This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.
I don't remember a season in which expectations surrounding Buffalo's quarterback situation were lower. After GM Buddy Nix neglected to upgrade the position in his first test with free agency and the NFL Draft in his new role, the Bills entered camp with what was advertised as a three-way starting quarterback competition, but in reality was simply Trent Edwards getting the first shot to start, then securing the job with adequate pre-season play. Needless to say, when Edwards lost his job after two horrific games, things appeared to be unfolding precisely as we expected them to.
The man who replaced Edwards, however, surpassed expectations not just for giving the Bills competent quarterback play, but for giving them the best quarterback play they've seen for the better part of a decade - praise which should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt. Our breakdown of Buffalo's quarterback situation lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have three quarterbacks in their organization.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (2-B). Fitzpatrick took over as Buffalo's starter in Week 3, and ended up making 13 consecutive starts before a knee injury brought his season to a premature end. In those 13 starts, Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a 4-9 record, completed 57.8 percent of his passes, threw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, was sacked 24 times, and was responsible for 20 turnovers (15 interceptions, five lost fumbles).
Buffalo hadn't had a 3,000-yard passer since 2006, when J.P. Losman was somehow able to accomplish the feat, and hadn't had a quarterback throw for 20 or more touchdowns since 2004, when Drew Bledsoe put up 24. On the flip side, the Bills hadn't had a quarterback toss 15 interceptions in a season since '04, when Bledsoe threw 16.
On a team that is really hurting for top-flight talent, Fitzpatrick did what any respected backup quarterback would do (let's not forget that Fitzpatrick started the year in that capacity): he gave his team a chance to win, and he allowed his offensive playmakers to make plays. At times, he was brilliant (see an overtime loss to Baltimore and a road win over Cincinnati). At other times, he was awful (see game-clinching interceptions against New England, Kansas City and Chicago, and a five-turnover performance against New England).
Bills head coach Chan Gailey seemed to admit that turnovers were going to be a part of any game Fitzpatrick quarterbacks, even while endorsing him as his starter entering the 2011 season. We know what Fitzpatrick is good at - he reads defenses well (though he can be duped from time to time), he diagnoses blitzes and makes great line call adjustments, and he's got enough gunslinger in him to take a few chances to hit the big play. That gunslinger mentality, however, will always make him a boom-or-bust proposition at quarterback - and his limited physical skill set will always be a hindrance, as well.
Still, there is a degree of reliability in Fitzpatrick that the Bills have not had in quite a long time.
Brian Brohm (4-F). For a second consecutive season, Brohm made one appearance in a Bills game - and for a second consecutive season, he was awful in that game. Gailey defended Brohm after he turned the ball over four times in a brutal season finale, saying that he was doing things correctly, but couldn't adjust to the speed of the game. Here's the truth of the matter: Brohm was a colossal flop in Green Bay, and has done absolutely nothing in Buffalo to make anyone believe that there is some untapped potential that could eventually be reached. If there's a Bills quarterback that's in serious danger of losing his job with this team, it's most definitely Brohm.
Levi Brown (3-D). A seventh-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Brown was cut by the Bills in September, but re-signed as the scout team quarterback when Edwards was jettisoned. Two things are abundantly clear about Brown (24 this March): he has the best natural talent of any quarterback on the roster - this guy has an incredible arm - and he's also got a massive amount of work to do in the classroom before he's remotely ready to see playing time in the regular season. His arm alone will earn him another look as a developmental prospect next summer.
Contract situations to monitor: Fitzpatrick is entering the final year of a three-year deal he signed in March 2009; another strong season could lead to a lucrative extension. Brohm will be a restricted free agent, regardless of the CBA, as he's only been in the league for three years.
Outlook: We don't own a crystal ball, so the only likelihoods we're comfortable championing at this point are that Fitzpatrick will open the 2011 season as the starter, and that Brown will get another look as a developmental prospect next summer. Beyond that, we also know that the team doesn't have a long-term solution at the position. Whether or not nix and Gailey pursue that long-term answer this off-season - or, more importantly, whether they view Fitzpatrick in that light - will play an absolutely critical role in how the team goes about upgrading its football team this spring.
Possible Acquisition: If the Bills decide to add a quarterback, it will be a person that they can groom behind Fitzpatrick to eventually start, or a person that they feel can be a better backup than they had this past season. It's not a lock, however, that the Bills do anything at the position.