weary.

But despite those obstacles, Manuel battled back and was ready to start his next season, 2014, on a different, better note. He played the first four games, and played decent, until being yanked by head coach Doug Marrone in favor of the journeyman Kyle Orton. This is where the systematic failure comes into play. Marrone was a man with shaky ownership and under heavy pressure. He was coaching for his job (though he later would leave on his own $4 million terms). Maybe Orton was the better quarterback for the Bills in those 12 games, but not at all for the future. This had to have stunted Manuel’s development.

However, fans still found a way to rationalize, claiming that he finally had the mentor he needed to sit behind and learn from (though when he lost a mentor in Kolb the same fans were saying it was better for him to learn on the go anyways). And that mentor rationale was so close to making sense and even closer to doing so when Orton announced his retirement. It was finally Manuel’s turn. He sat, held that clipboard, rocked some sweet hats on the sideline and took plenty of notes to learn from. It was all culminating to 2015.

Then Doug Marrone opted out of his contract. Sure, Marrone was the guy that benched Manuel, and say what you want about his character, but Marrone was the closest thing Manuel had to a believer. Marrone drafted Manuel. At the very least there was that. And now he was gone.

But Manuel still was the best quarterback on the roster. Whoever the next coach was had to understand number three was his best option.

Then the Bills hired Ryan, traded for Matt Cassel and signed Tyrod Taylor. Manuel’s fate was sealed when Ryan was hired and mailed away with the addition of other quarterbacks. Ryan never gave Manuel a shot, because his mind was made up on him. He made it clear he would rather have the safe veteran Cassel. And if he is going to pick an exciting, versatile quarterback, it is going to be Taylor. The only chance Manuel has received is with a turnstile offensive line and wide receivers with rocks for hands.

Maybe Manuel will make the roster and maybe he’ll stay with the Bills for a little while longer. But unfortunately it seems that Manuel’s fate in Buffalo has been sealed.

That is why my dream for Manuel is different. My dream for Manuel is for him to become the franchise quarterback, just of a different team. To go to another team where he can fully develop into the great quarterback he can be. Where he has a patient coach and even average offensive line to work behind. I hope he finds a stadium and city to electrify. A place where the kids outside imitate him and pick to wear the number three in little league. And a place where the moms and dads superstitiously and sneakily cross their fingers in their jean pockets as he rolls out to his right in the conference championship game that’s tied in the third quarter.  

I have no real connection with Manuel. But, I’ve always liked him. He seems like a great kid and seems to always draw the short straw here in Buffalo. He deserves better, and I wish he could find that here, but since that seems nearly impossible, I simply hope he finds it anywhere at all.