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Should the Buffalo Bills trade up for their quarterback or stay at 12?

How should the Bills use their draft capital?

In the run up to the 2018 NFL Draft, it hasn’t been at all surprising to see Buffalo Bills fans focused on quarterbacks, almost to the exclusion of other positions. The Bills have needed a true franchise QB for a very, very long time. The fact that the Bills have only a pair of QBs on the roster – AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman – is made even more worrisome when their combined limited experience is considered. 182 total pass attempts isn’t a lot to go on and certainly not enough for Bills fans to shake the focus on rookie QBs.

Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and even Mason Rudolph each have some level of support among fans. Numerous posts and thousands of comments have been written in support of this QB or that. One basic type of comment, found in innumerable stories and fanposts, has stood out.

“Buffalo shouldn’t trade up for QB X but should take him at 12 if he is still on the board.”

Logically, when this comment is made the person making it doesn’t see QB X as a franchise QB. If s/he did see QB X as a franchise quarterback then paying the freight to get QB X wouldn’t be a problem. Consider Russell Wilson, a third round draft pick who has racked up a 65-30-1 record over the past 6 seasons. Had the Bills identified Wilson as a likely franchise quarterback and taken him in the first round (instead of Stephon Gilmore), the draftniks would have howled. “Terrible value” and “draft mismanagement” the experts would shout and quite a few Bills fans might have shouted right along with them. But would anyone now look back and say it was a bad move? In hindsight, the true value of the draft picks and players available becomes much clearer than it does during the draft itself.

The interesting part of the comment isn’t whether the Bills should give up a bunch of picks to go get a guy that general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott believe to be a franchise QB. What makes the comment stand out is a willingness to take a first round QB who isn’t viewed as a franchise QB. Standing pat at 12 and taking the best remaining QB has short-term draft pick value in that the Bills are only out 1 pick.

But what about the long-term cost? Ignoring the last three years, here is a list of QBs taken in the first round in the 10 drafts prior to 2015:

  • Blake Bortles, Jaguars: franchise did zilch until they put together one of the best defenses in the league
  • Johnny Manziel, Browns: still terrible four years on
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings: missed two seasons due to injury, Minnesota did well without him
  • EJ Manuel, Bills: team tread water for at least three seasons, arguably four
  • Andrew Luck, Colts: true franchise QB prior to injury and had Colts in playoffs his first three seasons
  • Robert Griffin III, Washington: only lasted one season, Washington bad-to-meh since
  • Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: one good year in the last six
  • Brandon Weeden, Browns: still terrible six years on
  • Cam Newton, Panthers: true franchise QB, carried his team to the Super Bowl only to meltdown
  • Jake Locker, Titans: one meh year and four dismal ones
  • Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars: simply horrendous for three years of his tenure
  • Christian Ponder, Vikings: one good year in three
  • Sam Bradford, Rams: no winning seasons in his four years of starting
  • Tim Tebow, Broncos: Denver won 8 games that Tebow started in the 2 years he was on the team

Look at the clear misses. Manziel, Manuel, RGIII, Weeden, Locker, Gabbert, Ponder, and Tebow were all first round QBs, some taken in the top 10 and some taken later in the round. The Bills picked up an additional second round pick in the Manuel acquisition, which added more draft day value to his selection. Ultimately, Manuel, like the other names on the list of clear misses, wound up setting his team back by a minimum of 3 years—except Tebow but that’s only because they dumped him and brought in Peyton F. Manning. The teams each had an investment in their terrible QB and each of them wanted to give their first round QB a chance to succeed. The long term cost is time; years in the wilderness.

That brings it back to the idea of being fine with taking QB X at 12 even though QB X isn’t worth trading up to get. Whether QB X represents a good draft day value or not doens’t matter anywhere near as much as the long-term cost of drafting the wrong QB. If the Bills take a QB at 12 because he represents draft day value instead of true franchise QB potential, the chances of Buffalo repeating the EJ Manuel Experience are unacceptably high.

It is imperative that the Bills draft a franchise QB, not just taking “a” QB in order to placate the fan base. Selecting J.P. Losman in 2004 meant not even considering Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Picking QB X at 12, because he checks the box without compromising draft day value even if Beane and McDermott don’t see QB X as a probable franchise QB, sets up the Bills for several more years in QB purgatory.

Swinging and missing hurts the team far longer than giving up draft day value for a near certain thing.