'09 success still rests on Edwards' shoulders (buffalobills.com)
After two days, I'm beginning to understand why the national media follows Terrell Owens around ceaselessly. The man is, quite literally, an unending source for interesting discussion material. Now that he's a Buffalo Bill, we can get away with talking about T.O. non-stop for at least another few hours.
If Owens' arrival in Buffalo has done one thing, it's excite this fan base. And let's face it - we needed a little excitement. But before you start daydreaming of the damage that Owens and Lee Evans can do to defensive backfields or experience visions of playoff games dancing through your heads, keep one fact at the very front of your mind: not even Terrell Owens is a guarantee for playoff success. No wide receiver is.
At Owens' introductory press conference, Bills COO Russ Brandon called Owens "one of the premiere playmakers in a playmakers' league." He was half right. Owens is very much an elite playmaker - one of the finest in NFL history, in fact. But this is not a playmakers' league. It's a quarterback's league. Trent Edwards is still the one man that will decide the fate of the Bills in 2009.
Owens' effect on quarterbacks
Even with that fact in mind, Edwards' job likely got infinitely easier when Owens signed his one-year deal with Buffalo on Saturday.
The Bills are the fourth team that Owens will play for since his illustrious, controversial career began in 1996. While in San Francisco, he helped turn Jeff Garcia into a solid quarterback; the vet has been a stop-gap starter and backup since. In his first season in Philadelphia (2004), Donovan McNabb completed nearly seven percent more of his passes (57.5% completions rose to 64%), threw for 659 more yards, nearly doubled his touchdown output (16 scores in '03 compared to 31 in '04), and saw his QB rating rise by 25 points. Owens split for Dallas in 2006; once Drew Bledsoe was benched, Tony Romo made his professional debut by completing 65.3% of his throws, accumulating 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns along the way. He's been productive in the two seasons since, with Owens catching 25 of Romo's 62 touchdowns during that span.
Owens' statistical effect on the quarterbacks he's worked with is well-documented. Unfortunately, so is his history of alienating the quarterbacks he's worked with. It's almost a virtual certainty that barring an injury on the behalf of either party, Edwards' numbers will skyrocket in 2009. The real question is how the second-year starter out of Stanford handles Owens when the going gets tough.
This is still Edwards' team
I don't care how young, old, excellent or craptastic you are as an NFL quarterback. If you're on the field at the position in the regular season, you're the de facto leader of the team. You have to play with confidence. Edwards has shown strong leadership qualities in his two-plus years in Buffalo, but he doesn't play with enough confidence at this point in his career to be the guy that's a sure bet to carry a team to the playoffs.
Edwards can be that player. The mere presence of T.O. is going to accelerate his progress toward being that player. But he's not going to be that player until he is that player. That's why it's called "arriving".
Until that arrival occurs - and it could be coming soon, or it may never come at all - the pressure remains on Edwards' shoulders to finally end the Bills' nine-year playoff drought. It also lies in part with Dick Jauron. Jauron realizes that you can't control the uncontrollable. There is no NFL coach past, present or future that can put his thumb on Terrell Owens and keep him in line. Jauron will let Owens be Owens, because he has no other choice. Where Jauron needs to draw the line, however, is Owens attempting to take the team under his wing, particularly by calling out teammates as he's done in the past. It's clear now that this is still Edwards' team. Jauron needs to keep that fact crystal clear for Owens' entire year here. If he can't, the T.O. Experiment is a disaster waiting to happen.
Owens brings excitement to Buffalo. He brings thrilling possibility to a Bills offense that has proven itself to be the antonym of "thrilling" for several years now. But Owens is not the Buffalo Bills. The face of the franchise remains, as it should, Trent Edwards. It's a quarterback's league. Our quarterback's job just got a heck of a lot easier. But it's still on his shoulders - and we would be wise not to forget it.