What is the quickest, easiest and most frequently successful way to field a consistent winner in the NFL? The answer to that is easy - find yourself a good quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills have been searching for their first long-term good quarterback in the post-Jim Kelly era for over a decade. Right now, third-year pro Trent Edwards is attempting to solidify himself as the first young, long-term starter to be drafted by the Bills since Kelly was selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft.
For better or worse, the Bills are elbow-deep in the Edwards experiment. The current regime has their quarterback. What's next on the 'to do' list for any young quarterback? Get experience - and that's an area that Edwards is currently behind in, given that he has just two years of NFL experience and just 23 career starts.
The Bills are a talented football team. Their depth at the offensive skill positions is among the best in the league; their defense isn't laden with superstars, but has enough talent to fuel a playoff team. It's on the inexperienced Edwards to successfully navigate Buffalo to the post-season for the first time in nine years; that is the unfortunate truth of playing quarterback in the NFL.
Just how inexperienced are the Bills at quarterback, however? Even beyond Edwards, there were some concerns about the fact that his recently signed backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has just 15 career starts himself. There's hardly a wealth of playing experience between the Bills' top two signal callers. But a quick dose of perspective will tell you one thing: yeah, the Bills are inexperienced at quarterback, but they're also far more advanced at the position than over a quarter of the league.
Experience is obviously only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to having an "answer" at the quarterback position in the NFL. But it's also one of the few puzzle pieces that is actually tangible. Head on in past the jump for an analysis of just how green the Bills are at quarterback in relation to the rest of the NFL.
Much is made of the fact that Edwards is carrying the expectations of a desperate franchise on his shoulders despite having just 23 NFL starts under his belt. That's less than a season and a half of experience, making Edwards one of the league's biggest question marks at his position based on his youth alone. But there are teams that are even greener at the position, folks.
Here's a look at all 32 projected starting quarterbacks heading into the 2009 season, ranked by the number of career starts under their belts.
Peyton Manning, IND (176)
Kerry Collins, TEN (164)
Donovan McNabb, PHI (128)
Tom Brady, NE (111)
Drew Brees, NO (106)
Matt Hasselbeck, SEA (103)
Kurt Warner, ARI (101)
Daunte Culpepper, DET (95)
Marc Bulger, STL (87)
Jake Delhomme, CAR (81)
Chad Pennington, MIA (77)
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (71)
Eli Manning, NYG (71)
Carson Palmer, CIN (65)
Philip Rivers, SD (48)
Byron Leftwich, TB (46)
David Garrard, JAX (46)
Tony Romo, DAL (39)
Jay Cutler, CHI (37)
Jason Campbell, WAS (36)
Kyle Orton, DEN (33)
Matt Schaub, HOU (24)
Trent Edwards, BUF (23)
Tarvaris Jackson, MIN (19)
Aaron Rodgers, GB (16)
Joe Flacco, BAL (16)
Matt Ryan, ATL (16)
JaMarcus Russell, OAK (16)
Matt Cassel, KC (15)
Shaun Hill, SF (10)
Brady Quinn, CLE (3)
Mark Sanchez, NYJ (0)
Think about that, folks. This is an incredibly exclusive group of human beings. Of these 32 men, Buffalo's quarterback - as young, green, and experience-starved as he is - has more substantial NFL playing time than nine of his peers. If that doesn't tell you that NFL teams are impatient and take a lot of risks, I'm not sure what will.
Typically, NFL teams that roll the dice on young quarterbacks (i.e. every NFL team at some point) brings in a veteran quarterback with experience in the league to help guide the young starter behind the scenes. The smart money had Buffalo doing this to help speed up Edwards' development; the signing of Fitzpatrick, with just 15 career starts, laid that notion to rest.
Between Edwards and Fitzpatrick, Buffalo's quarterbacks have started 38 games - less than two and a half seasons' worth of starts. Yet again, that's a scary proposition - and yet again, over a quarter of the league are facing scarier propositions. Below, you'll find NFL teams ranked by the starting experience of their top two quarterbacks; this is, in effect, a ranking of the NFL's most experienced (and relevant) quarterback depth charts.
193 - Tennessee Titans (Kerry Collins, Vince Young)
182 - New Orleans (Drew Brees, Joey Harrington)
176 - Indianapolis (Peyton Manning, Jim Sorgi)
154 - Dallas (Tony Romo, Jon Kitna)
150 - NY Giants (Eli Manning, David Carr)
132 - Oakland (JaMarcus Russell, Jeff Garcia)
129 - St. Louis (Marc Bulger, Kyle Boller)
128 - Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb)
121 - Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch)
117 - Arizona (Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart)
115 - Seattle (Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace)
112 - Carolina (Jake Delhomme, Josh McCown)
111 - New England (Tom Brady, Kevin O'Connell)
95 - Detroit (Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford)
77 - Miami (Chad Pennington, Chad Henne)
73 - Cincinnati (Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan)
58 - San Diego (Philip Rivers, Billy Volek)
56 - Washington (Jason Campbell, Todd Collins)
54 - Jacksonville (David Garrard, Cleo Lemon)
48 - Denver (Kyle Orton, Chris Simms)
46 - Tampa Bay (Byron Leftwich, Josh Freeman)
40 - San Francisco (Shaun Hill, Alex Smith)
38 - Buffalo (Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick)
37 - Chicago (Jay Cutler, Brett Basanez)
31 - Houston (Matt Schaub, Dan Orlovsky)
31 - Minnesota (Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels)
30 - Cleveland (Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson)
26 - Kansas City (Matt Cassel, Tyler Thigpen)
26 - Atlanta (Matt Ryan, Chris Redman)
18 - Baltimore (Joe Flacco, Troy Smith)
16 - Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers, Brian Brohm)
8 - NY Jets (Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens)
Before you ask: yes, I do think it is most excellent that the Jets are by far the greenest team at quarterback in the league. Rex Ryan can talk up his Ray Lewis and Ed Reed-less defense all he wants, but quarterback is likely going to be a problem in New York.
This post is not, however, meant to delude Bills fans into thinking that Buffalo's lack of experience is somehow irrelevant when talking about the same topic on a league-wide basis. The fact that nine NFL teams have more inexperienced players starting at quarterback is very marginally related to how the 2009 season will unfold. There are some excellent teams that have less experience at quarterback than Buffalo, as well, so inexperience at the position doesn't necessarily equate to fielding a bad team. Nor does having experience equate to having a winning team - just ask the New Orleans Saints.
Buffalo's inexperience at the quarterback position is one of the critical areas that must be comfortably overcome if the team is going to end its playoff drought in 2009. But the fact that the Bills and their young quarterbacks don't even rank in the bottom quarter of the league in quarterback inexperience is a talking point unto itself - and that's your charge for now in the comments section.