The Buffalo Bills have locked up their starting QB, and we can’t emphasize enough how incredible it is to have a potential MVP playing for the Bills. Backup QB is another story, with all three options departing (or set to depart) in the last three months. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bills search the veteran market for a backup, something they’ve done since Josh Allen’s rookie year. If they do, here are the names to know:
Many circumstances would need to work out for this to be possible. First, Fitzpatrick, now the oldest QB in the league at 39, would need to return for another season. He also needs to be healthy following a hip injury that ended his season after one game in 2021. Fitzpatrick would need to still be an effective quarterback at this point in his career, which isn’t outlandish when he had 7.9 yards per attempt from 2018 to 2020.
Logistically, Fitzpatrick would need to decide he’s okay with ending his career as a backup, rather than competing for another starting role. He’d also need to take a pay cut; after making $10 million to play for Washington, there’s no way he’d be paid that much in Buffalo.
If-and-only-if that all panned out, Fitzpatrick could earn one last hurrah with the fans in Buffalo, as a trusted locker room leader and bench coach who could still sling it if they called his number.
Most signs would point to Winston picking another team where he has a chance to start games. Yes, he tore his ACL at the end of October, but he’d turned one year as Drew Brees’s backup into a successful gig with the New Orleans Saints, throwing 14 TDs to only three picks and leading the team to a 5-2 record. His $5.5 million salary was right on the edge of “we’re paying you to start games for us” and he was on his way past that line with incentives had he stayed healthy.
You might think Winston could take the Mitchell Trubisky route and back up Josh Allen to recoup his value, but I’d say he already did this in 2020, and showed he could succeed in his shortened 2021 season. Now he should find a team with a clear need, or maybe wait on his rehab until a midseason QB opportunity opens up.
Brissett, now entering his seventh season, has spent two of those years as a starting QB, and the rest as a backup to Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, and Tua Tagovailoa. A toolsy QB, Brissett is 6’4” and 235 lbs, with plenty of arm strength and decent rushing ability. Overall, he’s a mediocre passer, with a 60.2 completion percentage despite a yards-per-attempt of only 6.4. Still, though, he could run every play in Buffalo’s playbook, and that’s a plus.
Brissett just finished a one-year, $5 million deal, and probably wants something similar on his next contract.
After seven years, we know what we have in Bridgewater: a low-octane pocket passer who doesn’t make many mistakes, but doesn’t will his teams to win either. Coming off a one-year, $4.4 million contract, Bridgewater could try being another temporary starter in a place like with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or maybe he’s willing to try the backup lifestyle. If so, his target value is around $3.5 million.
The former Tennessee Titans draft pick has since moved to the Las Vegas Raiders as Derek Carr’s backup, making $3.5 million in 2021. Never good enough to be “franchise QB” material, Mariota nevertheless was an efficient passer and credible running threat in Tennessee. He’s barely played the last two years, but he’s only 28. In terms of skillset and value, he might be the best match for the Bills.
The former seventh-round pick scrapped his way to 29 career starts in five seasons, first with the Denver Broncos, and later for the Saints. He lacks arm strength, which leads to a low completion percentage, but he does have 41 TDs against 27 INTs in his career. Overall, he’s 13-16 as a starter. He played under a veteran minimum contract for the Saints last year.
A 6’6” 230-lb former third-round pick, Mannion rarely saw the field with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, then spent a few years with the Minnesota Vikings. He has three career starts, with one TD and three INTs—not the Trubisky mold, but maybe akin to Davis Webb or Jake Fromm’s role on the Bills. He was paid the veteran minimum in 2021.
Veterans past their prime
This category of signal caller covers a handful of players drafted from 2011 to 2013. In their heyday some of these players were successful starters or Pro Bowl talents, but now they’re best served as a trusty backup or a placeholder for a young up-and-coming QB. The 2021 cost for these players ranges from $1.2 million up to $10 million, depending on expectations. If you want the best of the bunch, you’d take Andy Dalton (who turns 35 this year), but he’d be the most expensive, and in his last three seasons of starting, he only had an 80.7 passer rating. Cam Newton, a former MVP, hasn’t been a successful passer since 2018, but at least he can run the ball from under center.
- Andy Dalton
- Cam Newton
- Tyrod Taylor
- Blaine Gabbert
- Mike Glennon
- Geno Smith
Long-time veterans starting to think about retirement
They’ve all been around the league for 12 or more years. They’re up above 35 years old. All of them (except for Flacco) have been backups their entire career, and have no aspirations to start games anymore. They’re all (except Flacco) playing for the veteran minimum contract these days. If the Bills wanted a cheap backup, coach-on-the-field type, they could look here, but that doesn’t fit the template they sought with Trubisky.
- Joe Flacco
- Colt McCoy
- Chase Daniel
- Chad Henne
- Brian Hoyer