Prior to the 2011 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix made their plan of attack very clear to starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: he was their starter, but if a quarterback they liked was available with the No. 3 overall pick, they'd take him.
Cam Newton didn't make it past the No. 1 overall pick (and hindsight has proven that a very wise decision on Carolina's part), the Bills weren't enamored with either Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder, and the team went with defensive lineman Marcell Dareus with their top pick. Now, Fitzpatrick is the highest-paid player in team history and coming off of a so-so season in his first full year as an NFL starting quarterback.
Has anything changed in the organization's stance on finding a "franchise" quarterback? What does this position look like heading into the most critical off-season of Nix and Gailey's tenure in Buffalo? Head on in after the jump for the talking points.
Age: 29 (30 in November 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2018. Due $36.75M in base salary and $11M in bonuses over next six years.
Considering Fitzpatrick just completed his first season as a full-time starter, it's little wonder that he set career highs in completions (353), attempts (569), completion percentage (62.0 percent), passing yards (3,832), touchdowns (24) and interceptions (23). As with any starting quarterback, the Bills went as Fitzpatrick went; No. 14 was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, then finished with a 10-to-16 TD-to-INT ratio as the Bills stumbled to 1-8 after a 5-2 start.
Fitzpatrick was signed to the richest contract in team history in October. His body of work in 29 games as Buffalo's starting quarterback doesn't measure up to his pay level (6,832 yards, 47 touchdowns, 38 interceptions and a 10-19 record), but there's no question that Fitzpatrick will be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.
Age: 27 (28 in April 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Signed a three-year, $11M deal before 2011 season.
Signed as an unrestricted free agent to back up Fitzpatrick, that's exactly what Thigpen did in 2011. Fitzpatrick was the least-sacked starting quarterback in the NFL and played all 16 games, with Thigpen only attempting eight passes (with an interception) in three mop-up appearances throughout the season. Gailey has a high level of familiarity with Thigpen, and with a year in Gailey's offense, the Bills have some security at backup quarterback.
POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: As long as Nix and Gailey are involved, Fitzpatrick is a lock to be involved in some fashion after the massive contract he signed. Again, that's just for the foreseeable future, because it's hard to imagine that the decision-making duo sees a quarterback on the verge of 30 as up-and-down as Fitzpatrick as the long-term starter. They clearly like him, though. They also seem to like Thigpen, and with two years remaining on his deal as Fitzpatrick's well-paid backup, the team appears set in the short-term at the position.
FREE AGENCY: It's hard to imagine the Bills paying any attention whatsoever to the free agent quarterback class, given the market-level deals for their starter (Fitzpatrick) and backup (Thigpen). Stop dreaming about Matt Flynn right now, Bills fans, lest you manufacture a new level of disappointment that shouldn't have existed to begin with.
2012 NFL DRAFT: It's just my opinion, but I firmly believe three things about the Bills and the quarterback position entering the 2012 NFL Draft. First: the team's stance on Fitzpatrick hasn't changed, even after the big contract. If they like a quarterback when they're on the clock at No. 10 overall, they'll take him. Second: the chances of a quarterback they like being on the board at No. 10 are extremely remote. Third: Nix won't trade up for a quarterback he likes. The team desperately needs to start developing a guy for the long-term, but don't expect the Bills to make that developmental guy a first-round pick. Not in 2012, anyway.