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Bills sign rookie 1st-round pick, QB Manuel

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Quarterback EJ Manuel can focus solely on competing for the Buffalo Bills starting job now that the rookie first-round draft pick has his contract out of the way.

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``It's a great feeling and I'm excited to be truly part of the team now,'' Manuel said, in comments released by the Bills. ``I'm just glad it was done earlier instead of later.''

Manuel signed a four-year deal worth $8.9 million, a day after the Bills closed a three-day mandatory minicamp - their final session before training camp opens on July 28 in suburban Rochester.

A person familiar with the deal released the terms of the contract, and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills did not disclose the figures.

The person said the deal includes a $4.84 million signing bonus. Though there is an option to add a fifth year to the contract, the person said it is considered a four-year deal.

Manuel was selected 16th overall out of Florida State, and was the only quarterback selected in the first round. He is competing with veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb for the starting job.

With Manuel signed, the Bills have all eight of their rookie draft picks under contract.

At 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Manuel's a strong-armed mobile player, who went 25-6 in four seasons with the Seminoles. Despite Manuel's success, questions were raised over his decision-making skills. He finished with 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, which were the result of him occasionally forcing throws.

Manuel moved up the team's quarterback depth chart after the Bills released veteran Tarvaris Jackson on Monday. Coach Doug Marrone has not provided a timeline as to when he expects to name a starter, though it's expected that both Kolb and Manuel will get an opportunity to continuing competing through the Bills first two preseason games.

Manuel welcomed the additional practice time he earned following Jackson's departure. He also understood that he needed to continue improving to show he's capable of making the immediate jump from college to NFL rookie starter.

``I don't think that's anything I have to remind myself of,'' Manuel said. ``I'm still trying to learn, still trying to get a great feel for my teammates. I'm still trying to earn the respect of the veteran guys as well as the rookies.''

The Bills are counting on Manuel to be their long-term starter and secure a position that's been unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season. Since then, no quarterback has lasted more than three seasons as a starter in Buffalo.

That includes Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was cut in March after nearly two inconsistent seasons behind center.

The Bills are coming off a 6-10 finish, their eighth consecutive losing season. And they've not made the playoffs in 13 seasons, the NFL longest active drought.

Manuel is part of a new-look offense under Marrone, who took over in January after Chan Gailey was fired.

The Bills have almost entirely revamped their group of receivers behind returning starter Stevie Johnson.

Buffalo drafted Robert Woods 41st overall out of Southern California, and then added Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin with the 78th pick.

Following the draft, Buffalo signed undrafted rookie Da'Rick Rogers. Though Rogers was projected as a top-10 receiver prospect, he was overlooked in the draft because of a troubled college career split between Tennessee and Tennessee Tech.

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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