As fucked as it already was, the Tyrod Taylor situation has gotten a whole hell of a lot messier.
A quick recap, for those of you just tuning in: the Bills benched Tyrod Taylor for the final game of the season, a “business decision,” made without the input of the head coach, that was meant to keep him from getting injured. Why? Because of the terms of Taylor’s contract, in which his 2017 money is guaranteed for injury only, the Bills can cut him this offseason and owe him nothing. But if he’s hurt, they can’t cut him, and would have to pay him a whopping $27.5 million for next season.
So the Bills tried to shield him in Week 17. But what if the injury were...already there?
Taylor had surgery this morning to repair a sports hernia, or a tear to the muscles of his groin and lower abdomen. The Bills say the had no idea this was even a possibility until Taylor informed the team yesterday. They put out quite the statement today, and pay close attention to their choice of words.
“Bills QB Tyrod Taylor had a consultation visit yesterday with Dr. William Meyers and elected to have surgery this morning. The Bills were informed late yesterday of this morning’s procedure.”
The Bills were very clear to note that they did not recommend, sanction, or have anything whatsoever to do with Taylor’s surgery, which he “elected” to undergo. This wording is no accident, and could be a very big deal in, oh, exactly 65 days.
The Bills must decide whether to pick up Taylor’s contract option by March 11. They obviously don’t intend to do that. But in order to be released, he must first undergo a physical with team doctors. He’s got to pass that physical if the Bills are to release him without being on the hook for that $27.5 million.
Here’s some of the contract wording:
Taylor has a clause in his contract that guarantees him his full $27.5 million base salary in 2017 if the Bills release him, “due to a professional football injury suffered while performing his services under this Contract [and] Player is unable, in the sole judgment of Club’s physicians, to perform his playing services for Club.”
Taylor’s injury was not enough to keep him out any of the 15 games he was active. But there’s no doubt that he’s fucked up enough to need to repair it—look at the sheer number of players who put off their surgeries until their seasons are over. (Could any NFL player pass a normal, non-NFL physical? Probably not!) So, is Taylor’s soft tissue damage “a professional football injury suffered while performing his services under this Contract”? Well, that’s the question here. The Bills would likely argue the surgery and recovery weren’t necessary, and shouldn’t qualify Taylor for any injury guarantees. The NFLPA will argue the opposite, if it gets that far. It’ll all be a matter of timing.
This is a unique confluence of events—the structure of Taylor’s contract, the debate over his health, and especially the Bills’ weird insistence on getting rid of him—but something like this felt inevitable. Injury guarantees are popping up more and more in big NFL deals, as methods to make contracts seem bigger (which pleases agents, and makes owners appear less penurious) without truly committing the team to anything long-term, and while providing players an insurance policy against a true career-altering injury. In reality, it leads to teams simply benching players to avoid having to pay them the next year. We’ve seen it with Washington and Robert Griffin III, we’ve seen it with San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick, and we thought we were seeing it with Buffalo and Tyrod Taylor in Week 17, until Taylor’s surgery complicated things.
I don’t know how this situation is going to work out—the recovery time for sports hernia surgery suggests Taylor should be good to go by the deadline for his physical exam—but in the future, one of these is going to end up before an arbitrator.