I spent many of my college football weekends last year watching the top quarterbacks. When the Trent Edwards era with the Bills officially came to an end in September, I figured the franchise was destined to find their quarterback of the future in the 2011 draft so why not see who was out there. My personal top 3 were: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett although there was a pretty good gap between Newton and Mallett.
This year, I didn't spend any time watching the top signal callers in college because as the first few weeks of the season played out, it sure looked like the Bills found their quarterback of the future and his name was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Do you remember when it seemed like the Bills would never again have a quarterback throw for a 200 yard game? Fitzpatrick opened the season topping that mark in wins over Kansas City and Oakland while also throwing 7 touchdown passes and only 1 interception. At the time the popular opinion was that Fitzpatrick probably wasn't an elite qb who can win a Super Bowl but you can win games with him and compete for a playoff spot. In addition the Bills can draft a quarterback at some point(no rush) and he can train under Fitzpatrick.
When the Bills broke the streak against New England and Fitzpatrick threw for 389 yards and 2 TD's, Western New York went into "just pay the man" mode for not only Fitzpatrick but Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson as well. But times have dramatically changed as far as the fans feelings towards the number 1 qb and his 6 year, $59 million contract. As far as drafting a quarterback next April, it now seems its a matter of when and not if. Should the Bills use their first round pick on a qb? What about trading up to make sure they get 1 of the top guys available? There's even some sentiment to cut ties with Fitzpatrick and get out of the new contract.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Bills can do exactly that after the season and only be on the hook for the $10 million signing bonus Fitzpatrick received. If you're thinking about free agency for a stop gap at the position, there isn't much to get excited about. The pool of free agents includes: Alex Smith(who I would think the Niners would now re-sign), Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, Chad Henne, Vince Young, Rex Grossman(stop me if anyone is worth it), Kyle Boller, David Garrard, Brady Quinn and Shaun Hill. If the Indianapolis Colts end up with the first overall pick and decided to trade Peyton Manning, that might change the Bills plans.
Everything is on the table because Fitzpatrick and the offense have completely fallen apart. During the 7 game losing streak Fitzpatrick is completing only 57% of his passes(it was 67% during the 5-2 start), while throwing 8 TD's and getting picked off 12 times. His 19 interceptions for the season is the most in the NFL. While the losing streak has extended the Bills playoff drought to 12 seasons and sucked the life out of Western New York, it has also moved the Bills up in the draft order. They are currently 10th and in a group of 5 win teams along with Washington, Carolina and Miami. 4 win teams Jacksonville, Cleveland and Tampa Bay are next, occupying draft spots 4 thru 6.
It appears the consensus top 3 quarterbacks who could be available in the draft are Luck, Matt Barkley from USC and Baylor's Robert Griffin III who just recently won the Heisman Trophy. None of them are seniors so they would have to declare for the draft. If you're wondering which teams currently above the Bills would consider taking a quarterback with their first pick, Indianapolis, Washington and Miami are on the list. So the top 3 guys could all be gone by the time the Bills are on the clock.
Here's what I would do. First, I would not release Fitzpatrick. It isn't a contract that will weigh the Bills down or limit their abilities to make other moves to improve the roster(and many are needed). If he plays next season, the Bills will owe Fitzpatrick just under $8 million. It would be just over $7 million in 2013 so they can pay him while developing his replacement. That replacement should come from the 2012 draft, the only question is where? I would prefer the Bills take that top pick and bring in an impact player on defense or even a wide receiver to complement Stevie Johnson(or take his spot if the Bills can't re-sign him). But quite honestly, Fitzpatrick has made me skeptical and you can't win in the NFL without a big time quarterback. If there is a guy they love, or as Buddy Nix would say a 10 year franchise guy, then do whatever you have to do to get him. Trade up for Luck or Barkley or RG III if one of those men fits the aforementioned description. If not, then get an impact player for the woeful defense in round 1 and look at qb options in round 2. Andy Dalton was a 2nd round pick and seems to be working out just fine in Cincinnati.
Make sure you join me on Saturday for the pre game show since the qb's will be the talk of the day. I'll be discussing Fitzpatrick's future as well as Tebowmania. The WGR Pre Game show begins at 8am and I'll be on from 10-noon.