Just two short weeks ago, the Buffalo Bills appeared to have a surefire starter in rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. He had just finished running away with the starting job against the Minnesota Vikings, and there appeared to finally be a franchise quarterback in Buffalo. Fast forward to the end of August, and the Bills’ quarterback situation is murky, to say the least.
Manuel has been sidelined with a mysteriously “minor” knee injury, and the Bills face the prospect of being the first-ever NFL team to start an undrafted rookie quarterback (Jeff Tuel) under center in their season opener. There is still reason to hope that Manuel will be healthy enough to face the New England Patriots on Sept. 8, especially after he was sighted throwing warm-up passes prior to the Bills final preseason game. However, even if Manuel is healthy enough to play, it may not be in the team’s best interest to start him week one.
For one thing, there is a vast difference between being “healthy enough” and just being healthy, especially if we’re talking about a mobile quarterback. This is something that the Bills need to keep in mind moving forward, despite the tremendous amount of pressure on Manuel to return to action as soon as possible. Although it is an encouraging sign that Manuel was spotted throwing on the field, he was clearly favoring his left leg as he did so. It makes no sense to jeopardize the long-term health of the team’s franchise quarterback in week one of what will most likely be another losing season for the Bills.
It’s true that the Patriots are vulnerable and yes, the rest of the AFC East is essentially wide open, but does anyone truly believe that a team with brand new offensive and defensive systems, an entirely new coaching staff and an offense comprised largely of rookies, will be able to gel quickly enough to make the postseason in their first year? Even if Manuel and head coach Doug Marrone prove to be the real deal, it will take time for them to realize their potential. This is doubly true considering the amount of practice time Manuel has already missed this preseason.
Granted, it’s tough to tell exactly how serious Manuel’s knee injury is, but unless he is 100 percent healthy by Sept. 8, the Bills would be wise not to rush him back. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a fan base that has gone so long without a winning season, but if the goal is sustained success and perennial contention, Manuel should probably sit this one out.