PFC Writer James Duignan
The procrastination to address the most important position in football has led to the Buffalo Bills successfully staying below .500 for the past eight seasons, including a combined 22 wins since 2008. To take that into perspective, Buffalo has had one less win over the past four seasons than their division rivals New England in the past two years (regular season only). The difference between the two is obvious.
While Brady is leading the Patriots to ten consecutive playoff births (Pats missed 2008 playoffs under Cassel going 11-5), multiple sub-par quarterbacks have Buffalo has the longest current streak of missing the post season. Since Jim Kelly retired Buffalo has traded a first round pick for an over the hill Drew Bledsoe, a first round pick for the unproven Rob Johnson, a late first round selection in JP Losman, a third round pick of Trent Edwards, raiding the Packers practice squad for Brian Brohm, and signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a very generous contract half way through an above average season. It’s very safe to say that none of these have worked out and Buffalo’s franchise remains in flux due to the lack of production at the quarterback position. What is the reason behind Buffalo’s inability to find their franchise replacement?
It was obvious at the end of the 2011 campaign that Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have the talent to become the future of the franchise. After signing a six year, $59 million dollar contract at the end of October the “Amish Rifle” fell apart. Most in the front office blamed a secret rib injury on the poor play, and remained content on giving Fitzpatrick another season to prove himself. In the 2011 draft Buffalo decided their needs at corner and linebacker were too great to warrant the selection of either Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick in the second round or Ryan Mallett in the third. Dalton came from a spread system at TCU where he was was thought to have a below average arm, Kaepernick was unorthodox and had produced in a gimmicky offense in Nevada, and Mallett who was thought to be the most talented of the bunch, had very questionable attitude issues. Both Dalton and Kaepernick led their teams to the playoffs this season, Mallett is the most sought after young quarterback on the trade market, while both Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard are being pushed to reserve roles after both having very poor seasons in 2012. If the 2011 draft wasn’t enough to indicate the hesitation Buffalo’s brass has in selecting quarterbacks, 2012 saw Buffalo trade up for T.J. Graham in the third round instead of selecting the next two quarterback prospects in Russell Wilson and Nick Foles, who both became starters the following season. While T.J. Graham was leading pro football focus’ category in incompletions, the “undersized” Wilson was leading Seattle to come-from-behind victories and a playoff birth. It is clear Buffalo is one of the most analytically driven front offices in football. If a quarterback doesn’t have the perfect height, arm strength, accuracy, and intelligence Buffalo won’t even consider them. This strategy has been the defining feature of Buddy Nix’s regime in Buffalo in which he missed on many prospects, while neglecting to even take a chance on a quarterback. If Russell Wilson was a few inches taller he would have been in contention with RGIII for the second overall pick last spring. So how does Buffalo relieve the fan base and make up for this mess?
The answer is obvious.
Draft a QB at 8. Trade up if you have to. If you’re going to miss on a player in the draft at least let it be a quarterback. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and even Aaron Rogers were far from perfect prospects entering the league. Do you think Miami regrets drafting Jake Long (a very solid OT) over Ryan? Having a solid foundation on a team with no quarterback is like having a Lamborghini with no engine. In the past fifteen years the only non-franchise quarterback to win the Super Bowl have been Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer. Other than those two, every team has had superb quarterback play in the postseason to lead their respective teams to a ring. The NFL has shown a trend towards first round pick’s as starters, where only seven predicted starters in 2013 have been outside of the first round (Brady, Brees, and Romo being a few of the obvious outliers). If Geno Smith is there at 8 the Bills should be running to the podium. If he goes to Oakland, Cleveland, or Arizona Buffalo should be setting their sights on Matt Barkley, EJ Manuel, or whatever quarterback Buddy Nix has next on his big board. While analysts continue to debate whether these guys can be successful at the next level by criticizing everything from their hand size to their footwork, Buffalo should be realizing that in today’s NFL young quarterbacks are successfully translating from the college ranks to the pro’s and are doing so at an unbelievable rate.
What if he busts?
Then it’s back to the drawing board. I’d take a chance and miss on a franchise quarterback over picking a solid defensive tackle or cornerback in the draft. Even if Geno, Barkley or whoever Buffalo takes at 8 doesn’t turn out to be the next Aaron Rogers, how well do they have to play to be better than the Ryan Fitzpatrick’s of the world? Bills fans have seen it. Marcel Dareus and Patrick Peterson are two premier young talents in the league and both have not helped their respective teams in the win category. Unless you have a chance on a one in a lifetime talent, teams should be doing whatever they can to address the quarterback position. Take Carolina for example; Jimmy Clausen doesn’t work out, so they decide to take a gamble on Cam Newton the following draft. Don’t forget at this point two years ago most analysts were questioning Cam Newton’s work ethic and sincerity during the draft process, and some were reporting his spread style wouldn’t translate to him being better than a third round pick. Buffalo is the type of team to try to build around Clausen and use their marketing skills to make fans believe this was the right decision (e.g. T.O. to save Trent Edwards). If I would have told Bills fans a month before the 2012 draft they would be selecting another corner, most would be outraged. A few weeks later Bills fans are all giving each other high-fives under the belief that Buffalo just landed the next Revis. The problem many teams have is identifying their own mistakes when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. Buffalo needs to take this chance and if it doesn’t work out try again.