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The Case For Bledsoe
With QB receiving so much attention, Bledsoe is best option.
by Tony Bogyo
Bills Daily Correspondent
Apr. 7, 2002

With less than 3 weeks to go before the 2002 NFL Draft, you can feel the excitement in the community of Bills faithful. By virtue of a 3-13 season in 2001-2002 and the addition of the Houston Texans, the Bills find themselves with the number 4 overall pick in draft this year. The Bills have not executed a top 10 draft pick since 1987, when they drafted Shane Conlan at #8, and there is much speculation that the Bills could trade their current #4 pick for additional picks in later rounds. With multiple positions in need of an upgrade at starter, the draft would seem to hold a variety of opportunities.

The position receiving the most attention (particularly in the national media) is the quarterback - just who will be under center next season as the Bills try and dig their way out of the cellar? At this writing, Alex Van Pelt appears to be the starter after a capable if unspectacular performance last year. Questions remain about the ability of Van Pelt to lead the Bills to a better place as a full-year starter. Ever capable as an NFL backup, many feel he is simply not suited to be an NFL starter, particularly if the Bills abandon the West Coast offense that suit his abilities. Few, if any, see Van Pelt as much more than a short-term stopgap quarterback who can lead the team until the “quarterback of the future” arrives. Could such a man of the future arrive this year with the number 4 pick?

Bills management seemingly has made no bones about wanting to bring other quarterbacks onto the roster. Jeff Blake, a castoff from the Saints, has been in town for a visit that reportedly produced interest by both parties. Interestingly, the visit has not yet produced an offer to Blake, even after Blake supposedly made an offer to the Bills about what a contract should look like.

Why the sudden disinterest in Blake by a team seeking more quarterback talent? The answer likely lies in a man from New England, Drew Bledsoe. At the NFL spring meetings it was revealed that Bills General Manager Tom Donohoe had expressed interest in acquiring the New England quarterback. Although little was said officially, media reports indicated that talks between the Bills and the Patriots were indeed serious. Reading between the lines, the effort to acquire Blake may have been put on the back burner as the Bills focused their sights on Bledsoe.

The Patriots asking price for Bledsoe has reportedly dropped from two first round draft picks due to the overall softness in the NFL market for veteran players. The Saints, who gave up their entire draft a few short years ago for running back Ricky Williams, traded him to the Miami Dolphins for Miami’s first round draft pick this year and a third round pick next year (which may improve to a first round pick in the next draft if Williams breaks 1500 rushing this season). Obviously, the Patriots are not going to get two first round picks for Bledsoe, but seem determined to acquire at least one first round draft pick as compensation for a trade.

What is the appropriate price for Bledsoe? The Bills have reportedly offered a third round pick for him, and apparently were rebuffed by New England. New England is rumored to have made a counter offer to the Bills which has not resulted in a trade agreement. Cincinnati has also expressed interest in Bledsoe and has even hinted that they would be willing to part with a first round draft choice. Oddly, this interest comes after Bledsoe commented that he had no desire to play for the Bengals and the Bengals management admitted that bringing Bledsoe aboard would require “major surgery” to their roster in order to fit within the salary cap.

To a team like Buffalo in need of bringing more talent to the quarterback position and also in need of another name with star power, Bledsoe may be worth a single first round pick, particularly if they can trade picks with New England at #32. Make no mistake about it, the Bills would love to get Drew Bledsoe as their starting quarterback, but only within reason. A trade requiring Buffalo to part with its #4 pick this year may be more than the Bills are willing to pay, particularly since contact has been made with Blake and Atlanta’s Chris Chandler.

In a league where youth is king and draft picks are more valuable than gold, the Bills have plenty of currency to make a deal with the #4 pick in every round. Many feel that the high draft pick should be used to take a potential franchise player in the draft, perhaps a quarterback like Oregon’s Joey Harrington.

The problem, it seems, is that there are no guarantees that even highly touted draftees will live up to their billings. The risk is particularly great at the quarterback position. In the past 12 years, 22 quarterbacks have been selected as first round draft picks. 15 of these selections have been top 10 picks with each draftee being labeled a potential “franchise player”. To date, only the Colts’ Peyton Manning appears to have lived up to this billing. Dante Culpepper of the Vikings and Donovan McNabb of the Eagles may also reach this coveted status as their careers progress. Unfortunately, the road to franchise player greatness is littered with the carcasses of quarterbacks who failed to become even mediocre NFL starters - Andre Ware, Rick Mirer, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, David Klingler and Heath Shuler. Will Joey Harrington become the next Andre Ware?

Given the unknowns of drafting a player who has yet to play a single down in the NFL, the Bills might be wise to enlist the services of Drew Bledsoe, a 3-time Pro Bowl selection. Although Bledsoe isn’t particularly mobile, he does have the arm strength to make the most out of receivers Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. Bledsoe may also help sell tickets to games - fans are more apt to go see a game with a name like Drew Bledsoe under center than a career backup named Alex Van Pelt. Perhaps most importantly, Bledsoe brings veteran leadership that a young Buffalo Bills team needs.

The Bills are one of the only teams in the league who can actually fit Bledsoe into their current cap structure, provided they have finished signing free agents. The next three years of Bledsoe’s contract are fairly cap friendly (probably better than a contract given to a top 5 draft pick). Bledsoe’s option years in 2005-2010 are when the money really starts to hit, but by then the Bills will likely have a strategy for brining in the next quarterback if they decide not to pick up these contract years.

The Bills have made strides to address various positions of need in the free agent market. Starters at offensive tackle, safety, and middle linebacker appear to have been filled. While none of the players signed at these positions are blockbuster names, they can be solid players that will allow the Bills to decide whether to stay with the current roster or choose a stud player to be groomed by these new acquisitions. Areas of need to be addressed remain defensive line (likely defensive tackle) and quarterback. Given the crop of athletes in the draft this year, defensive line may well be addressed in the draft as a number of strong candidates are available.

It would seem to make sense to address the quarterback need through free agency or a trade and take a defensive lineman in the draft. Insiders report that the Bills scouts are not impressed with Joey Harrington’s arm strength, increasing the risk involved with taking him at #4 in the draft. Add to that the signing bonus in the range of $10 million a top 5 draft pick quarterback would command, and the case to sign a proven veteran like Bledsoe begins to make even more sense.

Unless another team drives the price for Bledsoe to unreasonable levels, look for the Bills to make a trade with New England on or before draft day. The Bills will likely draw the line at a swap of first round picks (#4 for #32) and possibly a late round pick this year or a conditional pick next year. This would allow Buffalo to take a defensive lineman in the draft (this seems to be a particularly strong draft for such players) and probably avoid taking a big risk with a big contract by actually selecting a player at #4. It would also allow the Bills to enter the 2002-2003 season having addressed every position of need with a player who could start. If nothing else, Tom Donahoe is a personnel man, and his moves today could help piece together the entire puzzle.

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