The 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, yet the Buffalo Bills remain with only two quarterbacks on their roster. One way or another, the Bills need to acquire at least two more quarterbacks before training camp. Buddy Nix has stated that much, at least, about the position moving forward.
At this point, the lockout must be concluded before the Bills can even think about acquiring a quarterback. When it does, Buffalo has several options on how to do this. They can trade for one, sign an undrafted free agent, or sign a veteran free agent.
After the quarterbacks are added to the roster, what will it mean for the quarterbacks already on it? Will they be given the chance to prove they can be the franchise quarterback? Or will one of the new guys claim that title?
Currently, the Bills have only two quarterbacks on the roster in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Levi Brown. Fitzpatrick is coming off a very solid season as the starter, while Brown spent the vast majority of the season riding the pine. Buffalo does not want to go into the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster, so they will look to add more.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick did better this year than anyone expected. After losing the starting job to Trent Edwards in the preseason, no one was predicting him to play as well as he did. Once he took over as starter, he played well enough that he is now being considered as a possible quarterback of the future. I'm not sure he's good enough to reach the Super Bowl, but I think the playoffs are a definite possibility with him at the helm.
2. Levi Brown
Brown didn't really impress anyone in his one year with the Bills. He was released after the preseason, but was resigned after Trent Edwards was let go. He struggled mightily in his limited game experience. He is still a developmental quarterback at this point and it's a scary thought to imagine him starting if Fitzpatrick got hurt.
One of the ways that Buffalo can choose to address the quarterback position is through a trade. I devoted an entire article to why I don't think this would be a wise route for the Bills to take so I'll just hit the highlights here.
The three quarterbacks rumored to be on the trade market (Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, and Carson Palmer) are just not worth trading for. They are not substantially better than Ryan Fitzpatrick at this stage of their career and Buffalo would have to give up too much to get them.
I don't think this is a likely direction for the Bills to take. Buddy Nix showed with the draft that he doesn't consider quarterback to be that pressing of a need. I think they'll look for quarterbacks in free agency.
Another route that Buffalo could go to acquire a quarterback is to sign an undrafted free agent. I fully expect that Buffalo will go after one of these players to develop during training camp. I would be pleased if the Bills signed any of the following guys
The number one overall pick in the UFL Draft. Who knows? Maybe with all the labor uncertainty in the NFL, he will choose to sign a UFL contract. If he doesn't, he could be a good fit in Chan Gailey's offense. He is very mobile and has a strong arm, but needs work on his accuracy.
Tolzien is a very accurate passer. In his senior year, he completed over 70 percent of his passes and only threw six interceptions. He has some mobility in the pocket, but does not have the strongest arm. I think Tolzien will be a very good backup quarterback in the NFL.
Mustain was never given the opportunity to excel in college. One of the most highly recruited quarterbacks coming out of high school, he went undefeated in his freshmen year at Arkansas until he was inexplicably benched. After that, he transferred to USC where he has sat behind Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. He would be well worth a look. I don't think there is a quarterback out there with more potential than him.
I believe that Buffalo will look to add another veteran presence at the quarterback position. I doubt it will be a very splashy pick-up. I'm thinking someone along the lines of a Craig Nall or Kelly Holcomb. They're going to look for someone who will fit in their system instead of signing a player to build a system around Here are a couple free agents in case they do decide to go after someone with more recognition:
At this point of his career, Bulger is a shell of the player he once was. He played behind some terrible Rams' offensive lines and lost his confidence. Still, Bulger would provide a good backup option behind Fitzpatrick. Rumor has it that he will be playing in Arizona this year so I'm not sure if this is realistic.
I'd say it's pretty likely that Hasselbeck will be returning to the Seahawks this year. They didn't draft a QB and their only other starting option is Charlie Whitehurst. I just figured I would give him a mention because he was one of the few free agents out there that could actually give Fitzpatrick competition for the starting job. He's only got one or two good years left so I don't think the Bills are giving him serious consideration.
Smith is not likely to return to San Francisco. The 49'ers have likely moved on with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. He would be a perfect fit for Gailey's system. Smith has had limited success with his playing time and probably deserves an opportunity someplace to start. I would like to see what the former Heisman winner could do with Gailey, who has done more with less.
I see the Bills picking up an undrafted rookie and a veteran free agent so that they will go into training camp with four quarterbacks. What remains to be decided is the long-term future of the position.
I don't expect either the new acquisitions or Levi Brown to seriously compete with Fitzpatrick this year. It is just within the realm of possibility that Brown or the rookie would compete with Fitzpatrick down the road, but for this year at least, I believe it's his job to keep.
I predict that the veteran will serve as the primary backup to Fitzpatrick in case of injury. Having a capable backup is a necessity in today's NFL.
Either Brown or the rookie will be released. It will depend on who shows more promise in the preseason.
I see this as a trial year for Fitzpatrick. With an improved supporting cast, this is his year to prove that he can be the franchise quarterback. If he fails to prove this, I believe the Bills will aggressively pursue a quarterback in next year's draft.