Happy Monday, Buffalo Bills fans! We're now less than 36 hours away (it's 34 hours from the time of this article's publishing, in fact) from the start of 2013 NFL free agency! Before our favorite team starts throwing money at veteran players from other teams, however, they've got a major decision to make about one of their own: whether or not to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick for the 2013 season.
When we get right down to it, the Bills have four options to pursue with their starting quarterback from the last three-plus years, as outlined below. One way or another, the team will make a definitive statement about the shape of the quarterback position within the next 2-3 says, depending on what happens with No. 14. Their four options are...
Option 1: Negotiate a re-structured deal
The only way to circumvent (or "cirsumvrent," if you're Gob Bluth) a tricky salary cap situation with Fitzpatrick is to get him to re-structure his contract. That needs to happen before free agency begins at 4PM on Tuesday, as we'll explain in the next two options. The idea of a re-structure would be to significantly lower his $10.5 million cap number if he's on the roster; Fitzpatrick's agent will likely ask for a larger chunk of guaranteed money as a compromise. The clock is ticking on this particular option, and as Andrew Brandt always says, "deadlines spur action."
Option 2: Cut Fitzpatrick before 4PM on Tuesday, March 12
If a re-structure is not possible and the Bills decide to cut Fitzpatrick, they'll do so before March 13, as it's that day that the quarterback is due a $3 million roster bonus. (They'd save $7.45 million in cash by cutting Fitzpatrick, but only about $500,000 on the cap in this scenario.) The real deadline is the start of free agency, when the Bills can either choose this option...
Option 3: Cut Fitzpatrick on Tuesday, March 12 after 4PM with a post-June 1 designation
... or this one. The difference between Option 2 and Option 3 lies in the post-June 1 designation, which would allow the Bills to push $7 million of Fitzpatrick's $10 million cap hit (if he's cut) onto the 2014 books. In other words: cutting Fitzpatrick will create $10 million in dead money either way; the Bills can either put all of it on this year's books, or push 70 percent of it onto next year's books.
Please note that the Bills, who operate on the cash-to-cap principle, are unlikely to choose this option. It's far more likely that they'd just take the $10 million cap hit in 2013 to avoid hamstringing themselves in future seasons. Still, it's an option - and that extra $7 million this season could come in handy if they're chasing a big-name free agent again.
Option 4: Keep Fitzpatrick on his current deal
Their final option would be to simply keep Fitzpatrick at his current salary and pit him in a competition against the recently re-signed Tarvaris Jackson, with (hopefully) a rookie waiting in the wings. If the Bills don't do anything on the Fitzpatrick front before we get to Wednesday - the day that Fitzpatrick's $3 million roster bonus is due - it's a fair bet that they've chosen this option. Unless, of course, the team is feeling charitable and feels like cutting Fitzpatrick after paying him his roster bonus; we don't think they're that generous.
If the Bills truly want to have a competition for the starting job, then the clear best option would be to find a way to re-structure Fitzpatrick's contract - and it may be the ideal solution even if they're not keen on keeping Fitzpatrick around, as the downsides (read: the financial implications) are significant with the other three options. Which of the four options is your ideal scenario, Bills fans?