What Kyle Orton's Retirement Means for the Buffalo Bills

Orton has never been an elite quarterback, but he was the best the Bills have seen in a while. Where do they go from here?

Picking on Kyle Orton isn't too hard, what with the neckbeard, visor, interceptions, et cetera.

But Buffalo Bills fans will -- or should -- stick up for Orton, who turned in the best quarterbacking season in Buffalo since 2002, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics.

Orton, though, has announced his retirement. What does it mean for the Bills going forward?

A Brief Retrospective

Orton's stead in Buffalo was short, just 12 games, but his Passing NEP, which indicates points added above expectation as a result of drop backs, of 19.65 was the best total a Bills passer tallied in a single season since Drew Bledsoe's 50.78 in 2002 and ranks third in Bills' history since 2000 behind Bledsoe's 2002 and Doug Flutie's 40.74 in 2000.

Even though his season ranks favorably in Bills history, don't let that mislead you.

Orton, who added nearly 20 points more than a league-average quarterback would have, ranked just 24th in the NFL in Passing NEP. Of course, he didn't play the full season, and he isn't exactly known as a voluminous guy, but his Passing NEP per Drop Back (0.04) was actually a tad worse, ranking 25th in the league. It was also slightly worse than Brian Hoyer's, for context.

So, being roughly the 24th-best quarterback in the league should be considered one of the best seasons for the Bills in the past 15 years. In fact, only Bledsoe (0.08), Flutie (0.17), Orton (0.04), and Alex Van Pelt (0.05 in 2001) have maintained a Passing NEP per Drop Back at or greater than 0.04 for the Bills since 2000.

In case you need any further information on how poor Buffalo's quarterback play has been, know this. Only six instances exist in which a Bills passer has attempted at least 200 drop backs and added at least 10 points above expectation in a year. This year alone, 26 quarterbacks mustered that. Sure, passing is up, but maintaining a Passing NEP of at least 10.00 isn't very difficult.

On the other side of zero, the Bills have 13 instances of quarterbacks attempting 200-plus drop backs and taking at least 10 points off the board as a result, (i.e. posting a Passing NEP of -10.00 or worse).

Who knew that the quarterbacking in Buffalo between 2000 and 2002 was a golden age?

What Now?

Well, logic would dictate that E.J. Manuel jumps to the top of the depth chart because he's the lone quarterback on the roster, but that's far from ideal for the Bills.

Last year, Manuel's Passing NEP was -47.84, the third-worst season in Bills history since 2000. Among the 45 passers with at least 100 drop backs last year, it ranked 44th, saved only by Geno Smith's -68.55 -- but each had a Passing NEP per Drop Back of -0.14, "better" than only Josh Freeman (-0.27) and Kirk Cousins (-0.25).

This year, Manuel managed a Passing NEP of -0.05, which leveled out to an even 0.00 when divided by his 137 drop backs. That's a marked improvement for sure, but that ranked 34th among the 43 passers who attempted at least 100 drop backs this year.

Only 42.34% of his drop backs led to positive NEP gains for the Bills, 36th of the 43 passers, and Orton's wasn't stellar but was better: 44.79%, 27th in the subset.

Nothing in our metrics suggests that Manuel is the answer at quarterback for the Bills, and general manager Doug Whaley isn't gifting Manuel the job.

Finding a Replacement

The Bills are certainly trending upward, and missing out on a viable quarterback would be a shame. They finished the season ranked 11th in our power rankings, thanks to a defense that ranked second overall and despite an offense that ranked 26th overall.

Finding a quarterback in the draft could be an option, but the Bills don't have their first-round pick (19th overall) because of the trade for Sammy Watkins. They also relinquished their fourth-rounder this year, too, making a package deal to move up in the draft just that much harder.

It seems, then, that a trade or a free agency signing is necessary if the Bills want to take advantage of an elite defense. Mark Sanchez is ostensibly the best free agent quarterback heading into the 2015 offseason, and if they can't lure him in, then maybe -- and this is nothing more than speculation to add context to the quarterback market that the Bills must navigate -- Robert Griffin is an option if Washington cuts ties with him. Also, if they can absorb Jay Cutler's contract and the new staff in Chicago wants a new look at quarterback now that Marc Trestman has been fired, Cutler might move to his third franchise.

Again, those are just speculative. The quarterback market is thin, and the Bills' window could close sooner than it should if they can't acquire at least a decent quarterback such as Sanchez.

There are no certainties about how Buffalo might approach this quest, but the Bills' attempt to add what might be the final piece to their puzzle toward serious contention for the first time in a long while will be one of the most interesting stories of this NFL offseason.