Desperate Bills dump EJ Manuel in favor of veteran QB Kyle Orton

Buffalo Bills bench EJ Manuel, and will start veteran QB Kyle Orton against the Detroit Lions.
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The book on EJ Manuel's career is far from over -- he's 24 years old, in his second NFL season and has made all of 14 starts.

Since the start of the offseason, though, the Bills have argued that they are a contender -- "We want to be a playoff team. We’re planning to be a playoff team," head coach Doug Marrone declared back in June. 

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But right now, Manuel is not playing like a quarterback capable of leading that charge. So, the Bills pulled the plug on him -- at least temporarily -- announcing Monday that veteran Kyle Orton will get the nod at Detroit in Week 5.

"Kyle Orton is our starting quarterback right now," Marrone said. "We need more overall production from that position. ... We came in today, looked at the tape, and made a decision that gives us the best opportunity to win.

"We are all-in to win. That's what it comes down to."

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The Bills did just that in Weeks 1 and 2, taking down the Bears in Chicago and then steam-rolling the Dolphins by 19. But they crashed back to earth in Weeks 3 and 4, with Manuel's personal stats suffering on a week-to-week basis. Sunday, at Houston, Manuel completed just 47.8 percent of his passes (21-of-44) with two interceptions alongside a pair of touchdowns. 

Without question, that is a subpar showing not only for a team dreaming of the postseason but one that had a legitimate shot at a Week 4 road win. Manuel's shaky performance, which included an 80-yard pick-six by J.J. Watt, arguably played the lead role in adding to the Buffalo loss column.

There was an air of inevitability to this quarterback switch all along, too. When the Bills signed Orton late in August, they handed him a $3 million signing bonus and around $5 million in total this season -- hardly the going rate for a 31-year-old journeyman backup. The Bills maintained all along that Manuel was their guy, but Orton's relatively high-priced presence hinted otherwise.

That said, Manuel may not be on the bench for long, because it is debatable at best whether Orton really represents an improvement under center. Orton last was a full-time starter for Denver back in 2010 before losing his job to Tim Tebow the following season. After a stop in Kansas City, Orton settled in as Tony Romo's backup for the '12 and '13 seasons. He made one start in Dallas -- the Cowboys' do-or-die Week 17 loss last season.

Despite all that recent history, the Bills are hoping almost against hope that Orton can provide some sort of spark on offense.

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If not (and perhaps even if he can in the short-term), this might be an example of cutting of one's nose to spite his face. Even in the unlikely scenario that Orton returns to playing as well as he ever has in his career, the ceiling with him under center is limited. His best season ever: 2009, when he finished 8-7 as Denver's starter, with 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 86.8 QB rating. 

Hall of Fame-worthy, that is not.

Manuel, on the other hand, has been for better or (mostly) worse exactly what folks outside the Bills organization warned when he was made an early draft pick. There is ability there, particularly in the right offensive system. There also are a bevy of noticeable warts, all of which have been on display during his starting stint.

This always was going to be a slow, methodical process to turn Manuel from a flawed, developing quarterback into a legitimate No. 1. Sending him to the pine may delay any steps forward that were about to occur.

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The Bills grew too impatient for Manuel to ascend the learning curve. 

"[We] can't keep going in direction that we're going," Marrone said.

Maybe Orton changes the momentum a bit. The first opportunity comes Sunday against the Lions, a team against which Orton sports a 4-0 career record. Granted, all of those victories came when Orton was with Chicago, against far worse Detroit teams than he will face Sunday.

Still, it's something. Which is better than nothing. And that is about what the Bills had gotten out of Manuel of late.