Less Money, Better Results?

Last week the Buffalo Bills re-negotiated Drew Bledsoe's contract in theory keeping the quarterback in Buffalo through the 2006 season. Some fans were excited about the move while others were not. Whether the Bills like it or not, another rift amongst fans regarding the quarterback situation in Buffalo has once again reared its ugly head.

Once again however, and this cannot be stated strongly enough, the Bills are tinkering needlessly with the future welfare of the team, at least for the foreseeable future. It seems that Buffalo simply cannot shake their quarterback woes and controversies. But alas, the current ones are self-inflicted. This fall fans will find out for certain whether compensation and performance are inversely proportional or not. Bills' management seems to think so apparently.

Given the circumstances, here are some facts for fans and media to ponder between now and the start of the regular season and home opener vs. Jacksonville. During the 32 games in two seasons of the Bledsoe era in Buffalo, the Bills offense has averaged fewer points under Bledsoe's leadership than it did under Rob Johnson's. Hello!

Over the last 26 of 32 games the Bills offense has averaged 3 points-per-game less than it did under Johnson's leadership!

Over the last 26 of 32 games the Bills as a team have actually averaged over 2 points-per-game less scoring production than the team did under the guidance of Rob Johnson, the much maligned former Bills QB.

During Bledsoe's entire tenure in Buffalo, the Bills have not even averaged a full point more than they did under Johnson's leadership using all 32 of the games that Bledsoe has played in. Johnson had only a fraction of the talent that Bledsoe has had in every aspect of offense and no better coaching which was also shown the door nearly as expediently as the Williams/Gilbride tandem was.

Those pinning Bledsoe's woes onto the offensive line seem to forget what kind of line Johnson had in what was easily his worst season. A washed up John Fina, Ruben Brown, NFL dropout and former Bills reject backup Billy Conaty, rookie and current journeyman backup Corey Hulsey in his first starts, and rookie third rounder Jonas Jennings were the featured offensive line.

By week 8 in Johnson's last game as a starter prior to sustaining his final injury with the Bills, that line had degraded to the rookie fifth rounder Marques Sullivan (LT), Ruben Brown (LG), undrafted free agent fifth year backup Billy Conaty (C), the rookie undrafted free agent Corey Hulsey (RG), and second year undrafted free agent Jon Carman (RT) due to injuries, most of whom were starting for the first time that season. Other than Ruben Brown in that game, the other four starters had only 16 games of starting experience among them. Three of the five were undrafted players with a fourth being a rookie fifth rounder.

Regardless of how poor the offensive line has been during Bledsoe's stint, it was not nearly as bad as that which Johnson had. Moulds, Price/Reed, and Henry all were far more experienced and suitable as well during the time that Bledsoe has been holding the reins. It would be a very difficult argument indeed to suggest that the coaching during Bledsoe's tenure was any worse than it was during the Johnson/Flutie era.

Johnson's defense in 2001 was also ranked lower than the defenses that have helped Bledsoe out. In fact, of Johnson's time in Buffalo, the defense put up only 16 of 432 (3.7% ) of all points scored in games that he was the primary snap-taker. In two seasons of the Bledsoe era in Buffalo, the defense has put up 48 of 622 points scored by the Bills (7.7%), over twice as much percentage wise and three times as many points overall.

Bledsoe has had more tools, weapons, and talent around him than most quarterbacks in the league over the past two seasons have had. Few quarterbacks have the luxury of the levity of all the excuses that Bledsoe has in defense of their play, not only recently, but throughout their careers. There is not a quarterback in the history of the game that has had such excuses define him to the extent that they have for Bledsoe.

Add to this that Bledsoe was not some unknown player without a history that came to this team leaving his future performance entirely to speculation. Rather he had a nine-year history prior to arriving in Buffalo with absolutely no indication of anything other than poor to mediocre performances in the four seasons immediately prior to his arrival along with the first three seasons of his career prior to his only two above average seasons in '96 and ‘97.

Where this re-negotiation really gets hazy is in how a reduced salary actually improves Bledsoe's performance. I will ask the question of the past seasons. In 2002 Bledsoe was compensated $5 million for his play. In a season rumored to have included an excellent first half of 8 games, the reality is that only four games amongst the first 5 were anything but poor to fair by the premier quarterback, the other 11 games were poor to mediocre. Nevertheless, I ask, would his having played for only $3 million improved his play that season?

Correspondingly, in last season's debacle of an offensive disaster where Bledsoe certainly played his role, would his having played for only $3.5 million vice $5.5 million have resulted in improved play? Clearly it is silly to even consider that that may have been the case. Yet, this is exactly the underlying premise in Buffalo these days and many fans seem to be buying it largely due to the "team player and all around good guy accepting a pay cut" approach.

The problem with Bledsoe is not one of economics and finances. It is poor play in 75% of the games that he plays in with the better performances usually coming vs. teams against which top performances should not be necessary for a victory. Yet again, this has been a hallmark of Bledsoe's career. So how a re-negotiated contract addresses play which heretofore has been well below adequate throughout the vast majority of his time in the NFL and particularly poor play over the past two seasons is certainly a mystery to anyone asking the question.

How this "second marriage" pans out remains to be seen. But the premises underlying this re-negotiation are tremendously flawed and only further demonstrate the unjustifiable rigid adherence to forcing a square peg into a round hole. Presumably from the top, the Bills appear to be infatuated and enamored with a QB whose performance clearly has not come close to his reputation in well over half a decade and when it really comes down to it, only somewhat above average in only two seasons in eleven. There should be no question that much of this trickles down from the Bills top leadership.

This year's draft only furthers these notions. The team did not draft in accordance with the traditional goals of bolstering much needed line help on both sides of the ball which was more than sorely needed. Nor did they draft to improve the higher percentage short passing game.

Rather, they drafted in accordance with what media and fans indicate that Bledsoe is missing, a speed wide receiver and a receiving tight end, to suit what many erroneously believe will provide the Bills with playoff caliber performance out of their champion quarterback. The only other selections guaranteed to make the opening day roster were DT Tim Anderson and eventual Bledsoe replacement J.P. Losman who according to plans won't see significant action until at least 2006.

While the Bills are tinkering with finding the proper commutations and permutations of the talent which will make Bledsoe play anything other than the poor to mediocre performances that he has had for six seasons now and the first three seasons of his career, the future welfare of the team waits in the wings. As well, if Tom Donahoe and the coaches are incorrect in their assessments it certainly will not speak volumes about them at a time when the Bills do not need such stigmas about those running the team. Time passes as the clock ticks on this current Bills cast!

Both lines are aging and a slew of key free agents will be coming due over the next couple of seasons. Yet absolutely no plan for that appears to be in the offing. A poor performance by the Bills this season will very likely hamper efforts to not only resign their own free agents, but will unquestionably hinder efforts to lure free agents from other teams to Buffalo.

While the Bills as usual hold the details of the renegotiated contract confidential, it has been reported that a new signing bonus was a part of the deal. This signing bonus necessarily ups the ante given the fact that the Bills could have been free and clear of Bledsoe either now or at the end of this upcoming season for only an additional $3.5 million or so expense this season if retained, or freeing up $8 million for this upcoming season otherwise if not.

Should Bledsoe not answer the call, the Bills will be back on the hook with cap forfeitures next season or the season after should they release Bledsoe following either of those seasons. Keeping him on under those circumstances as a backup should Losman start either this year or next would be an extremely pricey proposition as well and one that the Bills would likely not be able to afford given what will surely be deep needs on both lines.

At this point in time, all that fans have to hang their hats on are promises from the incoming coaching staff and from a GM who simply cannot let go of a poor decision and one who's "save the postage" attitude could very well be a prime target if this train doesn't leave the station as well as arrive at its destination on time this fall. Fans will not have to reach the end of the season to be able to see whether that will be the case or not. How smooth the ride is up front should paint the picture more than clearly.

If less money can upgrade talent, then the Bills may end up a winner. To think that it can or will is silly and naïve. If not, then the Bills will have simply gotten a two dollar refund on a fifty cent mud pie that they originally paid five bucks for and which still doesn't adequately feed the family or provide a healthy meal.

The Bills braintrust seems to think however that it's a good mud pie and will attempt to pass it off again to fans and media as if they do not have eyes and ears of their own and an ability to assess and analyze the situation independently. They'll reheat it, dress it up a bit, serve it with a full complement of side dishes and a few new ones, perhaps even put some toppings on it, and then re-serve it to fans. Many fans seem to be licking their lips with anticipation over an oft-repeated exercise throughout Bledsoe's career, while others are getting ready to leave the restaurant. Fans and media will know after only a few bites however exactly what has been served.

Their reaction will paint the picture unmistakably clear, make no mistake about that. Has the kitchen been able to make the mud pie taste better? If not, will the fans accept this new mudpie at a discount off of its original price? The answer to these questions remains to be seen. However, why this mud pie should taste any different then it already has though for quite a while and while it was at full price remains mostly a mystery. If anything it has likely gotten staler.

What has me perplexed is how the patience and tolerance by the front office, but more particularly by the fans, for an eleven year veteran quarterback with better and more experienced talent around him easily, seems to greatly exceed that for former pariah Rob Johnson. Johnson had arguably the worst line in Bills history to protect him, in spite of the fact that the offensive production of the team during Bledsoe's tenure has been worse than in games that Johnson played in.

The problem during the Bledsoe era in Buffalo has not been that the quarterback has getting paid too much. The problem is that the performance from the quarterback has been to the level of one of the worst in the league. Altering the compensation for such performance will not correct the problem.

A product purchased which does not accomplished what it was supposed to do is not worth any money at all. Suppose one runs to WalMart to purchase a vacuum cleaner. One takes it home and tries to use it but it does not work. Does one then go back to WalMart and ask for a partial refund because the vacuum cleaner does not do the job that it was meant to do? Or does one return it altogether and purchase one that does the job properly?

I suppose in Buffalo a third option exists of pouring all kinds of time and resources into it trying an expensive and time consuming array of attachments and by switching operators under assumptions that the prior operator was not operating it properly. This exercise can go on forever or the product returned and one acquired that is capable of doing what it was intended to do.

It is also nice to have "good guys", "Travelers Man-of-the-Year" candidates or winners, and other players which are "well liked" by the fans for being just good, standup kind of guys. But unless I have it wrong, shouldn't the performance of the team come first and shouldn't the GM's responsibility be to ensure that the team is as competitive as possible with an emphasis on the "good guy factor" taking a back seat?

Just a silly thought!

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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