|Ryan Fitzpatrick played well after taking over under center last season. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- In Buffalo, a city known for hot wings, why has it taken so long to find a good one on a damn quarterback?
Since the day quarterback Jim Kelly retired in 1996, the Buffalo Bills have paraded a ton of average nobodies through their doors trying to fill the most important position in football.
Here we are a month out from the NFL Draft and the same, old refrain is being bellowed about in the Buffalo, N.Y. area:
Get a franchise quarterback.
Hey, if you lived through Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and a host of others who couldn't come close to Kelly's success, you'd be crying the same thing as well.
It seems we write the same story every year about the Bills. I'm guilty. I wrote it just last summer, hinting that maybe Edwards could be the guy.
He flopped, was released, and Ryan Fitzpatrick took over. He played well, but is he really the long-term answer? The Bills, who finished 4-12 and haven't had a winning season since 2004, pick third in the first round this year, giving them a good chance to land that potential franchise passer. The top two quarterbacks listed on many boards are Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
There's a chance the Carolina Panthers will take one of those two with the first pick, but it's unlikely the Denver Broncos will in the second spot after drafting Tim Tebow last season. That would leave one of the top two for the Bills.
The way Bills coach Chan Gailey gushed over them both Tuesday, I would bet that one of them might be headed to upstate New York.
"I can tell you right now there is no question they have outstanding skill sets -- both of them," Gailey said Tuesday here at the league meetings. "Not average, not above average, outstanding -- to play early and long."
Was that a hint or a smokescreen to throw off other teams?
Listen to more.
"Any time you have the opportunity to get a guy to take you to the Super Bowl for 10 or 12 years, you’ve got to take a long, hard look at the thing if you believe that," Gailey said. "You’ve got to believe that in your heart of hearts and you’ve got to make that thing happen. And if you don’t, where we sit right now is we’ve got Ryan who we really believe in and trust. Our team believes in him. We think we can win a bunch of football games with Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think we can win a championship with him. It’s going to take getting some other components, but I think we can."
That might be stretching it. Fitzpatrick played well after taking over as the starter last season, but it's unlikely he is considered the long-term starter. But Gailey is quick to point out that he's been with teams that have won with just so-so quarterbacks.
"Even at Pittsburgh in the early 90s, mid-90s, we could run the football and play defense and [Mike] Tomczak was our quarterback and took us to the playoffs and Kordell [Stewart] was a quarterback who took us to the playoffs and Neil O’Donnell took us to the Super Bowl," Gailey said. "Those are not exactly household names. But we won with them. The key was we had a bunch of components around those guys that allowed us to be successful."
But none of those guys sustained it. Franchise quarterbacks mean sustainable success. Kelly had it when he was with the Bills. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have it now. Aaron Rodgers will too.
The question the Bills have to ask is whether Fitzpatrick does.
The other question is do they truly believe Gailey's gushing praise of Newton and Gabbert? Several coaches and scouts I talked to here aren't as convinced that those two are can't-miss guys.
"I don't think Newton can play," one coach said. "I like Gabbert, but I'm not sure he's a can't miss."
The Bills have used first-round picks on Losman, traded a high first-round pick for Johnson and used a second-round pick on Edwards. None of it worked. That's why it's time to find the next guy -- and this draft might be the way to fix it.
Who could have imagined it would take 15 years to replace Jim Kelly, and that task is far from over.