Fuzzy Math at Bills Front Office

This past week saw the Bills rework Drew Bledsoe's contract. The front office assured fans that this will save the team money. Bledsoe was painted as a financial martyr for accepting a reworked deal with compensation far below the deal that he originally had signed as a ten-year deal with the Patriots beginning with the 2001 season.

He received a $6.5 million dollar signing bonus or an additional 500K over what his salary would have been this season. This is guaranteed money paid out immediately. His salaries for the 2004-2006 seasons are $2.25 M, $3.30 M, and $4.35 M respectively. $1.05 M roster bonuses are also due in each of the '05 and '06 seasons bringing the total over three seasons to $18.5 million.

But does this "front office speak" jibe with reality?

Bledsoe was scheduled to earn $8 million this season if the Bills had decided to release him following this season. This amount would have counted completely against the 2004 salary cap for the Bills. The new deal counts approximately $8.75 million against it as well as in all real money paid out.

Now, I'm no financial fund manager or venture capitalist, however I do seem to remember learning integers and decimals in grade school. Actually, I only vaguely remember learning them, not the exact dates or even teachers. But dangitall if I didn't learn enough to realize that 8.75 is greater than 8.00. I suppose I will need to take remedial fourth grade math classes at an OBD refresher course taught by GM Tom Donahoe.

So what bill-of-goods is the front office attempting to sell fans and media here? And just whom do they think that they are attempting to fool. Bills fans should be insulted that this is the wool that Donahoe and the front office are attempting to pull over their eyes. Yet, many fans seem to be gulping down the OBD Kool-Aid as if it is free beer at a tailgating party.

Wait Weiler, what the Bills meant is that down the road the team will be saving money. Well, let us discuss that matter as well. Bills fans realize full well that Bledsoe is no certainty this upcoming season with yet another rift having been created in the fan base over the issue.

Yet, the Bills were in the driver's seat in this situation. They were on the hook for $8 million with absolutely no strings attached beyond this season coupled with a recent first round selection with more all-around skills than Bledsoe waiting in the wings.

The Bills could have waited to see how Drew was going to play this season prior to re-working any such deal midseason. Afterall, Bledsoe's situation was such that he either would have anted up early on this season or have gotten the boot following the season. Seven games is plenty and how many games the Bills would have had to assess whether Drew's play would have been worthy of an extension. There is no grace period anymore for the 11-year veteran signal caller.

In fact, any reasonable fan at this point probably believes that if he does not deliver within the month of September, then it is over for the soon to be 33 year old signal caller, at least as starting with hopes of providing playoff caliber play goes. Bledsoe will have to be significantly better than average if he is to be worth more than backup money next season as he enters what are clearly his waning years prematurely. Actually, barring some immensely increased level of play, it can be argued that his waning years actually began half a decade ago.

As to future seasons, what was the rush. Did Donahoe believe that there would have been a scramble to sign Bledsoe for much more than he got from the Bills should he have been released following this season? Certainly there can't be a single GM in his right mind or team in the league that would have paid him what he was due on his current contract for seasons following this one.

He is 27-39 in record over the last five seasons and has not had a winning season during that stretch. He is 6-29 vs. teams finishing 9-7 or better and 4-19 vs. teams finishing 10-6 or better over the past five seasons. He has shown nothing indicative of the fact that he is a playoff caliber quarterback.

In fact, in 1996, a season which fans rage he carried the Patriots through the playoffs, he had the following playoff performances that season:

In the divisional game, Bledsoe went 14 of 24 for 164 yards, 58.3%, 6.8 ypa, 1 TD, 2 INTs in a game where the Patriot D held the Steelers to only 3 points and one in which Curtis Martin ran for 166 yards and 3 TDs carrying the day offensively.

In the conference championship game vs. an extremely mediocre Jacksonville defense, Bledsoe went 20 of 33 for 178 yards, 60.6%, 5.4 ypa, 0 TD, 1 INT. The Pats' only offensive TD came on a drive set up courtesy of the defense at the Jag 4-yard line and scoring on 2 consecutive rushing plays for the lone offensive TD.

In the Super Bowl that season vs. Green Bay, Bledsoe went 25 of 48 for 253 yards, largely on a few of big plays and 52.1%, 5.3 ypa, 2 TDs, 4 INTs.

Collectively throughout the playoffs that season, Bledsoe was a combined 59 of 105 for 595 yards, 56.2%, 5.7 ypa, 3 TDs, 7 INTs.

So why is it that notions exist that it was Bledsoe who carried the Patriots to whatever success they experienced in the playoffs that season. Clearly reason suggests that if anything he was a liability even then that his team had to carry and overcome.

It is ridiculous to think that Bledsoe, with a mediocre season this fall, which is by no means a given for Bledsoe who will be 33 next season, would have had league GMs scrambling to beat us to the punch had the Bills waited prior to reworking his deal.

What this reworking has done is generated yet another liability via the Bills "football trading card" management approach. If Bledsoe fails to deliver the goods, which is the default for this upcoming season, then he will cost over $4 million to release next season and released he should be if he fails to prove out at a well above average QB this season. Otherwise the Bills need to begin to look to the future. In fact, if Bledsoe has not proven anything beyond further mediocrity early on, Brown or Losman should step in by midseason.

Four million dollars is one heck of an offensive lineman however perhaps two well above average ones dependent upon contract structures. So losing that kind of money next season would cost the Bills dearly at a time when easily over two-thirds of their viable starting linemen on both lines are either coming up for "age replacement" or unrestricted free agency. So buying into this "it's saving the team money" nonsense is chicanery at its finest.

Bledsoe at that point and under those circumstances will have proven out to have no more value to the Bills than Van Pelt had. He would serve as a QB capable of providing relief for a game or two but no more and with no hopes of success over a prolonged period. The amount of money he will be scheduled to make will in no way justify his retention under those circumstances.

If Bledsoe works out this season for the first time since 1997, then fine. However, if Bledsoe does not work out this season, then someone needs to begin to be held accountable for this decision. The Bills should have learned their lesson after the following two seasons coupled with the prior four seasons in New England. Yet, instead of cutting their losses, they have insisted that coaching was the reason for the lack of production from the overheralded signal caller. The team must cease making such high-risk moves as the next three or four seasons are at stake for the Bills.

A failure to produce this season must either fall upon a lack of recognition of the fact that the issues lay with Bledsoe and those making such decisions being held accountable, or with the incoming coaching staff for failing to do as Bills fans have been told will be done. Frankly, it should be too early to dismiss such a young coaching staff and greater leniency will lie in their defense should Bledsoe not play beyond a mediocre level again for the 10th time in 12 seasons.

The question of the era for the Bills is how long will the organization keep making excuses for Bledsoe's abhorrent play. The team heralds his setting of ten team records based primarily on attempts and completions along with the accompanying yardage in a season in which out of the other side of their mouths say that the Bills passed far too excessively for the good of the team. Hello, does anyone else see the irony here!

Toss in the fact that most of that yardage came via overachieving performances vs. the weakest defenses in the entire league and two games in which the woes of the passing game cost the Bills a pair of wins, not withstanding numerous similar losses without accompanying passing yards, it makes absolutely no sense that these records should have any real or practical meaning or value. Regardless, if the Bills front office would like to suggest that this reworked deal will actually save the team money, then had better qualify their statements with notions that this will only occur if Bledsoe's play rises to a very much and unmistakable above average caliber.

Otherwise this move was an unwise one and one that will cost the team money and opportunity, not save it. Lack of patience on the part of the Bills may very well cost the team more, not less with a pending cap hit of over $4 million next season. Again, as with the play of the entire offense coupled with the credibility of the Bills front office as well as that of an entirely new incoming head and offensive coaching staff, the fate of the team this season seems to hinge on Bledsoe's play.

Why anyone would attach their own fate to Bledsoe's play raises eyebrows. Nevertheless, this is the lot that the Bills front office and incoming coaching staff have dealt themselves. A resulting failure must necessarily be addressed at the decision-making level(s) following this season.

Then again, perhaps the Bills' braintrust and incoming rookie coaching staff can draw blood from a stone. However, if not, such risk taking at the future expense of the team must be addressed if the Bills are to step out of these high-risk management tactics and into decision making predicated on more solid conventional football wisdom of strong trenches. The future of the Bills hangs in the balance with a portion of that future likely already needlessly squandered.

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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