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Opinion: Bills Will Wait To Talk Contract With Ryan Fitzpatrick

In early May, I stated my belief that the Buffalo Bills should re-sign starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sooner rather than later. The team still does not have its long-term player at the position. The likelihood that they'll rely on any street free agent they pluck up this summer heading into 2012 is incredibly remote. Fitzpatrick has the trust of the coaching staff, but is entering the final year of his deal.

I'd have a hard time believing the Bills haven't already given this matter a high degree of consideration. They may not be ready to do it just yet, but if Fitzpatrick performs at the start of the 2011 season, you can bet it'll jump to the forefront of not only the minds of the front office, but of fan discussions, as well.

Obviously, signing Fitzpatrick to an extension is easier said than done. Still just 28 years old - considered in the prime of his career - he'll be seeking a longer-term deal on par with the salaries of starting quarterbacks that make far more money than he does. Let's take a look at some recent quarterback signings to get a better deal of what it might take to keep Fitzpatrick in Buffalo beyond 2011.

There are a few contract extensions that caught my eye when I tried to look for deals coming from similar circumstances to Fitzpatrick's in Buffalo. Two that were briefly considered, but ultimately trashed:

  • Matt Schaub's six-year, $48 million contract signed in 2007. This was a fairly unique deal, as Schaub had just been acquired from Atlanta via trade, and hadn't yet been a full-time starting quarterback. Fitzpatrick has that experience.
  • Aaron Rodgers' six-year, $65 million contract signed in 2008. Rodgers signed the deal after just seven starts with the Pack. However, he'd been a first-round pick of the regime, and was just 24 years old at the time. He was clearly their long-term solution.

That left me with three recent quarterback contract extensions that I thought were, in some ways, similar to Fitzpatrick's current situation in Buffalo.

  • Tony Romo's six-year, $67.4 million contract signed in 2007. Romo was a reserve and backup for a few years until being thrust into the starting lineup to replace Drew Bledsoe. He signed his lucrative contract extension (at the age of 27) after just 17 regular season starts, in which he led Dallas to a 12-5 record while putting up very gaudy passing numbers. His situation was somewhat similar to Fitzpatrick's from an experience standpoint, but his production is obviously much better - statistically and in the win column.
  • David Garrard's seven-year, $63 million contract signed in 2008. Garrard was 30 at the time that he signed this deal, and though he'd been with Jacksonville for a while, he'd finally emerged as the clear-cut starter by the end of 2007, when he took the Jaguars into Pittsburgh and stole a playoff victory. At the time that he signed a deal, he had accumulated 22 starts (with a 14-8) record over the previous two seasons. Still, he was 30, and his statistical production was not fantastic. Garrard's situation at that point in time most closely resembles Fitzpatrick's, in my estimation.
  • Matt Cassel's six-year, $63 million contract signed in 2009. Cassel - 27 at the time of the signing - was aided by the fact that he followed Scott Pioli from New England to Kansas City just months after leading the Patriots to a 10-5 record (and nearly a playoff berth) filling in for the injured Tom Brady. Cassel had a bit more leverage than Fitzpatrick does, as he was clearly Pioli's choice as the Chiefs' long-term answer at quarterback, but again, the level of experience was similar.

In two years with the Bills, Fitzpatrick has started 21 games, going 8-13 in those contests - a considerably worse record than any of the three players mentioned above. His statistical production has been as streaky as his on-field play; in those starts, he's completed 58 percent of his passes for 4,300 yards, 31 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

I still firmly believe that the Bills need to be thinking hard about talking contract with Fitzpatrick, simply because he's a player they trust at a position with a dearth of depth and, more importantly, long-term direction. Fitzpatrick is the immediate future of the position, and it doesn't make sense for that immediate future to end in January of 2012 (or hopefully for a few more weeks beyond that).

Still, re-signing a starting quarterback in the NFL is obviously not a frugal endeavor, as exemplified above. I mentioned that Garrard's situation most closely resembles Fitzpatrick's, because if Garrard was ever considered the long-term answer at quarterback in Jacksonville, that period of time did not last very long. Fitzpatrick is in the same boat .

Perhaps most importantly, there's still a chance that the Bills could retain Fitzpatrick after letting his contract expire simply because of the playing time opportunity they'd afford him going into 2012. That's a very dangerous game to play, however, because experienced starting quarterbacks under 30 don't often hit the open market, and there are always teams looking to land quarterbacks. That path could drive his price up quickly.

Because of the nature of the monetary side of this argument, it's a virtual certainty that the Bills will wait to see how Fitzpatrick plays in 2011 before talking contract. It's the wisest move they could make, particularly since Fitzpatrick is making solid money already (though certainly not starter's money). If he plays as well at the start of next season as he did when he took over the starting job last season, however, don't be surprised if the Bills start thinking about a long-term extension - and figures like those you see above start getting tossed around.