INDIANAPOLIS – The Buffalo Bills’ brain trust had plenty of opportunities Thursday to throw their support behind quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Each time, they chose not to.
Both President Russ Brandon and General Manager Buddy Nix were evasive at best when asked about Fitzpatrick.
“He’s a member of our football team and if anything changes with Ryan, he’ll be the first to know,” Nix said during a meeting with Western New York reporters inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Later in the interview, the GM was asked if he thought Fitzpatrick would be on the team’s roster for the start of training camp.
“I’d say I’ll talk to Fitz,” Nix said.
The Bills owe Fitzpatrick a $3 million roster bonus on the second day of the new league year, March 13. Cutting him before then would cost the Bills $10 million in dead salary cap money. Fitzpatrick would count $10.45 million against the cap if he stays on the roster.
One way that number could be lowered would be to ask him to renegotiate the contract, but that’s something the Bills haven’t done.
Asked whether that’s a consideration, Brandon said, “I think it’s too early to talk about that at this point. I mean, Fitz is on our roster and that’s where he is right now.”
In announcing the re-signing of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson last week, new coach Doug Marrone said in a statement released by the team that he informed both Fitzpatrick and Jackson that there will be an open competition for the quarterback job.
Whether Fitzpatrick will be a part of that competition, however, is as uncertain as ever after both Nix and Brandon failed to make a commitment to him Thursday.
“We’re looking at everything and evaluating every aspect of the organization,” Brandon said. “I’m evaluating the organization from top to bottom.” Nix and Marrone “are evaluating the roster, so we’ll see where that goes.”
Quarterbacks are scheduled to get their official measurements and medical exams today, along with meeting the media. They will be joined by receivers and running backs.
“The quarterback class I see: there are guys with strengths and there are guys with weaknesses. There’s no total package,” Assistant GM Doug Whaley said. “You just gotta decide the strengths they have. Do you put more importance and you think they can overcome those weaknesses and develop? And there’s going to be some that do and some that don’t. But quarterback altogether in any class is the hardest position to put your finger on.”
Nix admitted Thursday he regrets having drafted only one quarterback — Levi Brown in the seventh round in 2010 — during his three-year tenure as GM.
“I try not to look back. I try to think about what’s ahead,” he said. “If you’re really bad, then you want to try and fill in these spots if they’re available when your pick comes. That was the situation we were in. I mean, we were thin at a lot of places.”
For months, the Bills’ GM has talked about his desire to draft a quarterback of the future. That remains unchanged.
“We’ll still try to draft a quarterback,” he said. “If they’re there at the right time and he’s the right guy, we’ll draft a quarterback.”
But in a draft that hasn’t seen a true separation of elite, top-10 talent at the position, that leaves the Bills in a difficult position. Pass your guy up at No. 8 overall in the first round, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be there at No. 41 in the second.
“I’ll tell you it keeps you up at night and adds a lot of gray hair, but I’ll say this, if we’re not convinced that a guy can be the man, the need won’t make us take him,” Nix said. “We won’t take him at eight.”
“He’s not going to reach for anything,” Brandon said of Nix in light of the fact that fans are clamoring for a new quarterback. “First of all, he’s not going to listen to anything. That’s not how Buddy works. He will not reach at any level for a draft pick. He’s going to pull the tag on who he feels is the best individual at that time.”
The Bills have an advantage in scouting one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 class in Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, who played under Marrone and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for the Orange.
“He’s been very good,” Nix said of Nassib. “He’s never tried to push. He answers what you ask about him because he knows. We all got good feelings about Ryan, but don’t read into the fact that Doug coached him that that’s who we’ll pick.”
Nix said he sees between six and eight quarterbacks who could be drafted, and that “there’ll be two or three of these guys that will separate themselves after they get going and win a lot of games and have a long career.”
The challenge for the Bills will be finding one of those.