The Buffalo Bills have finished 7-9 in three consecutive seasons. The team's head coach, Dick Jauron, is squarely on the hot seat, and very much in a must-win situation, despite ideas from local media that that notion isn't completely believable. Trent Edwards, himself entering just his second year as the Bills' full-time starting quarterback (he's 12-11 in 23 career starts), has been tasked with putting the team on his shoulders and ending a nine-year playoff drought, not to mention saving dozens of jobs, including Jauron's.
ESPN.com's Tim Graham wrote an article this morning questioning whether or not the Bills were giving Edwards a fair chance at proving whether or not he is the first long-term answer at Buffalo's quarterback position since Jim Kelly. Citing the firing of Turk Schonert and the release of Langston Walker, Graham argues that Edwards - and the organization that employs him - now have ready-made excuses for the third-year quarterback should he fall short of lofty pre-season expectations.
Fair or not, the NFL works one way - new regimes mean new coaches. If the Bills can't manage a playoff berth in 2009, it would take an extraordinary circumstance - like rapid end-of-season progression bordering on dominance, for instance - to keep Jauron in Buffalo for a fifth season. The chances of one of those scenarios playing out, for now, seem small. If Jauron goes, the likelihood that Edwards goes too is high. Fair or not, Edwards is attached to Jauron at the hip - and that makes 2009 is Trent's make-or-break season, too.
Putting the pre-season behind him
Edwards, much like the offensive unit in general, is still very much a work in progress. This is true particularly from a mental standpoint; though he's not gifted with a Cutler arm, Brady poise or Roethlisberger escapability, Edwards has enough in key departments (intelligence, arm strength, athleticism, poise) to get the job done consistently.
He just needs to buy in - and admittedly, that's tough to do when entering his third NFL season with his third NFL offensive coordinator. Edwards has spent exactly one full week with Alex Van Pelt in the latter's new role, and despite all of the positive changes "AVP" is reportedly bringing to the table (such as a faster no-huddle pace and deeper passing routes), time, once again, factors into Edwards completely grasping and believing in this new offensive philosophy. At least this time around, he's not getting mixed signals.
While Edwards works towards buying into the offense, he needs, also, to move past the mental let-down that his erratic pre-season undoubtedly left him with. Edwards was terribly mistake-prone during 15 pre-season drives, throwing three interceptions, getting sacked five times (including losing a fumble) and sporting a quarterback rating of 46.9 - which is a far healthier Wonderlic score than it is as a judge of how one plays the position. The sloppy performance was a carry-over from the stretch run of the 2008 season, in which the Bills went 2-6 in games that he started; in those eight games, his quarterback rating only exceeded 80 twice.
Playing with new toy(s)
Graham is clearly quite right in pointing out that Edwards will be playing behind by far the AFC East's most inexperienced offensive line; talented though they are, that's still a huge concern. But that shouldn't completely dilute the fact that Edwards still has a shiny new toy to use in the passing game.
Terrell Owens - who does like the no-huddle offense, by the way - is the most notorious wide receiver in the NFL, yet not enough people are talking up how important he is to Buffalo's offensive attack. Though he's nearing age 36 and very much heading toward the end of his career, he is still by miles the most transformational talent to put on a Bills jersey in the past decade. (No, I don't think I'm being bold saying that.) He's certainly the most accomplished, and we spent an entire off-season talking about how his mere presence would open up the offense - until the changes of this past weekend, at any rate.
Not a lot has changed. We'll still worry about whether or not Edwards will have enough time to throw the football, which we've been doing since April. We'll still worry about whether or not the play-calling will be aggressive enough to be construed as an attacking offense, which we've been doing for, well, the last decade. There is still a chance that this offense could be potent enough to win a lot of games, and it starts with Van Pelt and Edwards, and it's made infinitely easier by Owens. No matter who you are, or even who you root for, that chance still exists.
Being at the mercy of the situation
Edwards has shown enough to ensure that his NFL career will extend beyond the 2009 season, perhaps for quite some time - even if the worst-case-scenario comes to fruition and he's given the Buffalo boot alongside his current head coach. In only that sense, this scenario is win-win for Edwards - he'll get another chance somewhere. Jauron can't say the same.
There is always pressure on a starting NFL quarterback. Despite popular opinion, the pressure hasn't increased tremendously with Schonert and Walker making their exits. Whether or not you perceive those moves as fair is irrelevant, because 2009 is do-or-die for nearly the entire team, Edwards included. It's the nature of the business at the position he plays.
Edwards is at the mercy of his situation - win or (probably) leave. He has a chance to do the prior. He'll need time to get there. But his teammates and coaches still support him, and that chance still exists. If the stars align - and as talented as the Bills are, who's to say that doesn't happen quickly? - Edwards will do a lot more making than breaking this season. Lots of Bills fans are sick of playing the "chance" card. I'm not - because that's the only card you've got to play with a young quarterback.