This post is alternately titled "Ten Bills To Decide 2010, No. 4: Whichever Quarterback Chan Gailey Names His Starter."
I don't like writing posts in which I convey the idea that any player or position on a team is more important to its overall success than the starting quarterback. Let me make this clear, for those of you who don't already firmly grasp my opinion on the matter: in the NFL, the quarterback is the most important player on the field, and no one else is even close. You have to have a good quarterback to win consistently in this league. No way around it; that's just the way it is.
Two days ago, Matt covered the well-worn cliche of "if you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none." That's the situation that Buffalo finds itself in entering the 2010 season. With three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, most observers believe that that solution doesn't mask the underlying problem - the Bills don't have a long-term answer at this position. It's why so many experts are down on this team; Buffalo is one of a very select few teams league-wide that don't have a legitimate long-term answer at the game's most important position.
Yet here I am, claiming two things - that Trent Edwards will be Gailey's choice to start, and that Edwards will only be the fourth-most important player on the team - that I'm not overly excited to predict. Maybe I'm just gun-shy after watching Edwards flop in the face of most-important-player expectations a year ago. Maybe I'm trying desperately to buy into the foundation-building philosophy promoted by Gailey, GM Buddy Nix and the rest of the team's front office.
I'll cover all of it after the jump.
Why I Think Edwards Will Start
I do not consider Chan Gailey a stupid man. When you've coached professional football players for 16 years, and been a coach for far longer, you're anything but stupid. Therefore, I do not believe that Gailey is stupid enough to believe that any of his quarterbacks are the long-term solution to the Bills' biggest personnel problem. Given the team's preference of building a foundation, that will obviously be their focus in 2010 - so I'm guessing Gailey will give the starting nod to the closest thing to a game manager he can find.
That player, to me, is obviously Edwards. First and foremost (and this is the more subjective of two points I'll bring up), Edwards is more capable of running an NFL offense than either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm right now - not only because he's the most experienced quarterback on the roster, but because he's also shown proficiency in completing passes (his career 61.3% completion percentage dwarf's Fitzpatrick's 57.8%, and Brohm's 58.6% is difficult to project, given his one start). Last I heard, completing passes is important to an NFL offense. Even if only at a maximum, Edwards has shown that he can manage a game effectively. That might be the extent of his potential, but that ability is there.
More importantly, Edwards is the most cautious player with the ball on the roster - and as much as fans gripe about his tendency to check down and avoid taking risks, that quality might actually be a critical factor for Gailey. Edwards' career interception rate of 3.03% (25 interceptions in 826 attempts) is once again significantly lower than both Fitzpatrick's (3.68%, 27/734) and Brohm's (6.9%, 2/29). Both he and Fitzpatrick have shown susceptibility to losing fumbles, and while Brohm hasn't, I sincerely doubt that Brohm's ability to not fumble in one pro appearance will leave a lasting impression in Gailey's mind.
Then again, if Edwards gets the first shot at a starting job, he might be so bad in the pre-season - just as bad as he was in the 2009 pre-season - that he plays himself out of the opportunity. What happens during pre-season games, at least theoretically, will play the biggest role in who starts at quarterback. But for now, my money's on Edwards.
Why QB Isn't No. 1
If you haven't read Chris Brown's interview with Bills Assistant GM Doug Whaley over at BuffaloBills.com, make sure you take the time to do so - it's a very, very good piece. It's also a very telling piece, with this quote standing out in particular:
"I think it's one of those things where there's an emphasis on building through the draft and establishing a foundation. That's how you can consistently compete for championships. I see that that's what we're doing here. We're not trying to get a quick fix in free agency, not over drafting to force a square peg in a round hole when we can just get the best player available. You can never have too many good players even at one position."
If there's one thing that's refreshing about Buffalo's new decision-making regime, it's that they're fairly transparent about the way they want to go about doing things. I'm not certain I'm completely on board with their decision to date, but philosophically, it's hard to go wrong doing what they're doing. But it also indicates a level of patience in finding a quarterback that just isn't present in today's NFL.
This league is very much a "what have you done for me now?" institution, and with a maximum of four years for this regime to field a playoff team, gambling a whole year without a long-term QB may not be wise when all is said and done. But I've been over all of that before. Clearly, the team has different priorities this season - building that foundation, developing talent across the entire roster, and becoming more fundamentally proficient in all areas of the game - and that's precisely why I don't place quarterback at the top of this list. The position remains vital, but it's just not as important as other players (not positions) relative to the team's short-term goals.
That said, clearly, how the quarterback performs will directly impact how the team as a whole performs this season - a more obvious statement cannot be made. All Gailey needs to do is find a game manager, and if the team's short-term aims - getting continuity along a young offensive line and becoming a better run defense - come to fruition, this team might avoid the league's basement, regardless of whether or not the team has a long-term solution at quarterback.