The start of the 2008 season was filled with answers for the Buffalo Bills. They had answered their head coach question, their defensive line questions, and most importantly their quarterback question.
That all came after a 5-1 start and the AFC East division lead. But just as winning brings answers, losing brings questions. The Bills have since gone 1-5 and their fans are asking a lot of questions and getting few answers.
The head coach question still has an answer, though it is not the same one that was there at 5-1. The defensive line has, at times, been a big question, too. However, the most important answer has now become the biggest question: Is Trent Edwards capable of being the Bills' franchise quarterback?
This question is hardly a matter of yes or no. There are a number of factors to consider, not to mention Edwards still has four games to make a statement this year.
The first thing to consider is whether or not Dick Jauron will indeed be the head coach of this team next year. If so, that would give Edwards another year in Turk Schonert's system which has been very effective at times, but has also seen Edwards struggle immensely.
If Jauron is fired it will probably mean a new system for Edwards to learn, which could mean either progress or regression for the Stanford grad.
What will the Bills receivers look like next year? Will James Hardy develop at all, or will the game appear to be over his head still? Will a tight end on the roster emerge as a force, or will the Bills look to free agency or the draft for a good tight end?
Another thing to consider is Trent Edwards' development relative to other quarterbacks in the league.
Edwards has followed a similar route to the starting lineup as Denver's Jay Cutler. Cutler took over for Jake Plummer in 2006 and played in five games that year, going 2-3. Cutler played in all 16 games last year for the Broncos and led them to a 7-9 record.
Cutler was brilliant at times last season, but he also struggled, much like Edwards has this year. He finished the 2007 season with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Edwards has 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions so far this year, and will probably finish just below Cutler's 2007 stats in most categories.
What has Cutler done this year?
He has the Broncos at 7-5 and in the division lead. He has already surpassed his 20 touchdowns last season with 21 so far this year. His quarterback rating of 87.8 is just below his final number of 88.1 at the end of 2007.
Putting the numbers aside, Cutler has progressed in each of his three seasons in Denver. In his second year he wasn't able to produce a playoff berth in Denver, but looks to be heading for a division title in his third year. Cutler also was a highly touted first round pick in 2006.
Cutler and Edwards aren't identical, but the comparison should go to show that good quarterbacks can struggle in their second seasons as starters.
Trent Edwards has shown that he has the ability to be a franchise quarterback, but he is still young and has yet to play a whole season as a starter. This season has been a learning experience for Edwards and the final four games will be as important as any he has played this year.
A huge reason for Edwards' struggles this season has been the 3-4 defense. Five of the Bills' losses this year have been to teams that run a 3-4 scheme, including all of their division rivals. Obviously if Edwards is going to be the guy he has to show that he can beat the 3-4 defense. He will have three more chances to do so this season.
If the Bills decide that Edwards is not the guy, who can they bring in?
In free agency some big names are Kurt Warner, Matt Cassel, Kerry Collins, and Jeff Garcia. Cassel is the most attractive of that group because of his age, while the others are quality quarterbacks, but don't provide long-term solutions.
The second tier of free agents includes Chris Simms, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, David Carr, Patrick Ramsey, Charlie Batch, and Byron Leftwich.
If the Bills were to pick up a free agent quarterback, Cassel is the best option, but he will demand a large salary and has proven himself no more than Trent Edwards has.
What about the draft?
It's still early, but there are some big name junior quarterbacks who may or may not declare for the draft. Some of the bigger names are Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Matthew Stafford.
Out of that group Colt McCoy would be my first choice. Tim Tebow is an attractive pick, but his pure passer skills are an unknown at this point, making the risk too great.
At this point, I am in favor of giving Edwards the benefit of the doubt and heading into 2009 with him as the starter, regardless of what happens these last four weeks. I believe he will be better next season and will become a more consistent quarterback as he matures.
That being said, the Bills still need to make some moves at the quarterback position. They need an experienced backup quarterback who can keep things rolling if Edwards goes down. Kerry Collins is an attractive pickup, so is Charlie Batch and maybe Byron Leftwich, too.
I would also like the Bills to bring in a rookie quarterback, perhaps a third round pick or an early second day pick. My short list includes: Chase Daniel from Missouri, Graham Harrell from Texas Tech, and my sentimental pick, Drew Willy from the University at Buffalo.
Trent Edwards has the tools necessary to win in the NFL. He has the make-up of a quarterback who will continue to develop into a solid football player and be good for years to come. The biggest aspect of his development is going to be the head coaching situation.
We continue to stay tuned...