The Ryan Fitzpatrik era ended in Buffalo on Tuesday.
The Buffalo Bills intend to draft a quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft. Whether or not they reach for one is yet to be determined. The issue of drafting a quarterback is now a certainty after Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Twitter that the Bills released starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Buffalobills.com reported that the move means that the Bills will take a salary cap hit of over $10 million dollars. Buffalo can split the salary cap hit over the 2013 and 2014 season, to soften the blow of this move.
Fitzpatrick was given every chance to prove that he deserved to be a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. He started 45 of the last 46 games since taking over for Trent Edwards in Week 3 of the 2010 season.
His record in that time has been 16-29, which amounts to a lousy winning percentage of .355. Even worse, his record over that same time period in crucial starts against AFC East rivals is 4-12, which is a winning percentage of .250.
In the last three years, Fitzpatrick turned the ball over 67 times, which was the most of any quarterback in the NFL during that span. That is the kind of production that keeps you out of the playoff hunt year after year, not to mention that it results in losing your job.
Who deserved to lose their job the most?
Bills GM Buddy Nix has stubbornly refused to invest a high-draft pick on a franchise quarterback, stating adamantly over the past few years that he believed Fitzpatrick could lead the Bills to the playoffs. The release of Fitzpatrick demonstrates that Nix was as dead wrong in his assessment of the quarterback position as he could have possibly been.
It is one thing to stake your team's fortunes to an inferior starting quarterback, but it is another thing to privately throw your starting quarterback under the bus when talking to other NFL general managers.
In an article that appeared on Deadspin.com, a couple of pranksters in their 20's were able to orchestrate and tape what should have been a private conversation between Nix and Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik.
During the conversation, Nix complains to Dominik that he is hamstrung by the $10 million he is paying Fitzpatrick, who Nix says should be fighting for a backup quarterback job.
This embarrassing prank provides ammunition for why the Bills should be moving on from both Nix and Fitzpatrick. Nix no longer viewed Fitzpatrick as a starter. In addition, Nix wasted any opportunity he ever had of receiving anything back in trade by trashing the value of his own player to opposing GM's. Lord knows how many other similar conversations Nix previously held with other general managers around the league.
If anything, the new regime that Russ Brandon has put in place should be looking to ramp up the promotion of Doug Whaley to the general manager role sooner as opposed to later.
So who will be the Bills starting quarterback in 2013?
As things stand right now the Bills only have two quarterbacks on their roster; veteran Tarvaris Jackson and newcomer Aaron Corp. On Tuesday's show of ESPN's NFL Live, ex-Bills GM Bill Polian stated that he doesn't view Jackson as a worthy-starting quarterback in the NFL.
In terms of other veteran quarterbacks that are available free agents, the list is rather slim.The list includes Bruce Gradkowski, Derek Anderson, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Drew Stanton, Josh Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Brady Quinn, Caleb Hanie and Donovan McNabb.
Then there are a number of quarterbacks that are currently under contract that could very well be dumped just like Fitzpatrick over the span of the next few weeks. That group includes Carson Palmer, Tim Tebow, Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb, Matt Hasselbeck and Colt McCoy.
In addition, there is a few quarterbacks that are thought to be available via trade. Those options include Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallet and Nick Foles. Another possible option is Brian Hoyer, who is a restricted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona gave Hoyer a second-round tender offer.
Before we explore the quarterback options available in the draft, let's look at the "Buddy Nix QB draft track record" since he took over in 2010.
In the three drafts that Nix has conducted since assuming the GM role in 2010, Nix has drafted a total of one quarterback. That distinction fell to Levi Brown, who Nix drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 round. Besides Brown, Nix has felt that there wasn't a single quarterback that returned proper value or upside whenever the Bills were on the clock.
It's not that Nix hasn't had the chance to draft somebody, as there have been plenty of opportunities that he decided to pass on. The 2010 draft was a weak class as Sam Bradford has emerged as the only real starter left from that year and he was long gone when the Bills were on the clock.
In the first round of the 2011 draft, Nix passed on Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder in favor of Marcel Darius. In the second round, he passed on Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick in favor of corner Aaron Williams. In the third round, he took Kelvin Sheppard instead of Ryan Mallet.
Then in 2012, the first round again saw Nix ignore the need for a quarterback as he selected Stephon Gilmore rather than Brandon Weeden. In the second round, Nix took Cordy Glenn over Brock Osweiller. In the third round, it was T.J. Graham as opposed to Russell Wilson or Nick Foles. In the fourth round, more of the same. Nigel Bradham and Ron Brooks were selected instead of Kirk Cousins.
Understand that we aren't saying that the player Nix drafted wasn't an important part of the Bills future or will wind up becoming a better player than the quarterback that Nix passed over.
What we are saying is that Nix has been presented with numerous opportunities to draft a quality quarterback, and wasn't brave enough to stake his reputation (and his job) to be tied to the fortunes of any of them. Instead he stubbornly decided to stake his reputation to the skills of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Whether you want to say that Nix's perception of the value of a franchise quarterback is at fault, or he's unwilling to invest the necessary high draft pick to acquire one, you have to conclude that Nix has badly missed the boat time and time again on the most-important position in the game.
Next we address the options that are available to the Bills in the 2013 NFL draft.
It doesn't help the Bills chances of landing the quarterback they want in the draft when Nix announced that they intended to draft a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Way to keep your cards close to the vest Buddy !! Nix admitted at the 2013 Indianapolis Scouting Combine that sometimes his honesty gets him into trouble.
What is best way Bills should address QB need(s)?
The problem is that any team that has a similar grade on a quarterback that the Bills covet only has to trade up one position ahead of the Bills to steal him away. Nix has shown a stubborn approach to draft day trades, preferring to stay put with whatever picks they started out with. Don't be surprised if this tendency backfires on the Bills at least once in the upcoming draft.
In the upcoming draft class of 2013, there are 10 quarterbacks that deserve some type of consideration that we will highlight in this presentation. How many of them are franchise quarterbacks? Hard to answer, just like it was hard to determine up front that Russell Wilson would emerge as a franchise quarterback for Seattle in 2012.
Here are my top 10 most-likely quarterbacks that Nix and company will be evaluating for the 2013 draft. The link provided will take you to the NFL.com site of quarterbacks that attended the NFL Scouting Combine. The 10 quarterbacks are listed in order of their NFL.com evaluation grade.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith (91): Is widely considered the top quarterback in the 2013 draft class. Nix will be sorely tempted to take Smith if he is still there on the big board with the No. 8 overall draft pick. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock rates Smith as somebody that should go in the 16-25 range due to his inconsistency this year. Had some great talents to work with in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson (83.5): Wilson had a better junior year than a senior year. He lost a number of his wide receivers to the NFL after the 2011 season, so his 2012 season suffered as a result. Wilson took a beating in 2012, but demonstrated tremendous toughness. Does that remind you of any former Bills quarterback?
Miami (Ohio) QB Zac Dysert (83.5): Ran a spread offense at Miami of Ohio. Dysert has impressed a number of analysts on tape, but the level of competition he faced wasn't anywhere close to what he will see in the NFL.
USC QB Matt Barkley (82): Barkley returned for his senior season at USC even though he would have likely been drafted in the top-10 last year. Barkley didn't have a great senior year and suffered a shoulder injury that prevented him from throwing at the combine. Intangibles could force teams to draft him in the first round.
No. Carolina St. QB Mike Glennon (79.4): Very tall at 6'7", Glennon has a long windup on his delivery to release the ball. That doesn't bode well for his future, unless he makes big improvements with his technique.
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib (78.7): The odds-on favorite to wind up being drafted by the Bills, due to his familiarity with the new offense that new offensive coordinator Nate Hackett wants to install. Nix was already scouting Nassib in 2012, and that was before the Bills hired Marrone to be the head coach. If Nassib doesn't win the starting job, he can teach the offense to the starter that does win the job.
He could be headed for the same scenario that Ryan Tannehill found himself in with the Miami Dolphins last year, by playing for your college coach in the pros.
Florida St. QB E.J. Manuel (68.7): The MVP of the Senior Bowl, Manuel has been a winner. At Florida St., Manuel won four bowl games. He is athletic and could be a sleeper in this draft class.
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray (67.8): Only underclassman from our group. Bray had some talented wide receivers to throw the ball to at Tennessee. Has some accuracy issues, as does the majority of quarterbacks in this class. At least he played in the tough SEC, which is good preparation for the the NFL.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones (67.2): Plenty of starting experience at Oklahoma, throwing to receivers that are NFL-quality like Ryan Broyles. Jones isn't very mobile, but can get rid of the ball quickly, like Fitzpatrick. Needs to make better decisions with the ball when he is under pressure.
Arizona QB Matt Scott (55.4): Scott is the darkhorse or sleeper quarterback of the 2013 NFL draft class. Scott has been moving up draft boards in the past month, so disregard the lower grade from NFL.com. Draft Insider Tony Pauline tweeted that the Bills are going to bring Scott in for a visit.
For several different perspectives, ESPN's Mel Kiper latest quarterback rankings are: Smith, Barkley, Nassib, Glennon and Wilson.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network, ranks his top-five quarterbacks in this order: Smith, Manuel, Barkley, Glennon, Nassib and Jones. He has Nassib and Jones tied for the fifth spot.
That covers the potential options for the Bills to focus on. Going forward, new head coach Doug Marrone wants to have an open competition in training camp. Jackson could find himself fighting for the job with another NFL veteran, or with two rookies, like the Washington Redskins did last year when they selected Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in the same draft.
The Bills will continue their search to find the next Jim Kelly. It is possible that he might not be discovered until 2014. Bills fans can only hope that they get a break and finally get it right.