There is no single, bulletproof method of piecing together a winning football team for any given season in the NFL. Many different types of teams have won championships, ranging from explosive offenses to physical defenses, with nearly every identity imaginable working its magic along the way. All championship teams need a few lucky bounces, as well. If there were an ironclad method to building a playoff-caliber team, then franchises would not spend entire decades out of the post-season.
Little debate surrounds one theory, however: by far the easiest way to field a consistent, winning team with any kind of longevity is to have that ever-elusive "franchise" quarterback in town. You know the one. The golden boy, the player that a city embraces and around whom a team confidently rallies. The Buffalo Bills have not had that player in town since Jim Kelly retired in 1997. The latest in a long line of quarterbacks to attempt to be that player is Trent Edwards, entering his third year in the league and his second full season as the undisputed starter.
We want Edwards to be that player. He, himself, wants to be that player - and, to his credit, works diligently to get there. Buffalo spent its off-season re-tooling essentially its entire offensive lineup to help Edwards achieve that goal. The quickest route to finally fielding a winner in Buffalo is for Edwards to take several steps toward becoming the Bills' franchise quarterback.
Edwards has been at the center of several conversations we've had here over the past few months - and why not? He's the quarterback. Buffalo has had an exciting off-season, particularly considering that Edwards' disposable assets at the skill positions makes him one of the wealthiest quarterbacks in the entire league. Even with question marks surrounding the re-tooled offensive line, the theory behind the talent shuffle - get smarter and tougher - is gloriously sound. The list of excuses for Edwards is growing shorter.
It seems that every time a young quarterback comes through Buffalo, Bills fans desperate to believe that this player is finally the answer repeat that man's strengths endlessly in their minds, as if on a loop. (Then again, that could just be me.) In Edwards' case, that has made buzzwords like "intelligence," "accuracy," "poise," "leadership," and "clutch" synonymous with "hope." Any time this is brought up, however, those hoping to avoid false hope and heartbreak mention "arm strength," "confidence," "injury-prone," and good old-fashioned "realism" to keep the hope in check. We've been down this road with young quarterbacks before, after all.
We know what Edwards has been - a promising, yet barely passable starting NFL quarterback. We know what he's likely to be this year. We know what he can be, even if we're only cautiously optimistic - at best - that he can get there. It's getting there - and, if we are so blessed, the speed at which that happens - that truly matters at this point.
The bottom line is this: the Bills can field a winner with mediocre quarterback play in 2009. Oh, yes - it can happen. But the new offensive line will need to perform far beyond the expectations that a unit featuring five new starters at all five positions might typically engender. The defense will need to show a sturdiness and a flair for the dramatic that has not yet been exhibited in Buffalo under the current regime. They'll need an inordinate amount of luck on the field, off the field, and from their opponents. The odds are long.
I'll take the shorter odds and the ascension of Trent Edwards, thanks. There is no easier route to the playoffs. Nothing and no one would be more welcome than that in Buffalo - not even Terrell Owens.