Bills Training Camp Battles: Third Quarterback

The week has arrived, Buffalo Bills fans: Bills rookies and veterans report to St. John Fisher College for training camp on Wednesday, and hit the field for the first time on Thursday. In that light, we're going to be busy this week, starting with wrapping up this battle series of ours.

Most eyes will be on the quarterback position in training camp, as fans and media alike await the winner of the three-way battle for the starting job between Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. If, like me, you're of the opinion that Buffalo's talent at quarterback dictates that the outcome won't really matter in the long run, you might, like me, be more interested in which three quarterbacks make the roster, as opposed to which one will be doing the most playing. That brings us to this morning's topic; yes, we'll cover that other one later this week.

With seventh-round project Levi Brown on the roster and a risky proposition for the practice squad, it's unclear which three quarterbacks the Bills will keep. Clearly, much of that decision is contingent on what happens at the top of the depth chart; with that in mind, we'll run down a couple of scenarios (which are mostly speculative on my part) and let you decide if you agree, or if you'd rather pose a scenario of your own.

If Trent Edwards Doesn't Win The Starting Job...
The first fundamental truth I'd like to posit is this: if Edwards, the fourth-year pro out of Stanford, does not beat out his teammates for the starting job, there is absolutely no good reason for him to remain part of this organization.

With just one year left on his rookie contract, Edwards - with the possible exception of Brohm - is the most expendable quarterback on the roster. Cutting him would be nearly akin to cutting an undrafted free agent. There's nothing prohibitive financially that could convince the team to keep him as a backup, and if Fitzpatrick proved anything last year, it's that he can lead the Bills, with all of their various deficiencies, to a few wins off the bench. Edwards is still, at worst, the second-most talented quarterback on the roster, and has by a considerable margin the most game experience; if he can't use those assets to win a simple training camp competition, it'll be time for the Bills to cut their losses.

That said, Edwards is still expected to get the first crack at the starting job, and as we discussed last week, there's no reason to believe that Brohm (or, to a lesser degree, Fitzpatrick) will outperform him in the pre-season. So I'll also roll with the likelihoods here and guess that Edwards wins the starting job.

If Trent Edwards Wins The Starting Job...
Then things get interesting. Buffalo will be forced to choose a backup quarterback - not an easy decision to predict at the moment - and also choose which higher-upside project they'd rather work with.

Fitzpatrick is a known commodity, and has by far the biggest salary implication of any signal-caller on the roster. He's due to make $5.1 million in base salaries over the next two years, and as Assistant GM Doug Whaley disclosed to BuffaloBills.com earlier this month, the Bills want to "go out and get solid contributing veterans that can start and will be here for most of their contracts." Clearly, this regime did not sign Fitzpatrick to his deal, so they might be willing to cut their losses. But in a QB corps full of question marks, Fitzpatrick is the most established as far as long-term potential goes, so that contract implication might be more important than it appears at first blush. He's entering the second year of a three-year deal.

Brohm would be Fitzpatrick's chief competitor for backup quarterback, and many believe at the moment that there's a very good chance Brohm opens camp getting No. 2 reps. Chan Gailey was up front about his belief that Brohm "made a jump" during spring workouts, but he hasn't proven anything in the practice setting with pads on - and he's still got to overcome his pre-season demons, as well. There's little doubt that Brohm's upside is significantly higher than Fitzpatrick's, but again, the term "proven commodity" means a lot in this discussion, as well.

If Fitzpatrick beats out Brohm for the backup job, then the team will have to decide which of its high-upside projects - Brohm or Brown - is more worthy of the third spot on the depth chart. If Brohm wins the backup job, then the Bills must choose between their project or their proven commodity with the biggest contract. Boiling everything down as succinctly as possible (and again, this is mostly subjective, and certainly not the only scenario):

Edwards gets cut IF: he cannot win the starting QB job.
Fitzpatrick gets cut IF: Edwards is the starter AND Brohm is the backup AND the team prioritizes Brown's upside over Fitzpatrick's accomplishments/contract.
Brohm gets cut IF: Edwards is the starter AND Fitzpatrick is the backup AND the team prioritizes Brown's upside to Brohm's.
Brown gets cut IF: Edwards is the starter AND the team prefers Fitzpatrick's accomplishments OR Brohm's upside to Brown's upside as the third quarterback.

The poll is up. You know what to do with it.

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