by Mario Granata
The hot button topic here in Buffalo (which is a question that has been burning for the past 15 years) is the quarterback position of the Bills. With many players falling by the wayside, the Bills look to 3rd year man EJ Manuel to guide the ship, or so it seems, for the 2015 season. Many people are not supportive of Manuel as the starter due to his injury riddled 2013 campaign or his minimal 4-game stretch last year but he could finally be the right guy at the right time.
The Bills currently have EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel on the squad and many are clamoring for another free agency quarterback to come in and take the job away from Manuel. However, the news that came out shortly after former HC Doug Marrone’s departure, the book shouldn’t be completely closed for Manuel. He wasn’t given his “fair shake” as the team was transitioning into new ownership and he was the victim of a coach with no character. One, who Bills fans found out, put the handcuffs on him as a signal caller.
Enter Greg Roman. Roman was able to revitalize Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco, and did so by sticking to 3 simple rules:
1. Don’t turn the ball over.
2. Complete high percentage passes.
3. Let the defense hunt.
From a stat line perspective, Roman didn’t ask Smith to change much of his game other than to take care of the ball. Before Roman went to the 49ers, Alex Smith had a losing record of 19-31, with a completion percentage of 57%, throwing 51 touchdowns to 53 interceptions. Through the air, Smith’s per game average 17-30 for 188 yards while being sacked 2.5 times a game. When Roman took over Smith was immediately more efficient (throwing 17-26, completing 64% of his passes for 195 yards, and compiled a 3 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio). Under Roman he was sacked 3.3 times a game, more than he was before Roman took over as offensive coordinator. All this indicates is that Roman instructed Smith that taking a sack is far less of a problem then throwing an interception.
Another factor that changed during Smith’s time was the defense, which was ranked near the basement of the league for a majority of his time with the 49ers. His last two seasons under Roman were a different story, as the defense was reinvented, ranked in the top 5 of the league, which led to Smith and San Francisco winning 19 of the 25 games he played for them. The Buffalo Bills are no different, having one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL coupled with more weapons than the 49ers had offensively, which might have been the appeal to Roman; He can open up his offense more than he could in the past.
Much of the talk around Buffalo has been bringing in the likes of Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, Josh McCown or Mark Sanchez. Many have made a claim for these quarterbacks and each of them have some validation all their own. Don’t expect the Bills to repeat history bringing in a veteran backup to vie for the starting job. If the Bills do bring in a backup it will only be as a contingency plan if Manuel cannot workout the nuances of OC Greg Roman’s offensive scheme. The knock on Manuel is he health, so bringing in someone like Bradford or Locker doesn’t make much sense. Why sign a quarterback that has trouble staying on the field to replace a quarterback who has had injury problems?
Mark Sanchez will more than likely stay with the Eagles, as the book is still out on Nick Foles. Foles came down to earth in 2014 and if Chip Kelly wants to execute his high-octane offense, he will need a quarterback with experience to handle it.
Josh McCown had a brief stay in Buffalo, and by brief, I mean that the pilot didn’t even shut the plane off. He made some noise in Chicago and fluttered a bit in Tampa Bay, so with Roman looking for consistency, it is unlikely that he will find it in McCown, unless he just wants him as a “Plan B” type of player.
The Bills will be drafting a quarterback but no earlier than the 5th round. They will have their pick of either Cody Fajardo (Nevada) or Shane Carden (East Carolina), both should be available on either April 30th or May 1st, for that matter. Roman has had experience transforming a quarterback from Nevada into his system (See Colin Kaepernick) and Carden was able to shoulder a lot of the offensive load for ECU.
The Buffalo Bills are in a very good spot with now with their team as a whole, and could look to make some noise during the 2015 season. Manuel was a victim of circumstance and has a chip on his shoulder from his first two years. He is a smart player who just needs the right guy to get him there, not asking him to do too much. That guy is Greg Roman.