Bills Loathe to Learn from Past Mistakes

The Bills recently signed restricted free agent G Ross Tucker to a 3-year deal worth a minimum of $2.2 million and as much as $3.2 million based on playing time incentives. Also rumored, is that the Bills are one of the two teams most likely to deal with Houston for Henson. Such a deal would presumably involve either a first or second round draft pick.

According to some media, Tucker is a projected starter for the Bills next season. Tucker's contract does nothing to dispute that notion. Presumably this would be at right guard which is the only position that he has played for the Bills filling in for an injured Mike Pucillo towards the end of last season.

Following a season during which every excuse in the book in favor of Bledsoe was floated by Tom Donahoe who is desperately clinging to any inkling of hope of Bledsoe's future success, the first and foremost being how terrible the offensive line was, should the Bills be dabbling with yet another tremendously risky player such as Henson? Henson does not even have a full season of experience playing quarterback at either the collegiate or pro levels. He has started in only 8 football games since 1997 at any level. That is barely a game a season between now and then.

In 2000 he filled in for an injured John Navarre and started the only 8 games of his collegiate career. He played against a slate of teams, none of which were ranked above 13th on the year-end AP poll for that season and faced 18th ranked Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. He faced only 23rd ranked Wisconsin as the only other ranked team that he went up against. He also had stand out David Terrell to throw to during that time. Terrell caught 11 of Henson's 18 TD passes that season. Henson is not mobile having rushed 33 times for minus-6 yards that season as well.

This is not an effort to put down Henson, however, it cannot possibly reasonably be argued that expecting anything other than at least two seasons of full-time play out of such a quarterback prior to him being of a caliber that would be ready to lead a team to do much in the playoffs is silly. Even top drafted QBs usually take two full seasons to develop and many, most of them, never do, certainly not to the level of justifying a top overall pick. Furthermore, at what cost to his team would those "learning seasons" incur? Throw in the chance that he may never amount to anything and his signing is in no way a good risk.

Less than a single season at any level beyond high school, and versus none of the top talent in college ball that season it can be added, and the media, fans, and teams are crooning over Henson as if he's the next bigtime quarterback. It is remarkable to say the least and extremely risky for the acquiring team. Throw in the fact that other than Tom Brady Michigan has not exactly been known for its top QB prospects and the elements of risk in any deal that lands Henson go through the roof.

For some teams needing a quarter back in '06 or beyond, it may be a very worthwhile risk. However, the Bills are not that team. The Bills need a quarterback now. The incoming coaching staff will figure that all out after six weeks of watching Bledsoe if they carry Bledsoe into the season. Trading a first or second round pick for Henson, in any season, to me is pure insanity given all the facts as well as the current status of the Bills. Nor can the Bills afford to tie up big cap dollars on yet another high risk QB, either now or down the road.

Regardless, the Bills undertaking such a project at this stage of the ballgame in exchange for their second or possibly even their first round selection next season is not how the Bills should be approaching the restructuring of their team. It is far too high risk which given the personnel moves of the past few seasons, is the approach that should be avoided this offseason if simple cost-benefit analyses of Donahoe-initiated recent past deals are to be considered. Yet, the Bills front office does not seem to be able to learn from their past mistakes.

Nevertheless, it seems that wherever the highest profile game in town is, there will GM Donahoe be as well. It seems almost as if the "big news move" takes precedence in this organization, thus furthering notions that Donahoe's utility as a GM are limited to marketing but no further. So far the "lessons" of past seasons do not appear to have made any sort of impression on the Bills front office. One must also question Buffalo's negotiating savvy while conspicuously showing up at the "Drew Henson Show" with a veritable entourage and largest contingent reportedly from any team.

The signing of Ross Tucker to somewhat more than a minimum contract is also questionable. Reports have Tucker as a projected starter. Tucker was an undrafted free agent in '01 and was released by two teams sorely needing interior line help. The Bills picked him up last season and he filled in for an injured Pucillo over the last five games of the season. His play was marginal at best and based upon what I saw even worse than Pucillo's easily. The high-level media simply perpetuating mantras at how horrible Pucillo was do not override facts or the truth of the matter. But the facts are that Tucker during his career has never been able to crack the starting lineup barring an injury to someone ahead of him on the depth chart.

Once again, the Bills braintrust seems to be content to fiddle with any semblance of existing chemistry if these reports are to be believed. Instead of allowing first time starters, drafted players it can be added, to have a second season to add to the experience of their first, not to mention attempting to retain any chemistry developed on the line, the Bills have already pumped considerable resources into a player which to date has clearly only proven backup capabilities at best. Marques Sullivan and Mike Pucillo are those other two players. I had Tucker penciled in for the Bills not matching any offers that he may have garnered and then offering him a veteran minimum type of contract if a contract at all.

Jim McNally's experience notwithstanding, this move and rumors of the Bills flirting with what would definitely be yet another high risk move in the signing of Henson only leave me scratching my head. Henson would be another highly paid, likely overpaid, high-draft-pick trade player at a position where the Bills already possess an enormous issue. In fact issues at the Bills' quarterback position have existed now since Jim Kelly's departure in the late ‘90s. The Bills would not be able to release Bledsoe because there is no question that Henson is not ready to play, at least not to a level of fans season expectations for the Bills or even in the NFL for that matter.

Here is yet another very good question as well; what is wrong with taking similar gambles yet without the "draft pick" trades and for lesser contracts no doubt, on A.J. Feeley or Billy Volek? Volek's collegiate career is more impressive than Henson's to be sure and he faced at least similar level teams if not better ones over entire seasons of play, not fragments of them.

Bills fans are should be all too familiar with his sole NFL performance lighting up the Bills vaunted highly ranked defense for nearly 300 yards, 2 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD on a completion percentage of over 60% in his first start. Feeley has proven that he is a very capable NFL caliber quarterback as well filling in in relief of McNabb and Detmer in Philly in '02 for five games. I suppose pursuing such players are not high enough profile in the media for Donahoe even though the odds for success in bringing them to Buffalo seem more certain at only a fraction of the risk and cost involved.

Any successes for Henson in his first full season as a starter in either college or pro football would be nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. Reason, common sense, and even the most rudimentary knowledge of NFL football strongly indicate that the odds of such a scenario unfolding are astronomical. From an experience standpoint, Henson is essentially a step above a high school quarterback entering the NFL following 6 seasons of inactivity in football.

Henson does bring some assets to the table, however, nothing to counter his lack of playing time and experience at the position. His media savvy must be keenly honed after playing in the country's most flamboyant team's farm system in baseball. His age and maturity are also ideal. However, that will do little to translate to success on the football field within the next two seasons. It may assist him in his efforts to focus on the task at hand, but that would be the extent of the contributions of his experiences there.

Henson also had a good "workout." Boy Howdy! Translation, he threw the ball well with absolutely no defense like New England's or Miami's coming at him through an offensive line like Buffalo's. No doubt many readers here know someone who can do the same and perhaps many of the readers can as well. The question should be how well is he going to play in the face of tenacious NFL defense(s)? Unfortunately, no one has a clue. Even during his time at Michigan, Henson did not face any top 10 scoring defenses and only one defense ranked amongst the top 25 in what was one of the weakest years for the Big 10 in recent conference history.

Henson may be a very good quarterback in the league some day, but the smart money will go on the fact that it won't be anytime either this season or next given his almost complete lack of playing experience beyond the high school level and most certainly his lack of "big game" experience at those levels as well. Another question to be asked is ‘how will his being completely out of football for going on four seasons now impact his learning curve and getting back into the game at an incredibly higher level?'

Nevertheless, news of these two things already has me concerned as a Bills fan for this upcoming season. Many fans will scream at me to cut the incoming coaching staff some slack. However, when all that is seen is the trends of the past two seasons, with mostly either failed or "less than anticipated" results, then it becomes difficult to ignore the current rumoring and goings-on being conducted in the exact same fashion and methodology.

What will move the Bills forward are sure moves that bring in players who are either proven or at least have a full season of playing experience here in Buffalo. Neither Henson nor Tucker have that. At the present rate, whoever plays right guard for the Bills will be replaced at the end of each season in favor of a lesser drafted, lesser experienced player going forward. Naturally then, just as following this past season, fans will be treated to more "front office head-scratching" as to why the line did not perform better.

Acquiring Henson presumably would tie up a fair amount of cap and real dollars as well. These would likely be dollars for which the Bills would see no return for their money until at least the '06 season. It is also an extreme project with no more guaranteed results than drafting a rookie QB in rounds 3, 4, or 5 would be. Tom Donahoe made the following statements following this season:

"[Bledsoe] took more bullets than a '30 Packard in one of those Al Capone movies, and I don't think it was fair".

"I think some other people on our team should have stood up [for him], some of our coaches should have stood up."

"I don't think Drew deserved to be treated the way he was treated this year. He's a quality quarterback and he's an even better person. We didn't help him enough. We put him in too many situations where he couldn't win."

Once again, current efforts are not supporting these statements. Does Tucker correct this? Will Drew Henson correct it? If those issues were that dire then why are the Bills focusing on another QB with no experience? Is Tucker the caliber of lineman to correct that? If so, then why did the issues that Donahoe is referring to continue to exist while Tucker was in there? As well, Henson clearly is not a mobile QB if his time at Michigan is to be the gauge. In a league where successful QB play is almost certainly tied to at least average mobility, does Henson's seeming lack of mobility not introduce even greater risks into the equation?

It seems to me that if Donahoe's statements are to have any credence, then what the Bills need is significant offensive and defensive line help. Trading away a first or second round pick, in any season, should produce a player that is guaranteed to play in this league, at least to an adequate degree. There is no assurance of anything of the sort with Henson, only questions to be answered over time? That is surely what anyone who watched Bills games this past season would need to conclude after the obvious fact that Bledsoe played miserably. Henson would provide absolutely nothing to the Bills for this season or next. Tucker is also no more that help for this upcoming season, again, McNally's coaching notwithstanding, than he was last season.

My definition of offensive line help is either seasoned players that have proven beyond a doubt that they can play, or young players with at least a full season of starting behind them. At the beginning of last season, the former 5th rounder Marques Sullivan who had played well for a first time starting G as a third year player, was benched for a younger 7th rounder who played worse. Now, it appears that the trend is continuing with suggestions the Pucillo will now be replaced by a completely undrafted player with only a handful of games of experience behind him. Why? On a hunch? Meanwhile Tucker's contract reduces, albeit likely only slightly, the precious salary cap room that the Bills have left to work with.

Pardon me if my level of euphoria has not reached a fevered pitch over the recent news. As well, would it not make incredibly more sense to draft a quarterback in rounds 3 through 5 that has played some recently while preserving our next season's 1st or 2nd round pick? I certainly hope that efforts are made to address the extensive issues on both of the lines once free agency begins through signings of some players at a level higher than that of Tucker. I also hope that the Bills top brass isn't found at every "high profile media party" attempting to sign players for the "bill of goods" that they will present to fans in yet another attempt at marketing while falling far short again in addressing true team needs where onfield performances have lacked the most. At present, for the reasons stated, I am not in the midst of "one of those feelings" however.

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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