FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 01: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball in the second half against the New England Patriots on January 1, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the quarterback of the present for the Buffalo Bills. Considering he signed a massive six-year, $59 million contract extension (with $24 million guaranteed) last October, he's also the quarterback of the foreseeable future, regardless of failing fan sentiment surrounding him. At minimum, he will be the Bills' quarterback as long as Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are involved in the operation; given their 10-22 record, that might not be for more than another year or two, anyway.
But the Bills need to get back to the situation they (gulp) had in 2010 at quarterback: they need to get back to developing guys.
When Gailey took over the coaching duties in 2010, he tried his hand at developing four quarterbacks. Trent Edwards got the early first look, and he flopped; Fitzpatrick took to Gailey's offense well and was productive, and when he got banged up, Brian Brohm and Levi Brown flopped in brief appearances. Still, the Bills were developing players at the position - or, rather, attempting to.
Those attempts stopped in 2011, at least insofar as year-to-year development goes. Fitzpatrick got his contract extension, Tyler Thigpen was signed as his backup, and suddenly, the Bills were without a longer-term developmental option at the position.
That trend needs to reverse itself heading in 2012. Fitzpatrick will turn 30 in November. In 2010, he missed time due to injury, and in 2011, he played more than half of the season with a rib injury that may or may not have seriously affected his production - and in turn the team's production. He takes a lot of hits, and as he ages, he won't recover from them as quickly. The Bills need to be thinking long-term here.
That does not mean, however, that the Bills should be looking to replace Fitzpatrick. They're not. As we said up top, Fitzpatrick is their guy, for better or worse. But the team needs some new blood at the position. Fitzpatrick's presence does one thing for the team's need to develop a quarterback: it lessens the urgency, particularly when related to the flat-out desperation the team had at the outset of the 2010 season. The need, however, remains, and can no longer be ignored.
We'll leave it up to you to argue how the team can best go about getting that developmental guy; we imagine many will argue for a quarterback with the No. 10 overall pick, and we also suspect that many an under-the-radar draft prospect will be mentioned. After a year of developmental stagnancy, however, we believe that most Bills fans would agree that it's time to start thinking for the long-term at this position again - and specifically beyond Fitzpatrick.