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EJ Manuel Is The Real Winner Of The Matt Cassel Trade

When the Bills dealt Matt Cassel to Dallas last night, the Bills' third string QB benefited most.

The move to send Matt Cassel to the Cowboys has generated a lot of talk about how this affects the Bills quarterback situation. Primarily, Cassel was seen as a durable veteran who would pick up the pieces if the Tyrod Taylor experiment failed. Even if Cassel wasn't a guy who could win games with his arm, he's the type of guy who could direct a talented offense to score more points than their vaunted defense would allow.

The deal involved a couple of low-round 2017 draft picks. It's tough to gauge whether this benefits either team. This trade does help one guy in particular though: E.J. Manuel.

It's been an up-and-down year in 2015 for Manuel. Exiting 2014, Kyle Orton retired and the head coach who relegated Manuel to the bench after Week 4, Doug Marrone, cashed out his chips. That must have left Manuel believing that the starting quarterback job would be his to lose entering training camp. Knowing the quarterback position had underwhelmed, Doug Whaley brought in stiff competition for EJ, trading for Matt Cassel and signing free agent Taylor. Inconsistency during offseason workouts and training camp performances shoved Manuel to the back of the line. 

But then, the preseason saw a notable shift for the 2013 1st round draft pick out of Florida State. A late game-winning drive against Cleveland restored some of the confidence that his 2014 demotion took. Given a surprising opportunity to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, he displayed the proficiency and accuracy people anticipated from him coming out of college. Though he had wasted his moment to regain the starting job earlier in camp, Manuel appeared to have won the backup job, especially once Cassel was cut. But they re-signed the veteran, leaving EJ as the 3rd stringer. He had yet to be activated in either the Colts or Patriots game.

Now, Cassel has been moved, and Manuel regains the slot he rightfully earned in the preseason. Sure, he's only backing up Taylor at this point. If everything goes as planned, he will again finish the season watching another free agent QB with a clipboard in his hand.

But plans don't always work out. If Taylor cannot finish 2015 as the starter for whatever reason, Manuel's their only option now. Cassel might have kept the ship righted, but he reached his ceiling awhile ago. And even with a fanbase starving for a trip to the playoffs, there's no guarantee he would get them there. A "playoffs or bust" attitude shouldn't preempt the search for their long-term starter. Taylor and Manuel both qualify for that mission. Cassel does not.

Moving Cassel additionally should help Taylor's stability as the starter. There will still be a lot of fans crying out for Manuel to replace Taylor should he struggle, but the media has generally been less enthused about Manuel. There should be less pressure to quickly change course at QB without Cassel around. 

Still, Manuel is clearly the next in line now, which is progress based on where things looked early in camp. He still holds the hearts of many fans who hope that the 1st round pick will pan out long-term as a leader. They may still get their wish.

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