In roughly 16 days, we'll be settling in for the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Buffalo Bills have a new-look front office, a newer-look coaching staff and the same old need for a quarterback that they've had since Jim Kelly retired in 1997. Naturally, we've spent most of our time discussing quarterbacks during this pre-draft process, and that's only likely to intensify in the build-up to the evening of April 25.
Since the signing of Kevin Kolb, I've repeatedly heard and read that the Bills now won't take a quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick. They've had that choice all along, and Kolb's presence undoubtedly makes that option easier to rationalize, if only slightly. But they still have the option of using that Top 10 pick on a quarterback, and there's one particular argument for doing so that I've been meaning to flesh out in my own words for weeks.
This really is the perfect year for the Bills to take a quarterback in Round 1 - and the rationale for that opinion has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the prospects available in this year's draft class. Instead, it has everything to do with the current state of the team's front office, and the window of opportunity the team has created between GM Buddy Nix and Assistant GM Doug Whaley.
Nix is 73 years old. Whaley is 41, and has been touted as Nix's successor essentially from the moment that Nix hired Whaley in February of 2010. That rhetoric intensified this past January when Russ Brandon took full control of the organization, and it grew louder still when the Bills signed Whaley to a very public contract extension this past February. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the team will transition from Nix to Whaley at the top of the football operation. The timing of that decision could, at least in part, be based on what happens at the quarterback position.
Think about it: a new name sits atop the organizational flow chart. That might not happen again for a very long time. There's a brand new (and young, and energetic) coaching staff in the building; that won't happen again for at least three years. Those two factors alone make starting anew at quarterback a smart move. But the pending transition from Nix to Whaley, regardless of when that might happen, gives the Bills a unique opportunity to take the risk that they've been so loathe to take at quarterback.
Put simply: the quarterback drafted this year will be attributed to Nix's final authority. If that quarterback pans out, then Nix rides off into the sunset a hero and Whaley inherits a great situation. If that quarterback flops, then the door on the Nix era shuts, Whaley takes over, and the understudy gets another crack at finding a quarterback. The Nix/Whaley transition has created a rare moment in the history of this franchise: one in which the inherent risk of swinging for the fences on a quarterback with a Top 10 pick is unprecedentedly low. In fact, it's almost non-existent. The transition is a functional mulligan for the current regime: it gives this group of people two swings to stay out of the drink.
"This group of people" is the key to the rationalization: too often, NFL regimes are three-years-and-done in the modern era. They typically get one shot at a quarterback in that three-year window, and if it's a miss, it's on to the next group of people. If the Bills play their cards right, they can get two cracks at finding a quarterback with this same collection of personnel men and coaches. It's hard to overstate the rarity of an opportunity like that - and even better, the opportunity is built in, and is flexible enough where things can change around the GM transition and the quarterback if things go south in other areas (like, say, if the team somehow performs worse under Doug Marrone than it did under Chan Gailey).
It also means that the transition could not take place immediately following this month's draft, as has been widely speculated for months. Or, rather, it would be better served to take place a year (or perhaps two) down the road, when whichever quarterback the team conceivably takes establishes a foothold - positive or negative - in the league. But the timing of the move doesn't matter as much as the fact that it affords the Bills the opportunity to finally take that risk. It maximizes the team's chances of finding that quarterback precisely because it affords them a second chance if they need it.
Waiting a year to pick the quarterback doesn't work as well; by that point Whaley will have been involved with three full draft cycles in Buffalo, Marrone and his staff will have a year on the job, and the level of risk in taking a quarterback will have risen again. That's the point here: the perilous nature of the gamble may never again be lower. The window begins closing on this opportunity after the first (or perhaps the second) round of this year's draft. The timeline on the transition process starts with taking a quarterback, and for the folks currently in the building at One Bills Drive, there won't be any better time to do it than in 16 days.