On paper, this deal isn’t a terrible value. Tarvaris Jackson can earn up to 4.5 million with incentives with this deal, which isn’t unreasonable for a solid backup quarterback, which is what I think Jackson is. No longer is Jackson the “project/developmental quarterback.” He turns 30 in a couple of months and he’s as good as he’s going to get. He’s now an experienced veteran/solid backup with 34 career starts in 7 seasons in the league, a 17-17 career record, 1053 passing attempts, and a 77.7 QB rating.
My issue with this deal is that the Bills seem to think of Jackson as a candidate to start for them. New Head Coach Doug Marrone says there will be an “open competition” between Tarvaris Jackson and incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick for the 2013 starting job. I guess that also means the Bills will be keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 7.25 million dollar salary (more on that later).
This is a big change from what GM Buddy Nix was talking about during the season. The normally candid Nix said “I don’t want to leave here without a franchise guy [at quarterback] for the future in place. I have not said that before but I’m saying it now because it’s fact.” He also said this: “I think there’s a time that in the era that you’re in and the development of your team, there’s a time when you can move up a round to take a quarterback. And I think the time’s now for us. We need a good, young quarterback, and we’re going to do our best to get him.” Of course, things have changed since then. A new coaching staff has been brought in and Nix isn’t Buffalo’s only decision maker. The new coaching staff seems to want to go the veteran route.
I think Nix’s route would have been a much better decision. Yes, this isn’t a good quarterback class, but the Bills have been treading water as an organization for over a decade. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1999 and uninspired moves at quarterback like this one is a big part of the reason why. Since Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season, the Bills have drafted 3 quarterbacks: JP Losman with the 23rd pick (bust), Trent Edwards in the 3rd round (didn’t amount to anything), and Levi Brown in the 7th round (2 career pass attempts). There’s a reason Kelly is still the last Bills’ quarterback to win a playoff game.
A Jackson/Fitzpatrick quarterback battle is more of the same for the Bills. It won’t excite the fans at all and while Bill Parcells always said, “If you listen to the fans, someday you’ll be sitting with them,” I think there are two reasons why that doesn’t fully apply in this situation. One, the fans are the ones who buy the tickets and come to the games. The Bills were 26th in the NFL in fan attendance last season (in terms of percent of capacity filled). There’s a reason there are rumors of the team being moved to Toronto.
Two, the fans are the ones who have been following this team for decades. They’re not as dumb as they’re made out to be. They know why the Bills haven’t made the playoffs since the Clinton Administration. They’ve seen this type of decision made before and they know it ends in 6-10 (a record that Bills have had 4 times since 1999, including 3 of the last 4 seasons).
Drafting a quarterback in the first round is still the best way to find a legitimate franchise quarterback. Of the 60 teams to make the playoffs in the last 6 seasons, 35 of them found their starting quarterback by drafting him in the 1st round. At some point, you just have to bite the bullet and use a high pick on a quarterback and put your faith in him. I think now is that time for the Bills. With the new rookie salary cap, it no longer sets your franchise back financially if you miss in the 1st round of the draft and the Bills have a good enough supporting cast that they won’t be set back talent wise if they miss in the 1st round of the draft. This is the time to go for a homerun.
I suppose they could do so next year in a much better quarterback class, but there were better veteran options than Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is a tried and failed starter with two NFL teams. Guys rarely get a 3rd chance and there’s a reason for that. Jackson has always been surrounded by a good defense and running game, both in Minnesota and in 2011 in Seattle, when he went 7-7 with a team that would go on to become the NFL’s next big thing in 2012, going 11-5, not losing a single game by more than a touchdown and coming within 30 seconds of the NFC Championship game. Jackson is the definition of a retread at this point in his career. He’s definitely not one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Bills could still draft a quarterback this April, but it sounds like it will only happen if they definitely feel he’s the best available player regardless of position, which, for quarterbacks and no other position, is the wrong way to approach things. Ryan Nassib could be a candidate to rejoin former Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone with the Bills’ 2nd round pick and if Geno Smith falls to them at #8 overall, they could pull the trigger. However, it’s also very possible they don’t take a quarterback until the mid-rounds, if at all, as is usually the case with this organization. Most likely, Fitzpatrick and Jackson will be the only ones who make a start for the Bills in 2013, making it yet another lost year for this organization. And for that, I give this signing an F.
Now back to Fitzpatrick, who will make 7.5 million this season. Between him and Jackson, the Bills could be paying up to 12 million this season to quarterbacks this year and not get anything from them. I don’t know who is the better quarterback between Fitzpatrick and Jackson, but I do know the Bills could have gotten a comparable quarterback to Fitzpatrick for cheaper and a better quarterback (Alex Smith) for comparable money. If you’re going to trot out two retreads to compete for your starting quarterback job, at least make sure you’re not paying them a combined 12 million.