Within the past two weeks, the Buffalo Bills have gone through major changes, with a team president assuming direct control over the entire football operation (Russ Brandon), rumors of a GM (Buddy Nix) being replaced by his chief aide (Doug Whaley) in short order, and a brand new coaching staff headlined by Doug Marrone. Now that the heavy lifting is done, the focus on the team should shift back to the roster. As such, we'll be beginning our bi-annual State of the Bills Roster series today, during which we systematically break down the Bills roster position by position.
Naturally, the best place to start is at quarterback, and not just because it's the most important position on the field. As the NFL saying goes, "new regimes mean new quarterbacks" - and the Bills may very well end up in a position where they could completely start over with fresh faces under center.
- Age: 30 (31 in November 2013)
- Contract: Signed through the 2017 season. Owed a $3 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year. Scheduled to make $4.25 million in base salary in 2013. The Bills will save roughly $500K against the cap if they cut Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, a three-year starter under departed head coach Chan Gailey, had a 16-29 record in that time frame as the Bills' quarterback. In those 45 games, he completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 10,232 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) with 71 touchdowns, 54 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 81.3.
Take into consideration the level of quarterback play that the Bills had prior to Fitzpatrick, then note that the above stat line over a three-year period would be quite acceptable to fans in cities starved for even marginal quarterback play. Fitzpatrick was a breath of fresh air in exactly that fashion for Bills fans when he stepped into the starting lineup in Week 3 of the 2010 season, and while his reputation is starkly different today (to put it kindly), he's served the purpose most set for him when he became the starter: be the bridge between a bleak past and the next attempt at landing a franchise quarterback.
The question with Fitzpatrick is whether or not a new regime will allow him to continue to be that bridge. Fresh eyes watching game film from the last three years will quickly note Fitzpatrick's limitations - namely below average arm strength, iffy decision-making and an inability to consistently make throws in the intermediate to deep areas of the field - and could decide to go in a new direction. There is no question that as time wore on under Gailey, Fitzpatrick gradually kept an otherwise capable offense from taking that next step. Add in his hefty price tag as a factor that will play a role in that decision.
But as we know, the team can absolutely do worse at the position. We've seen that with our own eyes. Fitzpatrick is not the future of the franchise; whether or not he's part of the present under Marrone remains to be seen.
- Age: 28 (29 in April 2013)
- Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent
A Bill for the last two seasons chiefly because of his familiarity with Gailey and the offense, Thigpen has barely seen the field in that time frame. He's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent (thanks to a re-structuring of his contract just before the 2012 regular season began), and is exceedingly unlikely to return.
- Age: 29 (30 in April 2013)
- Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent
The Bills acquired Jackson for a seventh-round pick in August, but he never made it past No. 3 on the depth chart, and was a healthy scratch each and every game in 2012. That move has been questioned up and down for five months, and Jackson - also an unrestricted free agent that seems very unlikely to return to the team - may go down as one of the strangest stories in the history of the franchise.
Free agency outlook: Thigpen and Jackson will almost certainly be looking for work elsewhere. The same may be said of Fitzpatrick depending on how he grades out in his evaluation from Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (who worked with Fitzpatrick as a member of the Bills' coaching staff in 2009). How deep the team dives into the free agent quarterback pool will almost certainly depend on what they do with Fitzpatrick.
2013 NFL Draft outlook: GM Buddy Nix has insisted for months that he would prefer to draft (at least one) quarterback this coming April. Because Marrone and Hackett come to Buffalo from several years together working at Syracuse, Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib will be the name most frequently linked to the Bills - and he's expected to be a first- or second-round pick this year. Nix has only drafted one quarterback in three years on the job, but that may change this April. Don't be surprised if the Bills take a quarterback in the first round for the first time since trading up for J.P. Losman in 2004; even if they don't, it's fairly safe to assume that the team will have at least one rookie quarterback for Marrone's first year on the job.
Discussion topic: Clearly, "what to do with Fitzpatrick?" is the first major personnel question of the off-season. We'd like the community to discuss that question from three angles; the comment section is officially open for business.
- Would you be surprised if the Marrone regime retained Fitzpatrick?
- Would you be surprised if the Bills entered the 2013 season with three brand new quarterbacks on the roster?
- If it were your decision to make - factoring in level of play and price tag - would you keep Fitzpatrick (even as a backup)?