Same Story, Different Year: Fitzpatrick has Bills headed in familiar direction

For what will now be twelve long, grueling years, the message has been frustratingly similar for the penny-pinchers over at One Bills Drive: make money at all costs, even if it means settling for average-at-best talent and continued mediocrity on Sundays (as well as the occasional Thursday, Saturday and Monday).

It’s unnecessary to lay out the great deal of hardships fans of the Buffalo Bills have endured over that period of time. By now, we’re all far too familiar with them anyway.

If there were any Bills fans naive enough to buy into the belief this franchise would actually enjoy rare success this season after their 5-2 start, the ensuing seven-loss, train-wreck of a losing streak has all but silenced the increasingly scarce group of backers for this team.

As highlighted in the midst of the Bills’ latest act of deception, perhaps the only thing plummeting faster than this sorry excuse of a football team over the past seven weeks is the stock of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

After awing all who witnessed his orchestration of stellar victories and come-from-behind masterpieces, Fitzpatrick has promptly reminded those entranced by his misleading success exactly why he’ll never be anything but a mediocre quarterback in the NFL.

Fitzpatrick began his season by throwing for 1,477 yards and 12 touchdowns while quarterbacking the league’s second-highest scoring offense through six games. He ranked sixth in the NFL in completion percentage (66.3%) and was seventh in quarterback rating (95.3) during that stretch, which included victories over the arch-rival New England Patriots and the then highly-regarded Philadelphia Eagles.

As the bandwagon filled up, talk surfaced that the Week 7 bye week would yield a contract extension for the upstart quarterback.

Instantly, the eternal darkness that is the mind of Bills fans had been provided a ray of hope that the team had finally found its new franchise signal caller. As expected, the swift start subsequently led to Fitzpatrick earning his first big NFL contract, as the Bills blindly invested six years and $59 million into the prospective savior of the franchise.

But aside from a 23-0 beat-down of the lowly Washington Redskins in Toronto, Fitzpatrick has done very little to justify his big raise since that day. And so it became increasingly apparent that the success of the Bills and its quarterback was nothing more than a fluke.

During the Bills’ seven-game tailspin that saw the team go from first to worst in the AFC East, Fitzpatrick has an abysmal 63.9 quarterback rating and has thrown for only eight touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions while averaging just 227 yards per game.

In fact, following last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, he now leads the league in interceptions with 19 and, at his current rate, will finish the season with just 24 touchdown passes after throwing for 23 last season in just 13 games.

Now, can the blame for the Bills’ embarrassing string of losses be placed entirely on Fitzpatrick’s shoulders? Not quite.

Couple our overachieving quarterback with an incompetent owner, incapable general manager and a not-so-bright-after-all head coach, and you’ve created a perfect storm for an enormously deficient franchise. It’s no wonder this season is merely a recurrence of 2008 and the long stretch of inadequacy that is Buffalo Bills football, really.

In fact, Gailey is almost equally at fault for this season for his terrible play calling and questionable decision making, but his insuffiencies as a head coach can be discussed for hours upon hours. So that’s a discussion for another time and place.

But right now, Fitzpatrick has to shoulder much of the blame for this season.

He’s certainly no Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. He’s no where close to Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning. Hell, he’s not even up to par with Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco right now.

What separates the first five quarterbacks mentioned from the latter two and Fitzpatrick? A Super Bowl ring. 

Each of the formers also possess the distinct ability to make each and every player around them better.

I’m not so sure this is a coincidence, folks.

In fact, it’s becoming more and more apparent that a quarterback of that caliber has now become the defining standard when it comes to seperating good teams from the average ones in today’s NFL.

With that said, given the way Fitzpatrick has played down the stretch this season, it’s time for the Bills to seriously evaluate his ability to become a winning quarterback in this league. Instead of possessing the skill required to turn players like David Nelson or Donald Jones into highly-productive assets like Manning or Brady continuously have, Fitzpatrick’s success clearly relies heavily upon the previously established talent that surrounds him.

In other words, it’s very apparent Fitzpatrick does not possess the ability to make players around him better. Instead, the opposite holds true — a great deal of surrounding talent is required in order to allow Fitz’ to play to his potential. 

So what should the Bills do? 

Well, there is often a big discrepancy in what the Bills should do from what they likely will do, but one course of action (and the most likely to happen) may be to simply stick with Fitzpatrick while attempting to build a respectable defense and provide him with more weapons offensively, hoping that alone will be enough to turn the Bills into a playoff-caliber team. 

But with the current regime in place, one shouldn’t be so sure this franchise has the ability or knowledge to surround him with such talent and build a team of that caliber. I myself remain especially skeptical in this regard.

However, after his contract extension and boost of confidence from Nix and Gailey, essentially the Bills have already dug their grave for the next six seasons unless Fitzpatrick is able to find a way to establish himself among the league’s top quarterbacks, which is incredibly unlikely.

Another option though could be one Peter King eluded to in his Monday Morning Quarterback column at SI.com.

As I remain unsold on Fitzpatrick as the best solution for the future, I think this could ultimately serve as the Bills’ most favorable — albeit unlikely — option moving forward. For those who are unaware, King received an email that highlighted a clause in Fitzpatrick’s contract that, should the Bills choose to exercise, would void the extension that had been agreed upon in October.

This is what King had to say:

The Bills have until the seventh day of the next league year, March 19, 2012, to exercise a clause in the contract that will activate the rest of the deal. To activate, the Bills pay him $5 million. If they don’t pay, the contract is voided and the Bills owe him nothing … but he’s a free agent then. So after paying him his salary this year plus a $10 million bonus, the Bills would be able to move on. Not sure they’re even thinking of that yet, but the way he and the team have played in the last two months, you have to think it’ll be an offseason consideration.

Obviously by doing so, the Bills would be able to right the now-apparent wrong that was signing Fitzpatrick to an extension in the first place. The thing to note here as that Fitz’ would become a free agent as a result and would be free to negotiate with any team.

When the time comes, the Bills will have to decide whether or not they made the right call by extending Fitzpatrick and if it may be best to void the contract with the hope of restructuring the deal, enabling the team to take a serious look at the tantalizing options available to them during this April’s draft.

In my opinion, the jury is already out on Fitz’ and his ability to lead this franchise in the future, but we’ll see come March whether or not the Bills are capable of making the right decision or not.

I like Fitzpatrick. I really do.

But it seems we’ve forgotten what a good quarterback looks like here in Buffalo if we’re willing to invest six years at nearly top-tier dollars at the position in a guy who has yet to show any sort of ability to succeed at the helm of a winning team.

Behind that scruffy beard and Harvard wit, surely Fitzpatrick’s intentions are as pure as they come.

He wants to win and carry this team out from the doldrums of the NFL as much as anyone else.

Aside from his recent play on the field, how can you not like the guy? The story is there. He’s a consummate professional in a sport sorely lacking players of his nature.

Unfortunately for the Bills, Fitz’s good intentions alone are a far cry from what is necessary for this team to overcome irrelevancy and end their playoff drought.

If on the roster of a different, more stable franchise than the Bills, I think Fitzpatrick enjoys an abundance of success (I happen to think of the 49ers as the ideal way to build a franchise around a quarterback like Fitz’ — great, fresh minds at GM and coach with a rock-solid defense — as Alex Smith is a lot like the Bills’ quarterback).

In their current state, I just sorely lack the confidence in Buddy Nix’s or Chan Gailey’s ability to build a winning team with Fitzpatrick under center.

So is this team’s future safe in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick or are we destined to endure additional years of torture before finally finding the answer to our quarterback problems? That folks, is the ultimate question.

We have six more years to discover that answer.

You almost certainly don’t agree with Brandon’s opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @THWGoldSchlager and express your distaste.

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