Posted on August 16, 2016, by Travis Pulver

It has to be tough to be someone like Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. You feel you can play, but the team that drafted you has a quality player already starting at your position. So you practice, play when you can, and hope that someday you’ll get a chance.

Taylor finally got his when he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Sure enough, he earned the starter’s job, played in 14 games, and played well enough to have a lock on the job heading into this season. There was just one problem. Even though he was one of the higher rated quarterbacks in the NFL, he was going to make peanuts this season.

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Situations like his are tough. He is under contract, albeit one that is not indicative of his real value, and the team does not need to renegotiate. But even if they did, he has only started 14 games for the Bills (and went 8-6). He played well enough to be paid better, but has he shown enough to earn a larger contract?

Yes and no.

Teams, in a sense, do pay for what they think they are going to get out of a player, but they rely on his playing history to give them some indication as to how well a player will continue to play. Taylor doesn’t have much of a history. Before his time with the Bills, he had only thrown 35 passes in four seasons.

A clause in his initial three-year contract allowed him to void the third year if he became the starter which would make him a free agent at the end of the 2016 season. Teams typically like to give guys they want to keep extensions before the final year of their contract. But with just 14 games out of Taylor, how do come up with a reasonable and fair valuation to both sides?

They want to keep him, but they don’t know for certain what they have in him. So how can they get him under contract, pay him enough to make him happy, but minimize the risk? They can do it with the five-year, $90 million extension they signed him to.

The Bills could have risked his demands becoming too great if they had him play out his existing contract and he shined again. Instead, they signed him to a deal that gave him more money now (but nothing crazy), will allow him to make an insane amount next year (if he continues to play well), and then earn a respectable salary for the remainder of the contract.

This season he’ll make $9.5 million, a decent increase from $2 million, but not so big that it overvalues what he’s done so far. Should the Bills like what they see out of him this season they will be able to pick up his option for next season—and will pay him $15.5 million in the process. His base salary in 2017 will be $12 million giving him a total of $27.5 million that year.

Should he continue to do well, the Bills will pick up his option again. When they do his $13 million base salary will become fully guaranteed (and will also be the last of his guaranteed money; his 2017 pay is only guaranteed for injury).

So—what makes this contract the future blueprint for former back-ups turned starter?

Everyone wants to get paid big money, but you have to earn it first. When you start out as a reserve player, you don’t get the chance to prove what you are worth. So when you do step out from under someone else’s shadow, you have to take the time to prove yourself before you can command big money and expect to get it.

Taylor played well enough to deserve more, but he certainly hadn’t done enough to earn a big money deal. So the Bills gave him the next best thing—a modest raise with the chance to earn a mega-payday.

 

Maybe—just maybe—if the Broncos had offered something similar to Brock Osweiler he would have stayed. Maybe the Redskins could already have Kirk Cousins under contract rather than risk him heading into free agency next year. Houston probably would rather have such a deal with Osweiler rather than the massive guarantee they gave him.

A deal like Taylor’s gives the player more money and the opportunity for even more while not forcing the team to take a leap of faith in a player’s ability based on a small sample size. It leaves a lot of risk with the player, but at least he can get paid big money now rather than play for peanuts until someone thinks he’s earned a big payday.

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