Who says the NFL preseason is a waste of time? Tonight at refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium, long-suffering Bills fans will have a chance to witness what is becoming a can’t-miss summer spectacle for football lovers.
Get to the parking lot early, folks. Don’t linger at the office. Years from now, you don’t want to be one of those frauds who only claim to have been in The Ralph when Jordan Palmer threw his first pass in a Buffalo uniform.
Yes, for the second year in a row, the Bills will audition a backup quarterback in the final exhibition contest here against the Detroit Lions.
I hear they’re going to get Michael Buffer to announce Palmer’s entry into the game – presumably, after franchise quarterback EJ Manuel has been given another chance to actually score a touchdown against a first-team NFL defense.
Last year, fans saw Thad Lewis and Matt Leinart, who had each been acquired a few days earlier, debut in the preseason finale. Leinart was miserable in his brief tryout and was sent on his way. Lewis looked like a decent option and was tossed onto the practice squad.
This year, it’s showtime for Palmer, a 30-year-old who has thrown 15 passes in the NFL and never started a regular-season game. I’d call him a journeyman, but it’s a modest journey. Palmer has been cut by three NFL teams, in recent days by the Bills’ opening-day opponent, the Chicago Bears.
Palmer played two seasons in Cincinnati, where he backed up his brother, Carson, and for a time, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He mopped up for Fitz in three blowout losses in 2008. That was the year Fitzpatrick started 12 games for the Bengals after Carson Palmer went down with an injury.
Jordan last threw an NFL pass in a 49-31 loss to the Bills in 2010, on a day Fitz thoroughly outplayed Carson Palmer. Jordan and Carson became the first brothers in NFL history that day to play for the same team in the same game.
In 2011, Jordan was released by the Bengals at the end of training camp. He moved on to the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the old UFL and was released by coach Turk Schonert. Yes, the same Turk Schonert who was fired as Bills’ offensive coordinator days before the 2009 season.
You have to love how things come full circle in the Bills’ wacky, dysfunctional universe.
Anyway, it’s hard to see how Palmer could help the Bills at this point. Doug Marrone insists this wasn’t one of those attempts to gain intelligence on a future opponent. But considering that the Bears set offensive records a year ago under Marc Trestman, one has to wonder.
What’s beyond dispute is that the Bills can’t get the backup quarterback position right. They botched it last year, failing to find a veteran backup after losing Kevin Kolb to a concussion and making Jeff Tuel the No. 2 ahead of Lewis. That blew up in their faces in Cleveland on national TV.
You didn’t have to be Bill Walsh to see they needed a more reliable backup in 2014. Last December, I advised them to prepare for the worst in case Manuel got hurt again. I said it would be “irresponsible to have a marginal NFL quarterback like Lewis or Tuel” as the No. 2.
Evidently, they didn’t learn their lesson. General Manager Doug Whaley assured us that Lewis was good enough. Lewis had a wretched camp and was released, along with Dennis Dixon. If the genius GM was wrong on Lewis, how much faith can we have in his judgment on Manuel as a franchise QB?
Whaley believes Manuel is the guy. He made that clear when he traded next year’s No. 1 to get Sammy Watkins. He doubled down on EJ. Whaley said the Bills would be a contender this season and that he would bank his reputation on it.
People like to remind me that the starter is the real problem, not the backup. Look, I get it. The starting quarterback has been the No. 1 concern in Buffalo since Jim Kelly retired. But the backup quarterback matters, especially on a team that fancies itself a playoff contender.
If you don’t think the backup is important, ask the Eagles, who rode Nick Foles to the playoffs a year ago; or the Packers, who got a huge lift from Matt Flynn (who somehow wasn’t good enough to crack this awesome Bills lineup) when Aaron Rodgers went down, keeping Green Bay’s hopes alive.
This is on Whaley. It’s his show now. He’s the one who anointed Manuel, gave away next year’s top pick to surround him with more weapons and promised the offense would be good enough to contend.
He can’t have it both ways. Whaley can’t point to the playoffs and send his team to battle with an inferior backup quarterback. As I said, it’s irresponsible to tell people you’re ready to take the next step, but fail to provide adequate reinforcement at the game’s most vital position.
Is that any way to run an NFL team? How do you imagine that sits in the locker room? Do you think Fred Jackson and Kyle Williams might be a tad confused with the message? The team is in “win-now” mode, but auditioning a 30-year-old backup QB who has never thrown a pass as a starter in a regular-season NFL game?
Marrone can’t be too thrilled about the situation. Tension seems to be rising within the operation. On Tuesday, Marrone had an animated discussion at practice with Russ Brandon and Whaley. According to media on the scene, some harsh words were uttered and Marrone threw his arms in the air.
Someone should be angry. The Bills had a chance to address the backup QB situation. Chad Henne, Matt Cassel and Shaun Hill were available, not to mention Fitz. So was Tarvaris Jackson, who is good enough to be No. 2 for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks but couldn’t get on the field in Buffalo.
They could have pursued pricey options like Mike Vick or Mark Sanchez, who is having a great camp with the Eagles. But they didn’t want to bring in a backup who would threaten Manuel. That seems to be the prevailing objective here, to prop up EJ and let him know he’s the unquestioned franchise guy.
That’s understandable. But if Whaley is so convinced that Manuel will be an elite player, why worry about a backup pressing him for the job? If he’s as good as the organization says, he’ll play well enough to hold off any challenges to his job.
But let’s say Manuel does progress and the Bills are a playoff contender. They need to be prepared in case Manuel hurts his knee again. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: If they’re 7-5 in December and EJ goes down, do you trust Jeff Tuel to finish the job?
Or heaven forbid, Jordan Palmer?