Quite often we hear the phrase “That’s why he makes the big bucks” thrown out. This year, Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix truly puts that theory to the test as the Bills continue to prepare for the NFL draft on April 28.
Over the next five weeks, Nix has decisions to make that are critical to the team’s success going forward, as the organization attempts to make strides in ending a miserable 11-year run without the playoffs. The Bills have to find talent to get better at stopping the run, rushing the passer and perhaps a key addition to the offensive line.
No decision, however, is more indicative to the team’s improvement than how Nix handles the quarterback situation.
There’s a lot of possibilities in this draft in regards to Buffalo and a quarterback. Having the third overall pick, the Bills possess a rare opportunity to get quite possibly whoever they feel is the top quarterback in this draft class. Even if Blaine Gabbert ends up going at the top to Carolina, Buffalo is practically assured a crack at Cam Newton of Jake Locker if they so desire. Should they want to find their guy after the first round, both Christian Ponder and Ryan Mallet should be available with the second pick in round two. They also, of course, could go the long term developmental route later with a guy like Colin Kaepernick or Andy Dalton. Basically speaking, the possibilities are endless.
Then again, it’s not just possible but even reasonable = the team may simply do nothing at all.
While it’s far too early in the process to know anything concrete, the feeling I get from people I’ve spoken with is the sense of urgency to draft a quarterback for the Bills isn’t close to as much as it is among fans of the team. Things can and often do change, but the club really likes Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is the incumbent and almost certain to be the starter in 2011 regardless of who the team drafts. You may not be a fan of his, but the organization is fond and clearly head coach Chan Gailey is as well. Gailey feels Fitzpatrick is good enough for the team to win with, has said so on multiple occasions since last season ended and if you believe the words coming from One Bills Drive, the Bills may not do anything at all when it comes to quarterback—-at least for this year.
Despite it seeming otherwise, perhaps because of his journeyman path in the NFL pre-2010, or maybe the older looking beard he sported last year, Fitzpatrick is only 28-years old. That’s roughly the same age as Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. He’s younger than Tony Romo, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. In other words— he’s far from over the hill and in many ways, actually has room to improve.
Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in just 13 games in 2010. Also keep in mind he didn’t begin the season as the starter (Trent Edwards did) and therefore, didn’t get a lot of first team reps in training camp and during the preseason. The organization feels with Fitzpatrick being in command from day one this season, whenever that ends up being thanks to the CBA dispute, the offense will improve as Fitzpatrick gets (hopefully) several months to further the grasp of the offense as the starter.
The CBA labor dispute itself may also affect the quarterback position for Buffalo. Any rookie drafted has the very realistic possibility of being unable to get acquainted with the offense due to the lockout and therefore, no OTA’s and training camp. With quarterback being the hardest NFL position to learn as it is, losing valuable time and repetitions at practice would be detrimental to a rookie’s progress and in all probability, render him useless for at least one, and possibly more seasons.
Fitzpatrick is entering the final season of his three-year deal. It’s not foolish at all to conclude the Bills will roll the dice with him as the starter for all of 2011 and re-visit the position when the season is over. If Fitzpatrick continues to show improvement and Nix likes where the offense is at with him under center, they can work on something long term. If he doesn’t work out and shows the inconsistency many think will continue to plague him, Buffalo can draft a quarterback next year and if they go that route, it likely means the pick would be high again as looking for a quarterback largely relates to a poor record.
Lastly, one could easily argue what keeps the Bills down more than anything isn’t the offense, but a defense that frankly is lousy up front. When you get shredded for 200 or more rushing yards in half your games and rarely get any quarterback pressure from your front four, upgrading the line has to be a high priority. If the Bills truly think they can compete anytime soon with a couple of talent upgrades, wouldn’t a top tier defensive end or linebacker have a larger impact than a rookie quarterback? For the very least in the short term, a stud prospect like Marcel Dareus, Von Miller or Da’Quan Bowers can do more good than any rookie quarterback.
Last season, his first as Bills general manager, Nix basically got a free pass as we learned what he’s looking for in draft picks. How guys like C.J. Spiller, Torrel Troup and Alex Carrington pan out remains to be seen. I certainly don’t envy Nix this time around…. his decisions this April, particularly at quarterback will have an enormous impact on the team’s future. Is he willing to put his legacy on the line with talented but raw rookies like Newton, Locker or Mallet? Or does he gamble on not addressing the position and truly letting this become Fitzpatrick’s team?
Once again— it’s why he makes the big bucks.