There’s so much time for speculation about careers that are over so quickly. The offseason’s endlessness is why the NFL should heed my proposal to triple the season’s length. Short of an awesome 48-game schedule where new games gloriously begin the week after the Super Bowl, fans get many weeks to wonder which players will win competitions before the real battles begin. Quarterback remains an issue no matter how much the Buffalo Bills have fortified elsewhere. EJ Manuel may not get more than the 14 chances he’s already received to complete his assigned task. Accelerating that quickly seems risky. But he has to be fearless about the passing lane.
Manuel faces doubters even without a recent shaky performance. Recent whispers about why it was wise for him to rent prompted the Bills to reply that everything is just swell. A 2015 team picture without Manuel is stunning to visualize, with the qualification that it technically hasn’t happened. The only certainty is that Manuel has much to prove without many more opportunities to do so. He must face worries about his career sliding downhill at 25 years old if you worried football was too glamorous.
This news may not be breaking. Manuel’s potentially tenuous status is something we already knew. Any player could be cut for poor performance, even if you’re probably safe buying a Sammy Watkins jersey. Relieving the burden of a roster spot from someone who fails to seize the job would be unsurprising, if shocking. The last regime’s reach may not have a hold on employment now that every last thing about the Bills has changed.
There’s no appetite to fast forward cassettes in a digital world. Expecting Manuel to shine immediately was tough knowing he needed polishing. It may seem unfair to rush someone whose draft profile indicated he would take time to evolve into a competent pro. But defensive coordinators aren’t known for empathy.
It’s tough to get players to relax while facing an NFL tempo. Manuel has to go through his progressions while simultaneously stepping forward to duck pressure, and he’d best learn as quickly as he has to perform. There’s no time for sauntering if he hopes to remain in a league where patience lasts about as long as it takes to post a tweet.
The Bills hope to be grooming Joe Ferguson’s successor. The occasional passer was most famous for handing off to O.J. when he wasn’t handing off to Jim Braxton. But the Arkansas Rifle was also able to shine in other points of his career when set up to hit receivers. Picture him confidently working with Frank Lewis for an idealized preview of this year’s passing game. Previous grinding makes passes relatively easier. Help an emerging Manuel by forcing many wary defenders to stay in the box. LeSean McCoy may not be a quarterback, but he can make it easier to play.
At least the stupidly long era without games provides time to study. Every projection about Manuel reaching his potential or fading away is only talk until kickoff. It’s maddening to prepare without a chance to flaunt what’s been learned. The great thing about football is also its most challenging aspect, namely that there are only so many games to offer proof. Take how a first-rounder might be done in Buffalo after playing the equivalent of less than a full season, one that doesn’t exactly drag on interminably.
Every snap is vital to those trying to prove they deserve to take more of them. Waiting a week to put mistakes behind them even when the schedule is in session requires distinct mental toughness. Baseball players will get another chance tomorrow. Footballers don’t get that luxury, as their careers might be over in the same number of games as a long batting slump. Such pressure is exciting in a frightening way.
Manuel is being rushed along his career path in his third year. Those associated with this franchise have a right to be anxious. The recast Bills obviously don’t want to waste more time sticking with what doesn’t work. On the other hand, what if they give up too quickly on someone who was just struggling through normal development? The stress never diminishes. Watching a supposed bust excel elsewhere is particularly cruel. Football teaches life lessons, such as how everything just has to be a quandary. With seasons and other careers on the line, the bus isn’t going to wait if one guy is late.
Coaches should encourage Manuel to embrace the assured confidence that now defines this franchise. Taking calculated risks will help him silence those claiming he’s finished not long after the starting pistol. He’s getting the chance of a lifetime if he goes for it. The catch is that he’s likely to only get this one. If he can’t claim a starting role while cushioned by this much talent, much less be the guy who breaks the playoff drought, he’s destined to be passed around other franchises as an unimpressive backup. Manuel should mirror his coach and go bold. Playing meekly won’t help his chances. Checking out of checking down is the only way he’ll stay in business.