Home > NFL > Bad News Bills: the Ryan Fitzpatrick Contract will not work

Bad News Bills: the Ryan Fitzpatrick Contract will not work

There’s a lot of people who deserve plenty of credit for the Buffalo Bills’ hot start in 2011, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.  But out of everyone who has come together to help the Bills begin 4-2, Fitzpatrick becomes the first man to leverage a contract extension out of the short run of success.

The Bills extended Ryan Fitzpatrick at $33 million in new money over three additional years.  As a practical matter, the Bills are tied to Fitzpatrick through 2013, and won’t be able to get out of the contract cost free until after the 2014 season.  Beyond that, the contract is filled with fluffy, feel good numbers.

Cap expert J.I. Halsell notes on Twitter that the contract comparable is very similar to the Jay Cutler deal made by the Bears in November 2009.  The other midseason extension being brought up a lot is the Packers’ extension to Aaron Rodgers in 2008.  The primary difference between Fitzpatrick and these two comparables is Fitzpatrick’s age.  Fitzpatrick will turn 29 in a month, which means the Bills have bought out his age 30-32 seasons.  Those same seasons for Cutler and Rodgers constitute the 2013-2015 NFL seasons.  But we can throw out Rodgers as a comparable, I believe, because after something like 320 passing attempts, the Packers paid Rogers on his prospects.  Cutler, on the other hand, was paid the going market rate by the Bears, who were ready to lock themselves into a quarterback.

While Cutler has continually flashed the abilities the Bears paid for while in Chicago, the contract ultimately looks to be a cautionary tale of a moribund offensive organization who was sick and tired of watching an underperforming offense year after year that they finally snapped and decided to pay a guy like a franchise player, even if he hadn’t earned that designation yet.  The Bears had every reason to go all in on Cutler, except the obvious one: that Cutler might not be the exact player a franchise wants to go all in on.  Now the Bills are all in on Fitzpatrick for the Chan Gailey era, which may be rather fitting due to the age of Gailey and GM Buddy Nix.  Buffalo is essentially saying: what is the future really worth to a team that hasn’t won anything in 18 years?

Buffalo needs to prove this by starting to reward the players who are actually helping Fitzpatrick do this.  The problem is that the team is so young that no players are particularly close to free agency.  C.J. Spiller is under contract through 2014.  Fred Jackson is only under contract through 2012, but he’s already 30, as good as he’s been.  Naaman Roosevelt, David Nelson, and Donald Jones are all under contract through 2013.  Fitzpatrick will have his core so long as the Bills remain moderately successful.

The guy who is still up for free agency after this year after this contract is Fitzpatrick’s no. 1 favorite target, Stevie Johnson.  Assuming the Bills can resign him, Fitzpatrick will have everyone he is currently throwing to for multiple years into the future.  But because most of the offensive line came out of the 2009 draft, the Bills are going to have a problem getting everyone there locked up over the next two years.

The assumption I’m operating on is that the Bills will pour draft resources into the defense to get it to a point where they can compete for a championship with Ryan Fitzpatrick.  But the best use of the 2012 draft for the Bills might have been to find a quarterback who can improve on what they have in Fitzpatrick, instead of committing so much money to a 29 year old journeyman quarterback in the here and now.  In my estimation, Fitzpatrick has been successful for the same reason a rookie QB would be successful in Buffalo: easily defined reads, yards after catch, limited necessity for vertical passing (where Fitz’ TD/INT rate falls sharply).  Giving him this money now, just six games into the season, seems like a gross misuse of resources.

If this deal looks bad, it will probably do so by this offseason, because Fitzpatrick and the Bills faded down the stretch, and then the Bills and their fans should be questioning exactly what they have here.  The Bills had the benefit of time on their side, and didn’t use it.  Fitzpatrick would have likely signed during the postseason for this same exact contract.  The only difference is: it might not have made sense for the Bills  to have given it out, if the Bills’ situation looks different come January.  That is my biggest complaint about this transaction.

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