The only way a Bills quarterback competition between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson makes any sense is if the winner is holding down the fort for a yet-to-be named draft pick at the position.
When last we saw Tarvaris Jackson in NFL games that counted, he was leading the Seattle Seahawks to a .500 record (7-7 in 14 games as a starter) in his only season with the team. By the time the following season had begun, the Seahawks had signed a free agent quarterback and drafted another, relegating Jackson to a trade to the Buffalo Bills that netted Seattle a seventh-round pick.
After a year in exile - Jackson spent 17 weeks on Buffalo's active roster in 2012, but did not dress once - he's coming back to Buffalo in an apparent open competition for the No. 1 role with incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In order to appreciate how much changed (or didn't) today, we need to flash back at least one month, when Bills fans were legitimately discussing the possibility that the team could have three entirely different quarterbacks than they had in 2012. At the time, the position featured two impending free agents (Jackson and Tyler Thigpen) and Fitzpatrick, whose contract made him a candidate for release with a new coaching staff coming in. The idea of a complete overhaul at the position had been a point of debate for weeks even then.
Fans and media may be surprised that the Bills aren't taking the full house-cleaning route with a new coaching staff in town, but the fact was the team was never going to go out and get three brand new quarterbacks in one off-season. Not even the Seahawks did that. (Well, not in the spring months, anyway; Jackson was traded in August.) One might argue that two players returning from the previous regime's stable is surprising, but that strikes me as a reaction lacking bigger-picture perspective.
Buffalo needs to draft a quarterback. Everyone knows it, including the GM that keeps talking about it. They also needed a veteran to hold down the fort until that rookie is ready. Quite frankly, there wasn't a veteran out there - whether on Buffalo's roster or not - that could simply be handed that role. Today, the new regime - led by Nix, but featuring Marrone - decided that they'd keep two veterans, then let them duke it out for the right to be the "bridge" quarterback between present day and whenever the new guy is ready to take over.
Maybe they're not the (read: your) ideal pair of veteran quarterbacks - they're not mine, either - but the Bills can do a lot worse than two players with plenty of experience, that have discernible strengths, and who have shown flashes of competence. It's splitting hairs, in my opinion, to pick two other veterans on the prospective market and try to claim that they're better than what was already on hand. They weren't going to find a solution to the problem, so they kept two guys that can rationally be called a band-aid.
For now, we know what Buffalo's quarterback situation looks like. It buys them more time in a year when there isn't a rookie quarterback that looks ready to step into a lineup. Here are four final points on Buffalo's quarterback situation that I'll leave you with:
- Again: the team needs to draft a quarterback. The idea of a quarterback competition for the right to be a stopgap solution is meaningless without a hand-picked prospect on the roster - particularly when Fitzpatrick and Jackson will turn 31 and 30, respectively, this year.
- If the Bills aren't completely enamored with a quarterback prospect this year, they should draft one anyway. Any upside is better than no upside, which is exactly what the Bills have had at the position for the entirety of the Buddy Nix era. They need a prospect to work with - and if it's not the ideal prospect, take him anyway and go find a better prospect next year. The team can't confuse caution (or patience) with inactivity at this position in the draft anymore.
- Just to drive this draft point home in as thorough a fashion as possible: I think if Nix foregoes taking a legitimate quarterback prospect for a fourth straight year, calls for his firing will be tough to argue against. For a franchise this desperate, that would be borderline inexcusable.
- The salary implications of the two deals between Fitzpatrick and Jackson are significant, and still have a role to play in this unfinished tale. John Wawrow of The Associated Press reported today that the Bills had not yet approached Fitzpatrick about re-structuring the contract that will pay him a $3 million roster bonus on March 13, not to mention $4.25 million in base salary - but he also noted that they are expected to do so at some point. Jackson's deal is reportedly worth as much as $4.5 million, depending on his ability to reach built-in incentives. Both are on the roster now. Unless something changes with Fitzpatrick's deal, it's no lock at all that both will be on the team when the season begins. For now, it's fair to wonder if the loser of this battle will be released. It's also fair to wonder if Fitzpatrick's spot in the competition is contingent on whether or not he takes a pay cut.