If you’ve paid even the slightest amount of attention to the upcoming NFL draft, you know the names of the top prospects. General Manager Buddy Nix made it clear that his team is searching for a quarterback. Really, though, he needs one as much as anyone does.
Nix deserves to retire in peace after a career in football with the long hours and pressure that come with overseeing an NFL team. He’s 73 years old. He repeatedly promised to have a franchise quarterback in place before grabbing his proverbial fishing pole and retreating to a quiet lifestyle.
In preparation for his departure, the organization has been getting its affairs in order. Russ Brandon has full control over the organization. Assistant GM Doug Whaley was handed a contract extension. The Bills have a new head coach in Doug Marrone and a young offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett.
A new era has, in fact, begun.
Little will change until the Bills have someone who can effectively run the offense and distribute the ball to a collection of new receivers. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown that he’s not the long-term answer. He might not be the short-term one, either. They need a new leader who can grow with a new regime, a new coaching staff, a new offense.
It doesn’t mean the Bills are required to take a quarterback in the first round with the hope they land a franchise player. It’s wishful thinking. They relied too much on hope in recent years, and that’s how hope was lost. Hope is reserved for the later rounds. In the first round, hope isn’t enough.
Buffalo needs to be right.
Kansas City was in a similar predicament with Matt Cassel, another backup disguised as a starter. The Chiefs, with the first pick overall in the draft, spent months reviewing and breaking down video of the top prospects. They looked at Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib from every conceivable angle.
Evidently, the Chiefs weren’t impressed. Rather than gamble on one of them, Kansas City elected to get the first overall pick of the 2005 draft. Alex Smith was acquired from San Francisco for a second-round pick next month and a conditional pick next year after he had an uneven career with the 49ers.
The trade leaves the Bills with a better chance of grabbing a quarterback, but it doesn’t mean it would be the right move. Geno Smith and Barkley are widely considered the best in the draft. Neither looks like the next Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. They’re the best in a weak class overall for the position.
I’m no draft expert. Then again, who is? Russell Wilson fell into the third round last year and challenged RGIII and Luck as the NFL’s top rookie. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. The draft always comes with inherent risks and rewards. You can drive yourself crazy reading the mock drafts and adding up the variables.
Still, it’s safe to assume that Gil Brandt, Mike Tannenbaum, Brian Billick and Scott Pioli know more than most. All were successful at one time or another when it came to evaluating personnel in the NFL.
To a certain degree, they’re putting their reputations at risk with their draft predictions for NFL.com.
Brandt earlier this week had Smith and Barkley going in the first seven picks and the other two falling out of the first round. Tannenbaum had Smith going seventh to Arizona. Billick and Pioli didn’t have Smith or Barkley getting picked in the top 10. Basically, they came to the same conclusion that the Chiefs reached.
There is no clear No. 1 quarterback.
OK, then why force one with the eighth pick?
The Bills shouldn’t feel obligated to spend their first pick on a quarterback just because it’s their top need. Glennon’s stock appears to have fallen, likely because he lacks mobility and has a slow release. Nassib has been mentioned as a possible first-round pick, but could fall into the second round.
Other teams needing quarterbacks – Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona – would take Smith or Barkley before Buffalo unless they’re drawing the same conclusion Kansas City did. Glennon would be considered a risk if selected early in the round. After the 10th pick, there’s minimal risk of any quarterback being selected in the first round.
The Bills would be better off addressing other needs or waiting until the second round for Glennon or Nassib.
Another option is trading their second-round pick in a package to move up late in the first. Glennon has a bigger arm than Nassib, but Nassib would likely make a much smoother adjustment under Marrone than Glennon would.
Late in the first round, with the eighth pick already tucked away, it makes sense for the Bills to take a chance on a quarterback. The sooner they take one, the greater chance they’ll make another mistake. At least that’s how it appears today.
Buffalo is woefully short at receiver. Their depth chart Thursday showed Stevie Johnson and Brad Smith. You’re in trouble if Smith is your No. 2. Nix views Johnson as a slot receiver, a No. 2, which sounds about right no matter how long he has been a No. 1 for a team that misses the playoffs year after year.
Cordarrelle Patterson is widely considered the top receiver in the draft. Last year, Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and A.J. Jenkins were taken in the first round. Blackmon, Floyd and Wright were among the top seven rookies in catches and yards. Jenkins didn’t catch a pass all season and appeared in only three games for San Francisco.
The Bills need an impact player if they’re serious about turning things around with a regime in transition and a new coaching staff. A franchise quarterback can make average receivers better, but average receivers can only do so much for an average quarterback. Nix and Whaley can’t afford to be wrong.
And that brings us back to Fitzpatrick. The Bills need to make a decision about Fitz before March 13, when he would receive a roster bonus that ensures he would keep getting paid like a starter. In truth, he’s a backup. If he’s going to stay with the organization, he would likely need to restructure his contract.
It comes down to priorities, not needs. Quarterback is their biggest need, but it doesn’t mean it’s their top priority. If Nix makes the right moves, he can satisfy both and walk away satisfied that the Bills were in better shape when he left than when he arrived.