A Different Take on the Fitzpatrick Negotiations

Updated: September 20, 2011

Although it’s been subdued by the general euphoria surrounding the Bills’ legendary and potential turning point game (expect to hear that term often in the coming weeks), a growing concern among Bills fans is the extension of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract, or lack thereof. A sports fan from Buffalo is more weary and suspicious for the potential of a productive player in a contract year to leave due to the failure of the front office to extend him before that player hit the free market. And with examples such as Pat Williams and the 06 Sabres losing their two leaders after a Stanley Cup run, who can blame them?

One reason in particular fans have gotten increasingly annoyed is the “fact” that Fitz’s two backups, Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith, make more than Fitzpatrick does. While we don’t know for sure, that’s very likely not true. Fitz makes 3.22 million this season according to PFT, while Thigpen makes 3.6 (11 million on 3 years), and Brad Smith makes 3.75 (15 on 4). However, these numbers are misleading. Fitz’s number is a base contract number, before incentives. Thigpen’s and Smith’s numbers, on the other hand, represent the maximum value, or in other words, the amount earned if those players hit every bonus written in to their contract. As anyone who has followed football free agency and contracts will tell you, not even the best players in the league realize every penny of those deals. So while Thigpen’s and Smith’s contract likely don’t include the amount of fluff that say, Nate Clements ’80 million’ dollar deal with the 49ers did, they also aren’t likely to be taking home more than Fitzpatrick’s reported 3.22.

Despite the fact that he probably is the highest paid quarterback on the roster, if the Bills expect Fitzpatrick to continue to be the QB for the foreseeable future, extending him becomes of the essence. On Doug Gottlieb’s radio show last week, Fitzpatrick revealed a lofty interesting nugget that provides some insight into the situation. Reflecting on this spring’s draft, Fitzpatrick recollected that the Bills told him he was the starter, no question about it. However, they also told him that if they had a chance to draft a guy who could be a starter for 10-15 years, they were going to do it. Although the situation has changed since April, this provides a very interesting look at how Buddy Nix plans to handle the quarterback situation going forward.

First, the Bills were not sold that Fitzpatrick was a ‘franchise’ QB as recently as this offseason, and rightly so. While looking great often last year, he also wasn’t consistent, turning in some less than inspiring performances down the stretch last season against divisional foes New York and New England. And frankly, despite sharing the league lead for TD passes at the moment, there are still reasons to doubt he is as good as Bills fans seem to think he is at the moment. For instance, neither defense he’s put up numbers against has been stellar, he’s missed badly on some short throws, and he hasn’t lost his penchant for sailing the ball into traffic (as evidenced by his first half interception last week).

If you agree that Fitzpatrick probably isn’t a top 5 player at QB, that leads to another issue: Buddy Nix wants a prospect who can be the franchise’s QB for 10-15 years, and play at a top 5 level. As much as we all love Marcell Dareus and how he’s already been just about more productive than the rest of the Bills first rounders over the past ten years combined, make no mistake: if Cam Newton were available at pick 3, he would have been a Buffalo Bill. But goingorwa frd, how does that affect the reported ongoing negotiations between Fitzpatrick and Buffalo? Essentially, I interpret it to mean not to expect a 8-10 year contract that we’ve seen other big time QBs get recently. I’d expect something in the 4-6 year range, and a significant step down from what those players reportedly make.

While many of you may interpret this argument as being contrarian or Sullivan-esque (apologies for the redundancy), I’m not. I believe Fitzpatrick is still a very good quarterback. He moves in the pocket better than any QB we’ve had in the past decade, reads coverages very well, and seems to have a Manning like sense for weak spots in the opposing defense. While he may not be Brady, Vick, or Rivers (nor will he be paid like them), he’s the next best thing: a competent starter who can effectively run the Chan Gailey’s complex offense. And I expect the Bills to pay him as such, until they do find their franchise QB.