On Tuesday afternoon, the Buffalo Bills released starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, charting a new direction at the game's most important position for the first time since Fitzpatrick was made the team's full-time starter very early in the 2010 season. Now that Fitzpatrick is out of the picture, what's next for the Bills at quarterback?
Long story short (we'll make the short story long below): don't be surprised if the team enters the 2013 season with a rookie under center.
Today, the picture is crystal clear: the Bills have two quarterbacks on the roster, and only one of them - eighth-year league veteran Tarvaris Jackson - has attempted a pass in the NFL. The other quarterback, second-year pro Aaron Corp, is purely a long-term developmental project that spent the 2012 season out of the league after a failed tryout with the Bills in May.
Jackson, who will turn 30 on April 21, was re-signed to a one-year contract in February in a move that clearly, in retrospect, was meant to hedge the team's bets on this exact scenario playing out with Fitzpatrick. The one-year deal is worth $1.75 million in base salary in 2013 and has already netted Jackson a $500,000 signing bonus; that $2.25 million figure is highly average backup money for a veteran quarterback. (By comparison, Chase Daniel - who has attempted nine career passes - signed a three-year, $10 million deal with almost $5 million guaranteed with Kansas City on Tuesday.) Jackson can double up to earn $4.5 million in 2013, but only if he takes 65 percent of the team's snaps at quarterback.
That's it. That is Buffalo's situation at quarterback right now: a non-factor developmental player, and a veteran on a backup's salary that, by the time the 2013 season gets under way, will not have attempted a regular season pass in roughly 21 months. If you didn't think the Bills had a long-term solution when they were signing Fitzpatrick to a six-year extension in October 2011, well, things have managed to get even shorter-term in a hurry.
Which brings us back to the original point: would it really be shocking if the Bills started a rookie quarterback next season?
Headed by Doug Marrone (and coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on offense), the Bills have a youthful coaching staff that, by and large, has perhaps a better comfort level than other staffs when it comes to working with young players, as many arrive fresh from the college ranks. There just happens to be a quarterback available this year by the name of Ryan Nassib who played for Marrone and Hackett for the last four years; right now, he'll be considered the odds-on favorite to be drafted by the Bills next month.
But set aside that particular level of comfort with Nassib, and you're still left with this: there is significantly more upside to playing any first- or second-round quarterback next season than there is with playing Jackson. He's not the future. Whichever quarterback the Bills draft this year - and yes, Buddy Nix may actually be forced to draft one high after not doing so for three years - may not be the long-term answer in the organization's eyes, either, but there will still be more upside in putting a year of play on film to better make that assessment.
Whether it's Nassib, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley or any of another half-dozen quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, make no mistake about it: whichever one lands in Buffalo might have a starting job waiting for him.