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Bills can't hand starting job to Trent Edwards

I'm fairly certain that I'm writing this piece tonight (which y'all will read early Tuesday morning) simply to save my Inbox the workload of dealing with reaction to this news. Yes, folks, I'm aware of the prevailing opinion - stemming from Mark Gaughan and Sal Maiorana of The Buffalo News - that Trent Edwards could emerge as new Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey's starting quarterback of choice next season. I'm aware of the subsequent article "expanding" on the idea.

More importantly, I'm keenly aware of the type of reaction such a decision would elicit from a... distraught... fan base. Anyone want to volunteer their services as a moderator on this blog?

Edwards is one of the most despised players in recent Bills history. From the derogatory nicknames to the Weird Al-like song spoofs to the alarming decline in on-field production, Edwards deteriorated from one of the league's most promising young quarterbacks at the beginning of the 2008 season to just another name on a long list of failed quarterback experiments post-Jim Kelly in Western New York. So yeah, I get why the idea that some folks perceive the odds of Edwards starting next season as better than 50/50 might upset some fans. I'm with you, but not necessarily for the same reasons.

Why Edwards can't be handed the job
First and foremost, it should be noted that neither Gaughan nor Maiorana are saying that Buffalo won't address the quarterback position. Clearly, they're going to do their due diligence at the position. Buffalo's quarterbacks, collectively, were awful last season, just as they've been every year since Drew Bledsoe's first season in Orchard Park. Even if Gaughan and Maiorana are correct in that assessment, it doesn't mean the job will simply be handed to Edwards. That is critical.

Imagine, for a moment, that you're Aaron Schobel. You're contemplating retirement, and you hear that the team you've played for for nine years just re-named Edwards as the starting quarterback. The thoughts going through your mind likely are not pleasant.

Imagine that you're Terrell Owens. Or Terrence McGee, or Marcus Stroud, or any other vet looking to taste playoff action for the first time in a while (or ever, if you're McGee). Imagine that you're Lee Evans, who hasn't played with a good quarterback since his rookie season.

Buffalo's players are professionals. Heading into a new season under a new coaching staff, they'll put on happy faces and get behind most moves simply because they've got good first impressions to make. But the core of the team that quit on Edwards - that, in fact, preferred Ryan Fitzpatrick as its leader - well, those guys might not like the idea of Edwards simply getting the job back. They don't view him as a leader right now. Merely handing the job to Edwards "to see what we have in him" would be a disastrous start to Gailey's coaching tenure in Buffalo.

Organizational direction is the primary responsibility
Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have one major responsibility in their first year on the job - to establish an organizational identity, both on and off the field, and to lay the foundation for future success. They've got a plan; whether or not they reach those goals is dependent on their abilities to execute the first part of that plan. Finding a quarterback is step one of that plan.

That might not be very easy to accomplish this year. With free agency rules changing, the pool of available veteran quarterbacks has dwindled to the point that Chad Pennington - he of a third right shoulder surgery just five months ago - is the only viable starting option. Other not-so-great names might pop up, with Michael Vick being the most-discussed in these parts.

The NFL Draft is weak on "franchise" quarterbacks this year, as well. Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen are widely considered the top options, but it's very possible both could be gone by the time the Bills' ninth overall pick rolls around. Talent drops off severely from that point; it's possible that this draft could yield zero quality NFL starters.

That all adds up to Gaughan's guesstimate being accurate - for now, at least. But it's imperative to hammer home the point that the job can't be handed to Edwards. Again, Gailey's most important job this year is to lay a foundation, create an identity and get the team to progress throughout his first year on the job. He'll severely hamper his ability to meet even that expectation by handing the job to any quarterback - not just Edwards - that's not overtly qualified for the job.

Moving back toward competition?
Buffalo has a problem with handing things out at the game's most critical position. J.P. Losman was given the starting job far too early simply to get Bledsoe out of town. The team turned to Edwards far too early, as well, after Losman suffered an injury in Week 3 of 2007. Handing things out at quarterback reeks of desperation, shows a lack of commitment to a plan (and to players), and does more damage to a team's overall outlook than it helps. In short, the Bills have gambled on young guys, and to say it hasn't paid off would be an understatement of epic proportions.

If Buffalo can't land a clear-cut starting quarterback - and in my mind, there are only two or three legitimate options that fit that category in the first place - then they need to settle for a full-blown quarterback competition. I'm not talking about a Losman versus Holcomb competition; that wasn't really a competition, as the Dick Jauron regime was going to go with Losman regardless, to find out what they had in the young player. We don't need no stinking stacked quarterback competitions. I'm talking about three guys, equal reps, equal pre-season playing time, and may the best man win.

If Edwards emerges from that situation with the starter's role... well, the fans probably won't be thrilled, but it would at least appease the players. One last time - foundation, identity and progress are essentials to year one of the Nix/Gailey (sorry, Ron, I refuse to use 'Chix') regime. Nothing can be handed out. The quarterback position is not a piece of candy. It's one of the 32 most important jobs in the NFL, and who the team starts at that position has to be decided in very specific ways.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one, folks: would you accept Edwards as the team's starter from any situation other than the winner of a fair, balanced competition?