Most of the discussions that we've had over the past several days regarding our beloved Buffalo Bills have centered around the team's upcoming transition to the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator George Edwards. That move is expected to begin a rather serious overhaul of the team's defensive personnel, and has opened up a whole new list of needs to add to this off-season's "to do" list.
Let's not lose sight of one deniable fact, though: quarterback is still Buffalo's biggest problem. It's been Buffalo's biggest problem since 1997. The Bills could go out and grab every dominant 3-4 defender this off-season, fix the offensive line, and still have a good shot at missing the playoffs without even an average quarterback. Unless you missed this year's playoffs or Super Bowl XLIV, it should be fairly apparent that you need a good quarterback to win in this league.
Rumors and unconfirmed reports are starting to circulate that the Bills are poking around veteran quarterbacks. You'll probably hear more of those types of reports over the next month or so. Buffalo would be wise to keep their options as open as possible at this position, because it's their most critical need, bar none.
With all of that said, there are five quarterbacks that I'm looking at as legitimate starting options for this team heading into the 2010 season. All five of these players could be available, though we're remaining skeptical on at least two of them. Before we get to those names, yes - these are the only veteran signal callers I'm considering as starting-caliber. If Buffalo can't land one of these guys, they might as well commit their top draft pick to a quarterback.
1 - Donovan McNabb. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported over the weekend that three times - Cleveland, Denver and Buffalo - had been in contact with Philadelphia regarding McNabb. Make no mistake - the odds are still very, very remote that McNabb goes anywhere. I'll repeat that: McNabb probably isn't going anywhere. But it's clear that Philly has to make a move at the QB position, and I'm also certain that they'd loosen their stance on McNabb if an offer blew them away. McNabb might be quite expensive to acquire for Buffalo - we're talking about heavy draft pick compensation, in all likelihood - but there's little doubt that in terms of even quasi-available veterans, McNabb is clearly the best of the group.
2 - David Garrard. Garrard's head coach, Jack Del Rio, didn't exactly give his quarterback a ringing endorsement last week, essentially saying that Garrard can be a winner, but that he'll never be elite. As harsh and ill-chosen as Del Rio's words were, they're also accurate. Garrard is the epitome of "average NFL quarterback," capable of winning you games as well as routinely blowing them. If Jacksonville decides to go in another direction - and let's face it, the Tim Tebow hype won't die until he's got a team - Garrard would be a good short-term solution for the Bills. Again, it might take a trade to pull it off, but it wouldn't be near the territory of a McNabb trade.
3 - Chad Pennington. Reports have already surfaced that Pennington plans on continuing his playing career after yet another shoulder injury landed him on IR in 2009. He's an unrestricted free agent, and there are rumors making the rounds that he could accept a backup role on a contender. If Pennington wants to play, however, Buffalo might be one of his few good options; he certainly has a familiarity with the division. Here, Pennington would be a very short-term starter and mentor to a young guy, much as he was in Miami with Chad Henne. Buffalo would have competition for his services, however - there's a strong chance Pennington simply goes back to Miami to be Henne's backup.
4 - Tyler Thigpen. Thigpen made a name for himself in 2008, when he emerged as a solid young prospect while putting up good numbers running Chan Gailey's offense. That tie will lead to speculation that Gailey could choose to reunite himself with Thigpen; currently employed by Miami, he's another player that the team would have to acquire via trade. There's a not-insignificant crowd of NFL scouts that believe Thigpen, who will be 26 this April, has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback at this level. Though Kansas City was just 1-10 in the 11 starts he made in 2008, Thigpen threw 17 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in those contests. That's more scoring tosses than any Bills quarterback has had over the last three years. I, personally, would be very intrigued with a Gailey/Thigpen reunion, but rank him this low because, obviously, Thigpen isn't exactly experienced. He'd be a rather large gamble on the organization's part.
5 - Michael Vick. I hesitate to even think of Vick as a legitimate starting option, but beggars can't be choosers. Vick has enough talent to get you by offensively, though to expect him to be the face of a franchise at this point, I think, is ill-advised. He'd definitely be a controversial acquisition, but no matter which way you slice it, Vick is good enough to win you a few games. I don't look at him as a long-term solution (more as a Pennington-type short-term plan, actually), and he ranks below Tyler Thigpen on this list for a reason. That said, the headline of this article says it all - the Bills need to keep their options open, and Vick is certainly an option.
Again, I don't think McNabb or Garrard will be changing addresses this off-season. Philadelphia can still make a Super Bowl with McNabb at the helm, and Jacksonville would be, frankly, stupid to jettison an average quarterback in a dry off-season for quarterback talent. Pennington and Thigpen - yes, the fact that they're both Dolphins makes me somewhat queasy - are the two guys I'm looking at as legitimate starting options (yes, I'd rather see Thigpen earn the job, too), with Vick a somewhat undesirable Plan C (behind the top two rookies, Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen).
There. I've had dozens of emails asking me this question; now you know where I stand on the quarterback issue. You might as well fill me in (or in many cases, re-iterate) where you stand; alter this list or change it completely if you like.