It’s not often you see a team take a quarterback in the first round as the Buffalo Bills did in 2013, only to seemingly move on from that player 14 starts into his career. That’s what EJ Manuel says happened with him.
He was named the starter right out the gates and after a rocky rookie campaign, he found himself on the bench in favor of Kyle Orton four games into his second season.
“It was very surprising,” Manuel said of his benching. “You know, obviously being 2-2 and after losing to Houston, [former Bills Head] Coach [Doug] Marrone made the change and it was something I never dealt with as a competitor, as an athlete. So, it was definitely one of those things that I had to humble myself and understand that this could happen to anybody, you know what I mean?”
“It was obviously a turbulent time in my life and in my career and it was only my second year. So, I’m just like wow. (laughter) Sometimes young guys continue to get a chance to grow and fight through those growing pains and I just wasn’t afforded that opportunity. I just kind of had to roll with it and just keep rolling.”
For some perspective, let’s look at Manuel between his rookie season and his second season (as short as that second season was for him).
As a rookie, Manuel ranked 37th in the league with 197.2 passing yards per game. His 77.7 passer rating was 7th worst among QB’s with at least 300 attempts. He missed 6 games due to injury and was replaced by Thad Lewis. The Bills were 4-6 under Manuel and finished 2-4 under Lewis and Jeff Tuel.
Carr’s first ten games, the Raiders went 0-10. And his 76.6 passer rating that season was not only worse than Manuel’s, but it was fourth worst in the NFL among QB’s with at least 200 attempts.
Manuel, in his 4 starts in 2014 upped his QB rating to 80.3, though his completions dropped slightly from 58.8% to 58%. That was enough to get him benched for veteran Kyle Orton who finished off the season going 7-5 as the starter with a 64.2 completion percentage and an 87.8 passer rating.
Compare that to Carr’s second season in which he showed improvement across the board, completing 61.1% of his passes with a QB rating of 91.1. The Raiders also improved by four wins to 7-9. So, while Carr began his career lower, he saw a far more sizable jump his second season.
There are different ways you can look at that. Which is why initially, the move to bench Manuel caused some friction between coaching and management in Buffalo. Marrone opted out of his contract after that season and Rex Ryan took over as head coach. Also out was his QB coach, Todd Downing, who joined Jack Del Rio’s staff in Oakland.
Even with a new staff and a clean slate, Manuel never got his starting job back. Tyrod Taylor was brought in, won the starting job and has not relinquished it, putting up two seasons throwing for over 3000 yards each along with a combined 37 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions.
Downing continued to remain in contact with Manuel the past couple years. The two’s relationship goes back to before Downing joining the Bills as QB coach in 2014. That bond was something Manuel said meant a great deal to him and was a major factor in his signing with the Raiders.
“He meant a lot,” Manuel said of Downing. “We first worked together in the Senior Bowl. Just from those conversations when I was 21, obviously not knowing what to expect from the NFL and the opportunity that lay ahead of me, just having that trust and that kind of open mode of communication relationship from him back then.”
“I was extremely happy when he signed on with us in Buffalo. I was really excited to work with him and learn from him and get some of his wisdom and knowledge. Obviously, that was cut short with the circumstances in Buffalo, but the fact that he was out here, he would still reach out and say, ‘How am I doing?’ It was never really more so about football. It was more so just about me as a person. That’s something that is very rare in this business.”
“When he did call once free agency began and told me that [the Raiders] were interested, for me it was a no-brainer. That’s a situation you want. Especially as a quarterback and in my situation, trying to really change the perception of whatever I’ve gone through in Buffalo and all that kind of stuff. I know the player I can be and so does coach Downing. That’s what I’m excited about.”
There is no doubt this marriage was a smart one for both parties. In Manuel, Downing gets someone who is familiar with him, and as a new offensive coordinator, that’s important. In Downing, Manuel gets someone who has believed in his abilities since even before he joined the league and will therefore give him a fair shot.
Obviously Manuel isn’t here to be the starter or even compete for that job. That belongs to Derek Carr. Manuel understands that and is satisfied with his role in Oakland.
“However I can help him (Carr), I’m willing to do, but of course I’m here to compete for the number two job,” said Manuel.
“I just want to be an addition. I’m not an ego guy and all that kind of stuff. I’m not driven by that. Obviously, as a player you’re very prideful in yourself, but I’m about the team. I want the team to get better. I want to be here to help this franchise and team to be where they are in whatever role or capacity that is. That’s what I’m excited to do.”
Manuel will compete with second year quarterback Connor Cook, who the team selected in the the top of the 4th round in last year’s draft. Cook made his first ever start in the team’s wild card playoff game against the Texans due to injuries to Carr and primary backup, Matt McGloin who is departing as a free agent.
Carr, like Manuel, was a starter from day one. From there, the two’s careers went in different directions. Manuel is hoping he can prove he was worth the shot Carr was given in Oakland, only this time as a backup without the pressure of carrying a franchise.