Sometime in the near future the Buffalo Bills will need to acquire a player that can be pegged as the quarterback of the future. While it is certain that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the quarterback of the future, when his replacement will be brought in is far less certain.
The safe assumption for the Bills will be to draft a quarterback in order to make a proper investment in the position and the future of the team. The free agency or trade option is always there, but a majority of the league’s elite quarterbacks were acquired with a draft pick. The question that will eventually need to be asked is; how long should this player be given to blossom?
In a league that has created a “what have you done for me lately?” culture, there isn’t much room for error for quarterbacks. Typically the higher a player is drafted, the shorter the time is for them to meet expectations. Just ask David Carr, Tim Couch or J.P. Losman. All first round picks who never found their way as starters in the league, now they’re either serving as a backup, winning UFL championships or on TV. However, are top prospect quarterbacks given too little rope to hang themselves with?
Alex Smith was all but declared a bust up until last season. Suddenly, thanks to a QB friendly coach – and defense – Smith has begun to enjoy success and show some of the strengths that made him the first overall pick in 2005. That is seven years worth of ups, downs, trade rumors and other starting quarterbacks with his team only to arrive at the point the 49ers expected when they picked Smith first overall.
Obviously the Nines are being rewarded for their diligence, no matter how long it took. Seven years is probably far too long to wait if a quarterback is expected to blossom into the franchise cornerstone that comes along with a high draft pick. For most teams in the NFL, it seems as if three seasons is usually the magic number when it comes to quarterbacks, coaches or just about anyone else.
For the Bills, a team that has gone a dozen years without a playoff berth and haven’t guaranteed much yet in 2012, quarterback play has long been an issue. Outside of the Drew Bledsoe acquisition, it has been a position of weakness for the franchise. Sitting on a proposed five-year plan probably isn’t in anyone’s frame of mind, particularly with such a flimsy ownership and lease situation.
Ownership quandary aside, the Bills are fast approaching the day in which an heir apparent for Fitzpatrick will need to be brought in. While it would be terrific to find someone like Matt Schaub or Carson Palmer available on the free agent or trade market, it is more likely that the Bills will be drafting their QB. In fact, only eight teams acquired their quarterback by means other than the NFL draft. The number climbs to ten if the Eli Manning/Phillip Rivers swap from 2004 is counted.
A few other interesting QB-related numbers include:
- Six current starters were drafted after the second round
- 18 of 32 starters were drafted prior to 2009, two were drafted in 2008
- 17 starters have been with their team for at least three years – Peyton Manning and Palmer are veterans of more than three seasons
- Eleven starters are in their first or second year in the NFL; Freeman, Sanchez and Stafford are three-year veterans
- Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and the Kolb/Skelton duo are in their first or second year with their team
Those numbers should signify that most teams have a rather high turnover for their quarterbacks and little time is devoted to finding out if the drafted player is for real. For example, of teams with quarterbacks who have three or fewer seasons in the NFL, ten of those players entered a situation which could be qualified as unsettled (Bradford, Gabbert, Locker, Manning, Newton, Palmer, Stafford, Tannehill, Weeden, Kolb/Skelton). Only Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck were brought in by teams who had established starters prior to drafting new talent.
That last point is rather objective simply because it would take forever to determine how adequate each team’s quarterbacking was when their current starter was introduced. For the 14 teams with first or second-year starters, the situation is easier to determine. Tennessee being a great example after they bungled Vince Young and were forced to regroup just a few short years after he was drafted. New England and Green Bay showing the opposite to that point, as they promoted their current stars despite having capable veterans on the roster.
There are a few points to be made here. First, quarterback is a delicate position which requires supreme talent that is typically found in the upper reaches of the draft. It is a position that requires patience which is often bypassed in the NFL. Lastly, the Bills may want to take the slow approach once they secure their quarterback of the future.
Assume that the Bills will be using either their first or second round pick on a quarterback in 2013. It would be quite surprising if they went in any other direction at this point. Whoever they end up drafting, will need to be given the proper tutelage through his first few seasons. In fact, it would probably be wise to guide that player through at least a season or two before applying any sort of pressure to be truly brilliant for the organization.
The Bills have a few things playing to their favor, however. First, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a great player to learn from. He knows the offense and is capable of running it well. He can be the Kitna to the Bills’ Palmer for the first season, showing the rookie the ropes and guiding him through some of the learning curve before handing over the keys. In addition, the Bills finally have a line that will be able to keep a rookie QB upright. It seems that many first-round flame outs are playing behind patchwork lines and for awful teams (see Carr, David). Once Andy Levitre is locked up, it would be safe to assume this group of five will be together for the first few seasons of any rookie’s tenure.
This is not a point that would be overlooked by many and might just provide a certain tipping point for the development of any young passer. Not only is the running game strong, the Bills have some weapons in the passing game. Combined with such a sound line, a rookie quarterback wouldn’t have as much on his plate as some have in the past.
Losman played behind and average line despite having some decent weapons at his disposal. Aside from being generally awful, Trentative’s line was very hit and miss. The same can be said for most Bills quarterbacks not named Kelly or Reich. At long last, the Bills have a line capable of improving every facet of the offensive gameplan. Plugging in an elite talent at quarterback might just be the missing link.
There are some obvious holes that still need to be plugged on this roster. Some exist on offense (receiver). However, there is talent coming through in the next draft which can provide the Bills with an elite quarterback. Now that there is finally a recipe for success at the quarterback position in Buffalo, the only step left is to find the player to fill that spot.