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Former FSU star EJ Manuel to start for Bills on Sunday

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As the calendar turns the page to a new year on Sunday, a familiar face will be back at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Former Florida State star EJ Manuel will lead his team against the New York Jets in the season finale for both teams.

While starter Tyrod Taylor is officially being “benched,” the move is being described as a “business decision,” by sources close to the Bills. Taylor would be owed more than $27 million in guaranteed payments were he to be injured on Sunday and not be able to play in 2017.

“EJ playing is strictly for injury reasons in Tyrod’s deal,” the Bills’ source told ESPN.

Had the Bills won last Sunday and remained in playoff contention, Manuel would not be playing. The loss prompted the firing of Coach Rex Ryan, who had stated he fully intended to play Taylor despite the risks.

Sunday’s game was being billed as a “revenge game” for Ryan. He was New York’s coach from 2009-2014 before being fired.

Manuel was the team’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft. While it is not yet time to call him as an NFL bust, it is entirely fair to apply that tag to his time in Buffalo.

Let’s be honest; can anyone name a successful Buffalo quarterback since Jim Kelly? They have missed the playoffs for the last 18 seasons.

At 26, he is young enough to have the chance to succeed somewhere else. With 16 career starts under his belt, Manuel has 19 career touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

He lost his job to the more mobile Taylor for good in 2015.

While the Bills are in protection mode, this is a big deal for Manuel. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and will have the chance to re-introduce himself to other NFL organizations.

“Teams know what I can do, what we can do as players,” Manuel told the Buffalo News. “People are always going to have their opinions, but the opinion that matters is (management) and around the league.”

Whether or not Manuel stays in Buffalo, he can expect to find a few teams interested in his services. In a couple of places, he could realistically compete for a starting position, but neither are ideal situations.

Cleveland has several holes besides the quarterback position. Robert Griffin III seems to be a physical wreck that may again see him miss significant time in his second year with the Browns. He has played in only four games this season.

With Griffin signed only through next year, Manuel would most likely see some time on the field in 2017 and have the chance to earn the starting job the following season, if not next fall.

San Francisco is another opportunity. The 49ers know Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert are not long-term solutions.

Their third-string quarterback is Christian Ponder, the man Manuel succeeded at FSU. Ponder is at rock bottom, unable to get on the field even for one snap for a dreadful 2-13 team that featured terrible play from those ahead of him on the depth chart.

Other teams will be looking for backups or maybe looking to move on from veterans near the end of their careers. San Diego and Phillip Rivers is an example while Chicago is almost certain to part with Jay Cutler.

These teams would be looking for a quarterback with the physical attributes and playing experience of today’s bigger quarterbacks. Manuel (6’5”, 240 lbs.) can check both boxes.

It will be good to see what Manuel does with his chance on Sunday. With the Jets serving as the opponent, things could not have worked out better for him.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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