|EJ Manuel - courtesy of Alan Kotok|
The always-quotable head coach has traversed the Empire State from east to west, but the QB-quandary wasn't left behind. Rex loaded up the U-Haul and brought his signal-caller deficiencies to Buffalo, something that in theory would seem like a good thing for EJ Manuel, the one candidate in the race with an actual pedigree.
But few in Buffalo believe in Manuel, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, who is set to do battle with veteran pickup Matt Cassel as well as untested free agent Tyrod Taylor for the right to captain a seemingly much-improved offense, one which added playmakers like LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin
and Charles Clay to a nucleus that already included emerging star Sammy Watkins and the underrated Robert Woods.
If you are to believe the whispers, though, Manuel might be fourth in the supposed three-horse race, behind even the nondescript Jeff Tuel as far as Ryan and his new offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, are concerned.
"The Bills will use all the workouts to decide not only if EJ Manuel will be their starting quarterback, but also if they believe he warrants a spot on the roster," WKBW Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia wrote after speaking with people in the organization.
Buscaglia's spin created a buzz even though it wasn't exactly breaking new ground. Most who follow the Bills understand Cassel is the favorite to start with the athletic Taylor, the former backup to Joe Flacco in Baltimore, as the dark horse.
"I'm lining them up to literally have a competition for the position," Ryan told the Buffalo News. "People will say, 'Well, is this guy ahead of the other?' There's going to be assumptions, but the great thing is, let it play
out. Give both guys the opportunity and then at the end of the day, the cream will rise to the top. It usually does."
People will say that because they saw the "open quarterback competition" Rex ran with the New York Jets last season, you know the one where predetermined winner Geno Smith "beat out" veteran Michael Vick.
In this scenario, it's pretty clear Manuel's reputation means little to Ryan or Roman, who both had absolutely nothing to do with drafting the Florida State product.
The new coaching staff seems to be following the creed of former Super Bowl-winning Ravens coach Brian Billick, who is fond of saying "need is the worst talent evaluator in sports." Ryan has already come to the realization that the only reason Manuel reached the lofty status as a first-round pick in the first place was that then-general manager Buddy Nix threw out his back reaching for a guy most many scouts believed should have landed in the second round.
That's not to say Manuel can't turn things around over the summer because he's not exactly competing with Joe Montana and Steve Young. We have all seen enough of Cassel to know what he is, a veteran journeyman who can steward you to wins if everything is clicking on all cylinders around him. Taylor,
meanwhile, is the great unknown despite spending four seasons in this league because Flacco is as durable as they come.
"Let's not just throw (Manuel) out after two years," Ryan said. "Aaron Rodgers never took a snap for three years. So let's see where (Manuel's) going to be."
Where he is going to be is likely in some other NFL city.
Remember, though, as a former first-rounder Manuel's original four-year contract is fully guaranteed, meaning the salary-cap-strapped Bills would have to pay the ex-starter a total of $2.8 million over the next two years if they simply jettison him.
That means the only way Manuel is leaving Buffalo is via trade, and when any movement-based quarterback reaches the market, they are going to be linked to Chip Kelly and Philadelphia, whether it's fair or not.
In this case, there is at least some history, though. Kelly recruited Manuel when he was at the University of Oregon and in the lead-up to the '13 draft, Kelly's first in the NFL, the coach told NFL Network that Manuel was a player he "didn't get a chance to coach but would like a chance to coach."
Manuel, meanwhile, confirmed "they (the Eagles) want me pretty bad." Philadelphia, which had the fourth overall pick that year, wisely begged off and took offensive tackle Lane Johnson, an ascending player headed in the right direction.
It wouldn't take much to land Manuel at this stage, maybe a late-round conditional draft pick and Kelly still needs the long-term answer at the game's most important position because the oft-injured Sam Bradford is only signed through 2015.
And then there's the question of Bradford's psyche because it's abundantly clear that Kelly did indeed go all in to acquire Marcus Mariota in this year's draft, a reality that is certainly known to Bradford, who reportedly
considered walking away from the game entirely after two consecutive seasons were lost to ACL tears.