Buyer beware

February 1, 2018

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Bills are looking for a quarterback. Not just any quarterback though. The Bills are searching for the most elusive of all the species. A franchise quarterback.

That label, franchise quarterback, gets tossed around frequently. What does it mean? How do you differentiate a franchise quarterback from, well, just a regular old run of the mill guy who happens to play the quarterback position?

Stop reading now if you’re the sort of person that is likely to get frustrated if I don’t definitively answer the question I’ve posed. I’ve got some ideas on how to define it, but it’s mostly from the perspective of what doesn’t make a franchise quarterback.

For example, getting a monster contract does not mean a guy is a franchise quarterback. It might just mean your team is run by idiots. Or maybe they were at the mercy of the marketplace, which has gone insane, so your team decided to way, way, way overpay a flawed player because they were fearful of being left with one of the McCown brothers or Blaine Gabbert when the music stopped.

Exhibit A is Alex Smith. Washington, after refusing to commit long term to Kirk Cousins after twice using the franchise tag on him, traded with Kansas City for Smith and gave him a ton of money to boot.

No thanks. Smith is now on his third team and thus third attempt at proving that he is a franchise quarterback. Guess what? It’s not happening. You see, being the first overall pick doesn’t make you a franchise quarterback automatically, as Smith’s tenure with San Francisco demonstrates. Smith is pretty good, though. He takes care of the ball and this season even enhanced his game by working downfield more than previous seasons. Despite that, and four playoff appearances in five years, the Chiefs finally decided Smith was good but not quite good enough. Kansas City is now going to try Patrick Mahomes, whom they traded up in the draft with the Bills to draft last April.

This trade of Smith to Washington of course now guarantees that Cousins will hit the market, unless his rights get traded prior to free agency opening in March. Either way, Cousins is likely to become the highest paid player in the NFL when his new team is determined. Cousins has been a very productive player and is a tempting target for a quarterback starved team.

This is another no-fly zone for me as far as the Bills are concerned. Sure, Cousins would be an upgrade and of course is more of a proven commodity than a kid you’d be drafting. But I believe the team that backs up the money truck for Cousins is going to regret it. Like Smith, I think Cousins is only so good. Committing huge money to him for the next five to seven years is a risk I’d prefer my team avoid. Washington doesn’t have to be correct in their evaluations, of course. But it is at least worth noting that they’ve started Cousins the past three seasons and were never willing to commit long term. Now, rather than do that, they’ve reached out to another limited quarterback in Smith that they must view as a better option than Cousins. It’s possible Washington viewed coordinator Sean McVay as responsible for their offensive success more so than Cousins.

For what it’s worth, it’s my opinion that paying Cousins huge money doesn’t really line up with how Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are going about their build of the Bills. I could be wrong, but I think they are far more likely to identify a guy they like in this draft class and perhaps even spend multiple picks trying to get him.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee they’ll be correct about the quarterback they choose. Maybe they’ll end up with someone who is only as good as Smith, Cousins or even Tyrod Taylor. It’s possible that they could do much worse than that.

It is also possible that they get a guy who is great. That’s the bet I want my team to make.