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Bills' Edwards could highlight 2010 NFL trend

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Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey haven't been particularly busy on the free agent front. Despite the lack of activity in that area, Nix and Gailey remain the unquestioned leaders of the latest Buffalo Bills reclamation project. Ironically - or maybe not ironically - that effort could begin with a reclamation project taking snaps at quarterback.

It's still unclear if the Bills plan on addressing the quarterback position in some capacity this off-season, despite the unavoidable fact that they really must. The veteran quarterback market has dried up quickly, and despite the supposed availability of a proven starter such as Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, a blockbuster of that magnitude seems quite unlikely in Buffalo. There are, of course, options in the 2010 NFL Draft, but given where the Bills pick and who might be available at that point, chances are slim that the team finds a starting quarterback in April.

Those facts added up have led to the speculation - which has existed for going on two months now - that Trent Edwards could end up being the team's starter when the 2010 season opener comes around. Edwards was benched last season in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick, then suffered a serious ankle injury late in the year. If Edwards does indeed get the first shot next year, he'll be one of several young signal-callers getting second or third looks league-wide.

It seems like the start of the 2008 season happened a lot further back than barely 18 months ago, but Edwards was being talked about as the quarterback of the future at that point. Hell, Buffalo was such a surprise (they started the '08 season 5-1, if you recall) and Edwards so clutch (three fourth-quarter comebacks in that span, albeit against not-so-great teams) that No. 5 was all over ESPN.com for a time:

Trent_at_espn_medium

Since that time, to say Edwards' star has fallen would be an understatement. He's started 14 games since that hot start in '08, leading the Bills to a 3-11 record in those contests while sporting a 12-15 TD-to-INT ratio. He's dealt with the aforementioned ankle injury, as well as shoulder, head and groin injuries in that time span, and when Fitzpatrick went 5-4 with the same squad a year ago, almost all hope for Edwards completely evaporated.

The chance still exists, of course, that the Bills - should they not acquire a quarterback they'd be willing to hand the starting job to - choose to give Fitzpatrick the first shot next year in lieu of Edwards. Given the disparity of won-loss records, that wouldn't be surprising. But Edwards is still only 26 years old, and even if you're down on his upside, his upside still trumps Fitzpatrick's upside.

If Edwards gets the nod, by my count, he'll be one of a half-dozen ongoing evaluations of young quarterbacks that have seen playing time already, been benched or injured, and are likely to see time again.

San Francisco's Alex Smith and Tennessee's Vince Young have already begun that process. Smith was re-inserted into the starting lineup by Mike Singletary in Week 7 last year, and while the team wasn't great overall (5-6 in those starts), Smith put up very solid numbers (2,350 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT, 81.5 QB rating). He's already been named the starter for 2010 - this after not seeing a single snap during the 2008-09 season. Meanwhile, Young was named the starter by Jeff Fisher after the Titans got off to a dreadful 0-6 start last season, and while Young's numbers weren't outstanding (1,879 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT), Tennessee went 8-2 in Young's 10 starts and nearly pulled a huge surprise wild card berth. He, too, will continue his redemption story as the starter in 2010.

Arizona's Matt Leinart, barring a surprise acquisition out west, will take over the reigns of a burgeoning NFC powerhouse after the retirement of Kurt Warner. Leinart has seen spot starts and odd playing time over the past few seasons, but hasn't been the team's full-time starter since the beginning of the 2007 season. Ken Whisenhunt is currently poking around veteran quarterbacks, namely Charlie Whitehurst and Derek Anderson, but Leinart's been in the system, worked with Warner, and will start the '10 season looking to pick up where Warner left off.

No one's sure exactly what will happen in Oakland, mostly because Oakland isn't sure exactly what will happen in Oakland. Tom Cable is still the head coach, and a year ago, journeyman veteran Bruce Gradkowski became his quarterback of choice, leading the Raiders to a 2-2 record before succumbing to injury. Everyone knows that the Raiders are still Al Davis' guinea pig, however, and if Davis flexes his corporate muscles, 2007 top overall pick JaMarcus Russell will likely "win back" the starting job in Oakland.

Kyle Orton's presence in Denver will likely prevent new Bronco Brady Quinn from starting any time soon, but Denver has been after Quinn for two years now. It's clear that head coach Josh McDaniels wants a longer-term solution out west, and Quinn - who only made a dozen starts in his first three years in Cleveland - fits the bill there. Orton had a solid year in 2009, but the Broncos were terrible over the second half of the season, finishing out 2-8 (something Bills fans should be familiar with). In that stretch, Orton saw his TD-INT ratio drop from 9-1 (over the first six games) to 12-11 (over the final ten). Orton's not a sure thing in Denver, and should he falter early, Quinn might finally get his real chance.