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All I Want For Christmas is?
When You Donít Know What You Want
by Tony Bogyo
December 20, 2016

Christmas time and itís that time of year where everyone seems to have a wish list. Whether youíre a little kid sitting on Santaís lap and quietly telling him what youíd like him to bring on Christmas morning or an Amazon shopper making a list for others to see, in this season of giving everyone wants to know our wants.

As Iíve grown older my wants have grown smaller and my wish list practically non-existent Ė nobody wants to pull my name in the annual family holiday gift swap. Iím at a point in my life where I generally just go buy the things that I need and few things excite me enough to want to go buy them (just weeks ago I finally gave up my 4-year-old cell phone for something new). Those looking to give me a gift know Iím a big Bills fan, so when all else fails Iíll usually get something Bills related this time of year.

Itís funny then, that when it comes to the Bills, I donít know what I want. With 2 weeks to go in the second season of Rex Ryan football in Buffalo, it seems that the organization is at a turning point. Much has been speculated about the future of Ryan as head coach and Tyrod Taylor as quarterback, and to a lesser extent, the tenure of Doug Whaley as General Manager. Who should stay and who should go? Without the playoffs to think about (seriously Ė donít hurt yourself trying to understand all the things that have to happen for the Bills to make it Ė just let it happen or, more probably, don't). Iíve spent a good deal of time thinking about what Iíd like the 2017 Bills to look like, and quite frankly, I have no idea what I want Ė do you?

So letís say that the Bills are ready for wholescale changes next season Ė does anyone have an idea what they should look like? Is it even a good idea? Is it better to stand pat and hope that somehow the Bills will be able to pull things together with more time, more health and more commitment to staying the course? Can big changes lead to better days ahead, and if so, how long would/should that take?

Maybe Iím just numb to the last 17 seasons mired in mediocrity, but I donít even know where to begin with rebuilding the Bills. The team has some glaring needs, but few realistic options for addressing them.

The Bills really need to find a way out of the rut they are in. Since the drought began the Bills are 112-158 (.415) Ė so theyíre not terrible but they are on the low end of mediocre. Itís clear that the Bills are not at the level they need to be Ė they have only won only 25 games over the last 17 seasons against teams that went on to have a winning season. If you canít beat good teams you arenít a contender, and clearly the Bills arenít and havenít been contenders.

Obviously, any attempt to pull Buffalo out of the quicksand starts with the position Ė maybe the only position Ė the Bills have not adequately addressed during their playoff drought Ė quarterback.

Since the playoff drought began, the Bills have had 14 starting quarterbacks, and none has been a star performer Ė Rob Johnson, Doug Flutie, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Kyle Orton, and Taylor. Over this period the closest the Bills have come to having a top quarterback was in 2002 when Drew Bledsoe threw for more than 4300 yards and 24 touchdowns or 2011 when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for over 3800 yards and 23 touchdowns (although he threw 23 interceptions). If you like quarterback rating, Taylor finished 2015 with a 99.4 on 3034 yards passing and 20 touchdowns (along with 520 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground). Considering a true franchise quarterback will generally pass for about 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns, itís clear that the Bills havenít had anything close to what they need to build a team around.

And thatís the problem Ė the Bills have built all around the quarterback position over the years, but never found a quarterback. Theyíve shored up the offensive line, brought in good receivers, good running backs, spent money on tight ends. Theyíve paid defensive linemen and had very good linebackers. They have invested in cornerbacks and safeties, but alas Ė the most critical position on the team has yet to reach a critical talent level.

Donít get me wrong Ė finding a top quarterback in the NFL is not an easy thing to do Ė franchise quarterbacks are really hard to find. Taking a shot on a college player in the draft, regardless of how universally regarded that player may be is no guarantee of success, and once a player does prove himself on the field, teams will lock him in for a long time. That leaves teams like Buffalo and Cleveland continually playing musical quarterbacks. Buffalo has drafted a small number or signal callers over the years, even using first round picks on JP Losman and Manuel, and nobody has panned out. The Bills spent heavily to get an aging Drew Bledsoe only to find his best years were behind him.

As much as Iíd like to ask Santa for a quarterback, I know there are few options. The only veteran likely to be available that could be considered a franchise quarterback is Tony Romo, and he wonít come cheap Ė heís also shown a propensity for injury. The Bills will be drafting outside of the top 10 in May, and will probably not have a shot at the most recent ďcanít missĒ quarterback prospects (although as previously mentioned, teams can certainly miss on these players). I would think the Bills need to just keep drafting a quarterback until they find someone, whether they use a high pick or a low pick and whether that guy comes next year or 20 years from now (I canít take another 20 years of this).

Sadly, the best quarterback option for the Bills next year may very well be Taylor. I donít hate Tyrod, but I also donít have expectations that heíll be able to do more than heís done the past two years at the helm. I do think the Bills are in a tough situation Ė can they really afford to exercise the option on Tyrod, give him a boatload of money just because heís the best option they have? Do they save the money and realize that they may need to take a step back at the quarterback position? If you take a step back arenít you guaranteeing an 18th year without playoffs?

The other big thing Iím not sure about is head coach. I know there are people out there who hate Rex Ryan and want nothing more than to see him run out of town as fast as possible Ė I understand the anger at a supposed defensive guru who took a solid defensive unit and turned it into one that has woefully underperformed the last two seasons. I canít say that I want to run Rex out of town, nor can I say Iím a fanboy who wants him to stay Ė Iím ambivalent about the coaching situation.

When I was married 20 years ago, our wedding reception was at a beautiful restaurant in Windsor, CT. Over the years that same restaurant, with a very nice floor plan, dťcor, bar area and a fantastic lake view, has changed hands multiple times. New owners have tried all sorts of different cuisines and nobody has stayed in business more than a few years before selling to the next person Ė the new person comes in, creates a whole new restaurant, and the place turns over in a couple of years. I donít understand why this place has never been a successful restaurant even after so many total makeovers, just like I donít understand why the Bills have been so unsuccessful after so many coaching/front office changes. For whatever reason, it just is what it is and itís hard to see whatís going to change it.

Iím not convinced firing Ryan is going to do anything positive for the Bills. In the first place, the team will need a new coach, and I donít know if thereís a great candidate out there (although some of you will undoubtedly argue that the guy you have in mind is the guy who can turn it around). When new coaches come in they tend to install schemes that utilize certain players Ė players who often arenít on the roster. Seasons are spent trying to get the right players for the system and in the meantime the team goes nowhere. If the Bills make a coaching move I certainly hope they bring in someone who will use the players on the team now to reach their goals Ė I canít take another 5 years just trying to get the right personnel (besides, that coach wonít have 5 years). Want to be the new coach? Tell me how youíre going to win with the talent the Bills have because they do have some.

Replacing Whaley as General Manager brings with it the same issues as replacing the head coach Ė who replaces him and wonít that person want to build his own team rather than work with the talent that is already here? I donít think the Bills need to make big changes Ė they need to find a way to get the most out of the talent they have while continuing to grow that talent. Ryanís defensive scheme appears to be overly complex and too reliant on top cover corners the Bills do not possess. Teams have figured out that if you can stop the pass rush long enough and throw a quick and/or very accurate ball the Bills cannot stop you. The offense is too reliant on pounding the ball and keeping the defense honest by making downfield passes, but teams have figured out that if you deny Tyrod his first few pass options heíll tuck the ball in and try and run.

So here I sit, wanting a quarterback without one available and wanting change without too much change. I see a team that all evidence shows is systemically broken, but I donít want to wait for wholescale change and yet another rebuilding. I guess I want what canít be given and thatís a problem when people keep asking me what I want Ė what will I tell Santa?

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