Time for the Bills to Move on to the Next #11

The Bills recently lost out to the Titans in their pursuit of Billy Volek to backup Bledsoe. Looking at the silver lining, this may not be a bad thing in particular as Volek was a relative unknown with only very limited experience. The Bills are now rumored to be interested in Doug Johnson, Michael Vick's backup in Atlanta.

However, the truth be told, Johnson is no better than Alex Van Pelt whom the Bills just released and is not even a guaranteed second string quarterback and perhaps not even long for the NFL given his utter lack of decent play to date. Presumably and hopefully the Bills will not sign him. He is currently numbered 11 however, which appears to be the number du jour at quarterback for the Bills.

The Bills seem to be stuck at #11 as the centerpiece of their offense. As such, it is high time for them to continue this game of QB11 musical chairs by making a move for yet another #11. It should be quite clear now that Drew Bledsoe is a perfectly known quantity. Yet, many, including those leading the Bills' organization apparently seem to dismiss the past six seasons and nine of Bledsoe's eleven total seasons as some sort of an anomaly as every excuse in the book has consistently been floated in support of Bledsoe's "less than stellar" play on every team that he has been on.

Obviously fans and media are quite within the realm of reason to challenge and question such notions and the wisdom behind Bledsoe's retention, especially given the present option on the table of releasing him with no strings attached. Nevertheless, NFL teams are just that, "teams", and as such need to be optimized as a team. The Bills can take the first step in doing so by releasing Bledsoe and signing another #11, Jeff Blake, for a savings of in the ballpark of $5 million which would then be freed up to fix both lines or other areas of the team needing repair or depth. There is no doubt that Blake could be signed for veteran minimum or very close to it.

There is also no doubt that many fans reading this are already insisting that I am insane with many upset that I dare suggest that Bledsoe is washed up. However, consider the facts. First, their individual career numbers are as follows:

Bledsoe: 57.0 % compl., 6.59 yards-per-attempt, 1.22 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 1 touchdown produced with every 183.5 yards thrown for, 2.0 yards-per-carry, 6 rush TDs, a 76.7 QB rating, 365 sacks, 6.9 yards-lost-per-sack, 1.2 yards-per-carry in '03.

Blake: 56.4 % compl., 6.74 yards-per-attempt, 1.35 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 1 touchdown produced with every 163.1 yards thrown for, 4.9 yards-per-carry, 14 rush TDs, a 78.1 QB rating, 246 sacks, 6.2 yards-lost-per-sack, 5.9 yards-per-carry in '03.

Bledsoe has started 155 games, Blake 100.

The two QBs are only a year apart in age, yet Blake is 33 playing as if he is 33, whereas Bledsoe is 32 playing as if he were 40 and finished. He also suffers chronically from critical mental lapses in his play in numerous areas not to mention a complete lack of a requisite short game.

Blake had 13 TDs and 15 INTs in 2003 on a team with only a fraction of the talent that Bledsoe had. Bledsoe generated 11 TDs, 12 INTs.

Perhaps the most important reason to make such a change however is to simply rid the Bills of Bledsoe's fatal turnovers. Bledsoe had 15 fumbles, 9 lost fumbles in '03, Blake had 8 fumbles, 4 lost fumbles. Bills fans seemed concerned over Henry's 8 lost fumbles the season prior, yet less concerned with Bledsoe's 9 lost fumbles this past season. Over the past two seasons during the Bledsoe era in Buffalo, Bledsoe has had 39 key turnovers in only 24 games, or 75% of the Bills' games, turnovers that have defined the last two Bills' seasons. Most of the other 8 games were against the worst teams in the league.

Blake also simply does not possess Drew's lack of pocket awareness and propensity for loitering in the pocket even with plenty of time to react prior to subjecting himself to completely avoidable and unnecessary sacks. He possesses far greater mobility than Bledsoe does as well.

While many fans will insist that Bledsoe's woes were due to Gilbride and the play calling, how much more can Blake's performances be credited to having spent his best seasons on teams led by Bruce Coslet and David Shula? Additionally, Blake's past two seasons have been spent on teams with a comparable offensive line to the Bills if even that, far lesser talent at WR and RB, and only comparable or worse talent elsewhere. Yet, Blake has generally outperformed Bledsoe over that time period in spite of never having played the entire season.

No matter how it is sliced, to think that Blake can possibly do less than Bledsoe has on this Bills team is ridiculous. In fact it is ridiculous to even suggest that just about any QB would have done any worse after being handed the same set of circumstances. Bledsoe is 32 this season and is playing as if he is near 40 and finished. Blake is no spring chicken at 33, however he is playing as if he is 33 and still showing signs of much more than adequate mobility and may very well be viable for 3 or 4 more seasons. Bledsoe will be replaced this season if the season begins with him as the starter, this much we can be certain of. Unlike coach Mularkey and Tom Donahoe apparently, many fans can recognize a significant trend. No matter how it is presented to fans, the likelihood of Bledsoe playing well enough at QB to bring this team to the point of playoff contention with all other circumstances being favorable is extremely remote.

The question is how much better can Blake play on a team laden with the talent that the Bills have? It certainly stands to reason that if he can at least equal Bledsoe's performances on teams with far less talent, then he would easily be able to match Bledsoe's performances here in Buffalo.

Given that, given only equal performance otherwise, considering that Blake can likely be had for on or about a cool million dollars per season, does it not make complete sense to save $5 million by releasing Drew in conjunction with signing Blake? It should! When one considers that Blake is easily likely to outplay Drew on top of that, this decision should be even clearer.

There is a tremendous upside as well given that Drew has never been able to play well vs. the top talent in the league with a horrendous won-loss record and record of personal performances testifying to exactly that. In fact, "his wins" in that category have usually been more at the hands of the solid play of his teammates on both sides of the ball than due to his own personal play at QB.

Blake does not possess that stigma and track record. In fact, Blake's two best seasons are remarkably similar to Drew's best two with Drew netting 55 TDs/30 INTs to Blake's 52 TDs/31 INTs with one significant distinguishing mark being an additional over 600 yards rushing producing 4 rushing TDs to boot in those two seasons by Blake.

Yet Blake sits idle while Bledsoe is being artificially being propped up by the media's life support system and Donahoe and Mularkey's puzzling insistences that the trend of six straight seasons of fair to poor performances somehow translate to some sort of aberration as opposed to a simple state of extreme mediocrity on a good day, a state of complete and utter inadequacy on the other days. It is perplexing to be sure.

Oh what the Bills could do with improved play at the QB position AND approximately $5 million extra dollars in cap space. Heck, even at two or three million, such a deal would be an absolute bargain.

Seemingly, the best case scenario for Drew is another two, possibly three seasons out of him with simply average play as even the most ardent Bledsoe supporter must admit. Significant concerns as well as tremendous risks exist for any season in which Bledsoe is the guaranteed starter for any team. The worst case at this point is that there is no change in the way he has played for six seasons now, particularly the past five seasons, and that he needs to be replaced during this upcoming season. What are the odds of that occurring vice his all-of-a-sudden reverting back to play that he has not exhibited in over six seasons now and rarely in his career otherwise? A wise person would lay their money on a continuation of the trend that has been occurring for well over a half a decade now.

Meanwhile, the single biggest conjunctive detriment to the Bills from the recent play at quarterback is that of Bledsoe's incredibly high number of fumbles/turnovers and sacks taken. Jeff Blake does not suffer from the same "pocket loitering" ailment that Bledsoe does and his performances have reflected that. In fact, last season in Arizona with the same line, Blake took 19 sacks in 13 starts whereas his replacement, Josh McCown was sacked 25 times in only 3 starts coupled with spot duty elsewhere on far fewer than half of the attempts that Blake had. Last season Blake was sacked only 19 times for 132 yards and 6.9 yards-per-sack. Bledsoe in contrast, was sacked 49 times for 371 yards and 7.6 yards-per-sack.

Factor in that Blake ran the ball for 177 yards on an average carry of 5.9 yards while Bledsoe's immobility netted 29 yards on 1.2 yards-per-carry. The net overall difference then between Blake's lack of great quantities of sacks and the resulting lost yards and his additional rushing yardage is 387 positive net yards. Keeping in mind several things such as this represents 30 fewer plays of negative yardage, or two per game, as well as however many drive stopping or first down preventing plays were included among those.

As well, these differences suggest clearly that Blake does not possess Bledsoe's two most critical hindrances to the Bills' performing to a level that is necessary to be competitive with the better teams in the league. Blake's short game is also superior to Bledsoe's which essentially goes without saying. This mitigates tremendously the perceived need to have another standout deep-threat wide receiver by making much greater use of the much higher percentage short and underneath passing games such as recent Super Bowl champions have demonstrated an ability to do.

Furthermore, when one considers that Blake played last season with a washed up Emmitt Smith and Marcel Shipp as running backs and only the rookie Anguan Boldin as anything beyond even fair in terms of wide receiving talent, this should impress anyone that with Moulds, Henry, Reed, Shaw, and Campbell, Blake would have been much better than Drew was. Perhaps the play calling would not have and will not revolve around him if he were the quarterback of the Bills vice Drew. Certainly many of the completely bumbling audibles that Drew seems to have a knack for making would in all likelihood not be called.

Remembering back, at the time of Bledsoe's signing there were also rumors of the Bills going after Jeff Blake during that offseason prior to Drew's arrival in Buffalo. I was not in favor of either. However, realizing that any deal for Bledsoe would have involved selling the farm as it in fact was, whereas a move for Blake would have been a simple low-end, low-risk deal, it became clear that signing Blake was the better bargain and value by a long shot. Naturally, the opposite decision was made.

These are two comparable quarterbacks, or were. Today there is no question that the better of the two is Blake, particularly given the type of quarterback that would suit the Bills' situation much better. Would Blake single-handedly lead the Bills to the playoffs? Not likely. Is he a world-beater? No. But the fact remains that he does not possess the two biggest hindrances that Bledsoe has to the overall effective performance of the Bills as a team. That much will not change. He would not consistently prevent them from getting there via incredible amounts of sacks and turnovers in games versus the teams that the Bills will need to beat to reach the playoffs.

Either way, at worst for the Bills, these are two relatively comparable QBs in a sense, one with a hefty price tag, the other without one. Ironically, the Bills are faced with a tremendous opportunity to relive that horrendous decision yet in hindsight of seeing and realizing that signing Bledsoe has had horrific ramifications and was a terrible deal for Buffalo. At this point nonetheless, the Bills can still have Jeff Blake with his far lesser propensity for generating game-losing turnovers and greater mobility and ability to play a short game. This is also predicated on notions that Blake is interested in playing in the NFL further. As well, they are able to release Bledsoe outright at absolutely no significant cost to the team if released now. Not too many teams are confronted with such an alternative and a second chance to rectify their past errors.

The top talent in the free agency market has dried up. But if what the Bills say is true, namely that they are only looking for a season or two, possibly three out of Drew to tide this team over until whatever young gunslinger that the Bills draft is capable of starting, then they would most certainly be better off with Blake. Blake is still a very viable quarterback option who is on the opposite end of the "media golden child" stick as Bledsoe is, yet with similar and far less risky play and incredibly lower downside as a result.

If the Bills are truly interested in being competitive this season and in helping out rookie head coach Mike Mularkey optimally, then signing Blake to replace Drew given few remaining options in the all but certain event that Bledsoe continues to do what he does, may be a no-brainer. Again however, therein lies the issue. Heading into the season with Bledsoe at QB necessarily brings with it incredible risks should the trend of Bledsoe's poor play continue just as it has for over half a decade now. The odds are extremely strong that that will happen. A much more viable option exists however. Hopefully the Bills will act before the clock runs out on this option too.

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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