- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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There were plenty of early jitters. At the best moments, everything seemed to click. At the worst times, they made each other squirm -- though not enough to stand it the way of a second date.
But it's still far too early to start thinking about long-term commitment. If the Bills are serious about winning, they must keep their options at quarterback open this offseason, including the draft and the trade market.
That's not an indictment of Manuel. The Bills made a significant investment, selecting him 16th overall last spring, and it would be a mistake not to give him a chance to realize his potential.
It's games like a Week 2 comeback win over the Carolina Panthers, when Manuel completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, which should give the Bills hope.
Yet, it's dreadful performances like a Week 14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when Manuel posted a 31.2 passer rating, which must give pause to any team looking to contend for the playoffs.
Then there's the injury issue. Manuel tore the meniscus in his left knee during the preseason, requiring surgery. A pair of ligament sprains, one in each knee, kept him out of a total of six games during the regular season.
Neither the Bills nor Manuel see his injuries as reason for pessimism, characterizing them as "freak accidents" that will somehow be avoided in the future. The fact remains, however, that he missed nearly 40 percent of his rookie season, robbing the Bills of a chance to fully evaluate his progress.
Yet soon after the Bills wrapped up their 6-10 season with Manuel on the sideline -- he missed the final two games with his third knee injury -- Marrone told his young quarterback that he would be the starter entering next season.
It's not a problem that the Bills are confident in their prospects with Manuel, but they shouldn't be ready to throw everything behind him quite yet.
Consider the example of the Seattle Seahawks, who signed free agent Matt Flynn to a three-year deal in March 2012. With $10 million guaranteed and a total contract value of $26 million, the Seahawks opened their wallets in hopes of finding their franchise quarterback.
But soon after, they hedged their bets by drafting another potential franchise quarterback: Russell Wilson.
Four months later, Wilson was named the Seahawks' starter, and by now he needs no introduction. He's the starting quarterback for the Super Bowl champions.
The Seahawks didn't break the bank to court Wilson. They basically went out for pizza at the place on the corner, with Seattle selecting Wilson in the third round and having him compete for a job with Flynn in training camp.
The Bills should consider a similar approach. Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel -- the other two quarterbacks on the roster -- are unlikely to provide long-term stability for the Bills if Manuel does not pan out.
Or why not take a hard look at which quarterbacks in the draft would fit into their offense? They shouldn’t devote their ninth overall pick on a signal-caller, but would it hurt to see who they could find in the second or third round?
It wouldn't. At best, the Bills would have a long-term starter and a realistic chance to turn around the franchise. At worst, they would have a prospect to dangle on the trade market. Either way, they would have given themselves a better chance to succeed than simply placing their hopes on Manuel.
Yes, it's too early to stiff-arm Manuel and send him looking for other suitors. But it's also too soon to settle into a serious relationship.
The Bills need to continue to play the dating game.