and has more than a half-decade of history suggesting that perhaps any dreams of 'rebuilding' Drew Bledsoe are simply that, dreams.
Yet, incoming freshman head coach Mike Mularkey seems to believe otherwise and is seemingly smug in his statements supporting his belief.
"I don't think he's broken, not at all, not a bit," Not a bit, eh Mr. Mularkey.
"We're probably going to take a step back (by simplifying things) to take two steps forward offensively here. I know they had great success two years ago. Once the staff is put in place, and the guys who come in here can look at the tapes like I have and give their opinion on it, (we'll go forward). But no, I think you can win with Drew Bledsoe." Are these the same tapes/games that fans viewed both this season and last? It should be apparent to anyone who has truly reviewed the 2002 season that any such success was short-lived and came at the hands of extremely bad teams by and large.
"There were a lot of things I learned (about Stewart) that I was not aware of. It was so positive what came out of it. I'm hoping that the same thing happens with Drew." Hoping indeed! Be prepared for a few things that you are apparently not "not aware of" regarding Bledsoe as well Mr. Mularkey.
"People would say it was miracle what you did with Kordell but it wasn't. It wasn't like rocket science. It was simplified to a point," Miracle? Who thought that 14 passing TDs to 11 interceptions is a miracle may remain unknown. However, the 22nd ranked passing offense in the league, a miracle? If this qualifies as a "miracle", then I would risk suggesting that at least some peoples? definition of "miracle" is a tad bit different than those who defined the above. In fact, I wouldn't call it a miracle at all. If Mularkey & Co. think that Drew is going to rush for the over 500 yards and 5 touchdowns that Kordell did, then their hopes are not simple dreams, but pipe dreams.
Now, unless I am missing something, somehow I am not exactly left believing that given all of the other considerations and circumstances regarding the team, that the Bills are going to the Super Bowl in this upcoming 2004 season. While it appears that the decision has already been made and that there is a strong possibility that Donahoe chose Mike Mularkey largely for his willingness to "work with Drew", they both face a tough decision this offseason regardless. That decision is what to do with Drew Bledsoe who is scheduled to make $6 million this season.
To many the decision is clear and really is not a tough decision at all. Cut Bledsoe and sign one or two other quarterbacks that can easily provide at least what he has except at a fraction of the cost. Use the opportunity to create some spots for the Bills finding that "Brady", "Delhomme", or Garcia/Rattay." They are not going to materialize with Bledsoe and Van Pelt being on the roster, that much is certain.
For Donahoe however, the decision figures to be somewhat more difficult. Based on his statements, new head coach Mike Mularkey appears to be more than prepared to give it a go with Bledsoe as well. Understandably, many fans are not surprised by this revelation in light of Donahoe's statements that he would allow the new coach to make the decision amidst his very clear conflicts of interest on the matter. There is also a large fan contingent believing that Donahoe's definition of a "poor interview" by Jim Fassel translates entirely to Fassel's having stated that he would not have retained Bledsoe. Certainly Fassel has interviewed enough during his career that he would otherwise not "interview poorly" as has been rumored.
Since Donahoe's arrival in Buffalo his "crowning achievement" has been "the Bledsoe deal." Unfortunately, I also believe that is what will prevent Donahoe from doing the right thing for the Bills this offseason. He may have too much invested personally such that he will not admit such a huge mistake involving a much-needed first round selection in last year's draft.
Donahoe made the following post season comments:
"[Bledsoe] took more bullets than a '30 Packard in one of those Al Capone movies, and I don't think it was fair".
"I think some other people on our team should have stood up [for him], some of our coaches should have stood up."
"I don't think Drew deserved to be treated the way he was treated this year. He's a quality quarterback and he's an even better person. We didn't help him enough. We put him in too many situations where he couldn't win."
Those comments are most clearly apologetic of Drew's play with a clear undertones that Donahoe faults Bledsoe for little of 'what went wrong offensively' this past season. That same logic stands to reason given a vote of confidence otherwise. Moreover, if whomever, Gilbride in this particular case, was so bad as to put Drew into all those "situations where he couldn't win", then would not any reasoning person think that such shoddy performance out of the guilty party would immediately be addressed at season's end via a prompt firing? Yet, that did not happen either as Gilbride hung around until well after the Mularkey hiring was announced. It was puzzling to say the least.
But wait Weiler, what about the offensive line, how can you overlook such shoddy play by the line and direct the brunt of the issues at Gilbride/Bledsoe?
Simple! The assumptions are that Bledsoe's play while in Buffalo has been decent up until this season. However, a closer look at last season will easily reveal that over the last ten games last season Drew's play was just as poor, or very close to it, as it was this season. Thus my befuddlement on Mularkey's statements on the "great success [offensivly] two years ago." Sure, Bledsoe may have had a few more yards, but his turnovers and lack of offensive production over those last ten games with one exception were extremely similar to his play of this season.
The play of the offense reflected that fully averaging only 17.8 points per game over the last ten games of the season and only 15.6 points per game if the 38-point big-play effort vs. Miami is not included in the calculation. Those totals, had they been occurred over the entire season would have placed the Bills' offense near the bottom in the league. It was five 31+ point offensive performances among the first five weeks of the season and primarily against terrible defensive teams and poor teams overall that carried the team in the perceptions created regarding the offense that season.
The Bills offense averaged 30.0 points per game over the first 6 games in 2002 while dropping to an average offensive production of only 18.5 points per game over the last 10 games. The average on the season was good, but a clear dichotomy of play existed dividing the season into two distinct parts.
Last season, the 2002 season, the offensive line was not an issue. In fact, it had improved over the course of the season and the fans and media support that, so any insinuations that it was the line last season are illogical and baseless. Price, Riemersma, and Centers were on the team also as the offense went dry in that season over the last ten games. So all the current excuses that Drew "misses Price", that the "Bills need a speedy WR", or that "it's the worse play of the offensive line" simply do not all add up to reality here.
Some will say that Drew simply plays worse over the last eight than he does during the beginning of the season. If so, then why would the Bills desire such a QB heading into a playoff string in any given season? Especially considering that he has never personally had a great playoff game without question. Again, no answers. Talk is cheap, the truth and facts are a different matter. Yet, will the Bills learn the lessons? Or will fans and media be having the same discussions regarding Bledsoe at the end of next season as they did regarding Gilbride this season?
Are intelligent football fans to believe that an offensive line with two new starters in '02, little chemistry at the onset of the season, only three man-games lost to injury all season long, and one that improved its chemistry as the season went along was actually better over their first six games of playing together than they were over the last ten? You can fool some of the people some of the time?
Bledsoe's Bills performance(s) 'for the record':
14-18, 35 TDs, 27 INTs, 40 Tot. TOs, 60.0%, 6.68 YPA overall in 32 games with the Bills
11-15, 21 TDs, 22 INTs, 35 Tot. TOs, 58.1%, 6.27 YPA over the last 26 games
4-8, 10 TDs, 16 INTs, 20 Tot. TOs, 57.1%, 6.12 YPA in 12 games vs. AFC East teams
1-10, 7 TDs, 15 INTs, 23 Tot. TOs, 58.1%, 5.73 YPA in 11 games vs. playoff teams
1-10, 6 TDs, 14 INTs, 22 Tot. TOs, 54.9%, 5.43 YPA in 11 games vs. teams 10-6 or better
5-16, 18 TDs, 24 INTs, 33 Tot. TOs, 56.9%, 5.95 YPA in 21 games vs. teams 8-8 or better
3-8, 13 TDs, 15 INTs, 18 Tot. TOs, 57.8%, 6.54 YPA in 11 games vs. teams which were 7-9 or better in '02
9-2, 17 TDs, 3 INTs, 7 Tot. TOs, 66.8%, 8.23 YPA 11 games vs. teams 6-10 or worse
5-0, 10 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 Tot. TO, 66.7%, 8.28 YPA in 5 games vs. teams 4-12 or worse
23 TDs, 3 INTs, 5 Tot. TOs, 62.0%, 8.06 YPA in 14 Wins
12 TDs, 24 INTs, 35 Tot. TOs, 58.7%, 5.75 YPA in 18 Losses
103 sacks in two seasons of 32 starts
Throw in 6 TDs, 12 INTs, 51.5%, 5.3 YPA in playoff games in his career
Contrast this with Rob Johnson's performance record in 22 games where he had a minimum of 50% of the attempts in games:
26 TDs, 15 INTs, 60.8%, 7.27 YPA
Johnson also had 110 sacks in four seasons of 26 starts behind a line including players such as Billy Conaty, Jon Carman, Kris Farris, Jerry Ostroski on his last legs, Corey Hulsey, and rookies Jonas Jennings and Marques Sullivan, most of whom were banged up at one point or another throughout the season.
One thing that has me a wee bit perplexed is the seeming tolerance for the play of Bledsoe given just as atrocious outcomes as those of Rob Johnson who did not have nearly the offensive line that Bledsoe's has had, the seasoned wide receivers, the benefit of a solid rushing game, and comparable or even worse coaching. Given that Bledsoe is a veteran of 11 seasons, one would assume that the tolerance for such shoddy play would be even less than it was for Johnson. Yet another conundrum no doubt.
The best thing for the Bills would be to get rid of Bledsoe outright right now. If it is not apparent to even the most casual football fan that Bledsoe is not worth anywhere near the $6 million that he will be getting paid next season, then it is certainly not for lack of evidence. It will be painfully clear by midseason this year if he enters the season as the starter.
Bledsoe's performance over the past 26 games has by and large been horrendous leading the team to an average offensive production of only 15.2 points-per-game during that stretch following the first six games in a string of poor opponents at the onset of the '02 season. Rob Johnson fared better in terms of point production with far less talent around him and certainly with far less support from fans.
Meanwhile, the excuses by some fans and media continue to flow. The receivers are not making catches and getting open, the play calling is not perfect, the offensive line is not perfect, he misses Price, Riemersma, and Centers, etc., etc., etc.! Funny how Henry can run well enough to come within a reasonable chance to hit 1,400 rushing yards in only 14 games and for the second season in a row and average 6 more yards-per-game in doing so. Funny how the receivers are often open yet don't seem to get the ball thrown their way. Funny how Price's performance in Atlanta and JR's performance in Pittsburgh are laughable while Centers? performance in New England is nothing special at all. Interesting that as the number one receiver down in Atlanta, Price, barely outperformed 2nd and 3rd WRs Reed and Shaw here in Buffalo. But it's the lack of a decent QB down in Atlanta prior to Vick's return some will retort, to which I say "yes, and why is it different here?"
It's also interesting how compared to Bledsoe's 11 touchdowns, Leftwich, a rookie, logged three more while playing in one less game with 14 and had no more talent to support him than Bledsoe had. Jeff Blake logged 13 TDs in only 13 games behind the Arizona line with run support from Marcel Shipp and only rookie upstart Anguan Boldin to throw to primarily. There are other examples, but if these two did not illustrate the crux of the matter, then another four or five will not either. Are we to all believe, as intelligent football fans, that all of those teams have worse coaching, offensive lines, receivers, running backs, and tight ends'?
It is difficult to understand why fans, media, and Bills front office and coaching personnel cannot see through this media charade. It is easy to see why Donahoe does not since his future in Buffalo may be directly tied to his own press statements unfolding as spoken by him. Drew is an extremely poor playoff quarterback, has a horrendous record vs. teams above .500 let alone teams much better than that. His career milestones and accolades have practically nothing at all to do with wins, solid play when it matters most, or even scoring by and large. In fact, he has racked up most of his significant stats vs. poor teams.
As well, his accolades instead largely revolve around yardage apart from any other efficiency or scoring measures, soft "Pro Bowl appearances" two of which have been as an alternate for injured players, and attempts and other things based nearly purely on the frequency with which his teams have passed while having little to do with the scoring results of that passing game or the performance of the offense in general. Yet, a willing media and some of the fan base continue to carry the Bledsoe banner, which is full of holes, into battle.
If the Bills keep Bledsoe on for next season it will be a mistake. If they sign him to an extension beyond next season then it will be both a travesty and pure insanity. At $6 million, the Bills should cut Drew now, sign a $1-2 million free agent, perhaps two, and even draft another quarterback in this season's draft in rounds 2 through 4. The extra cash should be pumped into signing some line help for either side of the ball. They can be free and clear of any burdens completely by releasing Bledsoe now. Waiting only ties the Bills to future cap hits should he be released following this season. In fact, entering the season with Bledsoe on the roster under the current terms of his contract tie the Bills to a minimum of an additional $2 million simply to buy the option to release him should Mularkey's statements not come to pass.
A.J. Feeley and Billy Volek would both be good bets and I have a very, very, very difficult time believing that either could possibly do any worse than Bledsoe has for 80% of the games he has played in during the two seasons that he has been in Buffalo. Yet, the risks of signing them are minor in contrast. Some argue that the Bills have tried similar moves prior with Rob Johnson having been signed after only starting one game. The argument there is a very simple one in that neither Feeley nor Volek would command anywhere near the money that Johnson got or what Bledsoe is currently getting. The Bills are going to have to take some gambles on fresh QB talent for the future at some point. The more new players at QB they pick up, the greater the odds for future success. Harboring QBs on the roster whose greatest utility to the team has passed only hinders such efforts by increasing the opportunity costs.
The Bills have far too many needs this offseason to pay $6 million for the kind of play that they have been getting at the quarterback position. Even a nominal improvement would still fall far short. In fact, any amount of money is too much for this level of play, which is incapable of playing well enough to beat solid opponents. If this were any other "no name" quarterback in the league, then he would likely have been released regardless of the price tag going forward. Only Drew, a media favorite, could possibly survive the executioner. Meanwhile, every minute that Bledsoe remains a Bill following this offseason will simultaneously reflect Donahoe's effort to cling onto whatever credibility he has remaining regarding his "staffing savvy" and value as a GM.
As well, some say to keep Bledsoe around next season and bring in his heir this offseason to "learn" under Drew. The simple question that I have for that proposal is "why?" Generally speaking, in the business world, when a company decides to improve itself in an area, it benchmarks the best in the business, not the worst. What would the current coaching staff possibly want a rookie or young QB to pick up from Bledsoe? Few of his "strengths", the ever-elusive strengths, seem to be transferable. Most involve his arm strength, which I have questioned all season long now as having issues for the first time in his career.
In fact, in his two seasons in Buffalo now, he has amassed 35 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, and 40 total turnovers in 32 games. Aggregately, those are averages of barely over 1 touchdown per game, just less than one interception per game, and approximately 1.3 turnovers per game.
The problem with those numbers is that 20 of those 35 touchdowns coupled with 0 interceptions and only 1 turnover have come in only 8 games. Those eight games were against 7 non-playoff teams, five of which will have finished their respective seasons at 6-10 or worse, only one playoff team (Titans this season), and only one team with 10 or more wins. (also the Titans '03 in the same game)
In the other 24 games, Bledsoe has only 15 touchdowns, 27 interceptions, and 39 total turnovers for abysmal numbers in 75% of the games that he has played for Buffalo. Those are averages of barely over ½ touchdown per game, nearly twice as many interceptions per game, and almost three times as many total turnovers per game in 75% of the team's games and in the most important games to be sure. For this the Bills are prepared, seemingly, to pay Bledsoe $6 million for next season. This level of play is not worth the veteran minimum and anyone suggesting that it is is ignoring the facts. I am only left to scratch my head at how much of the media continues to carry the banner of Bledsoe's reputation just as it has for nearly his entire career.
In contrast, Kerry Collins in NY has been sacked 28 times on 528 dropbacks this season behind an offensive line consisting of three rookies and a second-year first time starter for much of this season. Bledsoe has been sacked 49 times in only 520 dropbacks behind the Bills line. That is 19 more sacks in 8 fewer dropbacks behind a far more experienced and better line, albeit not without its share of issues.
Bledsoe even had the benefit of over a hundred yards more team rushing and a much more reliable running back overall. This should not speak, but scream volumes! So what can a rookie or young QB learn from Drew? How to get sacked, take too long to throw the ball away, misread his offense, not be able to spot obvious mismatches with 7 or 8 men rushing him with only 5 or 6 blockers?
If the Bills want someone for a young quarterback to learn from, then they should either sit their prodigy through some films of the Favres, Mannings, Brady's, and other successful and good QBs in the game. They should not rely on a quarterback who has had 2 good seasons in 11 and whose play is more like that of an inexperienced rookie than that of an 11 year veteran QB.
The Bills have little to benefit by keeping Bledsoe. If the cost were $1-2 million, then perhaps one could understand it although I would not retain him if he played pro bono. He is a terrible quarterback in the playoffs and against top caliber opponents reducing any chances of advancing in next season's playoffs even further should the team even reach that point. Unfortunately, the Bills? '04 schedule will not be full of 6-10 or worse teams either. Given the Bills' playoff history, a Super Bowl win should be at the forefront of every fans' mind. Does anyone truly believe that Bledsoe is the quarterback to take the Bills there.
The Bills can get the same level of play from other available quarterbacks and would not be as penned into continuing to try to force a square peg into a round hole. It is doubtful however that Donahoe sees it this way and doubtful that Bledsoe will not be on the team next season given Mularkey's statements. In my opinion Bledsoe at quarterback will otherwise singlehandedly prevent the Bills from advancing in the playoffs if not even preventing them from making them altogether.
There is no practical reason to prolong the pain for fans or anyone else any longer. What we have in Buffalo these days is Rob Johnson II or dare I say it, even worse. There is really and absolutely no practical difference from a scoring and offensive efficiency standpoint! In fact, it has been worse under Bledsoe. "Hopes", as Mularkey himself stated he is relying on per the statements at the beginning of this piece are exactly what he has to rely on. He had better have an incredibly strong "plan B" waiting in the wings if 'hopes' is all that he has.
In the meantime, in addition to the $6 million in salary that Bledsoe is scheduled to be paid, there will be much more due in bonus money regardless of the team's decision, during the season. Should the Bills then determine that they no longer wish to retain Drew following this season, then it will cost them the aforementioned $2 million more in November, presumably applied to next season's cap simply to exercise the option to release him.
Should the "experiment" continue and should the coaching staff, front office, and media "adopt the cause" and continue to blame everything but Drew himself for his poor performances, then it will cost the team $7 million to activate the next three years of his current 10-year contract. More than likely, the Bills will retain Bledsoe and seek to rework his contract. Contract restructuring almost always pushes cap money forward to later years however which would hamper team efforts in years yet to come. Would that be in the best interests of the Bills at this point?
Given Donahoe's proclivity for overpaying brand name veterans, I have little faith that he will not do the same even in a contract restructuring for Bledsoe. And what is play as mentioned above worth? The overall health of this team with its current cast of talent may depend solely upon this single move. If Mularkey's "hopes" can be fulfilled, then what are we to expect? The 14/11, 20/16, or 18/17 seasons posted by Stewart and Maddux in Mularkey led offenses over the past three seasons somehow don't get me all jittery with anticipation. Especially if 12 or 14 of those 18 or 20 TDs would happen to come in games vs. Jacksonville, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Cincy and whatever other teams are going to finish 6-10 or worse and be at the bottom of the stack in terms of defense.
As well, I detect a hint of smugness in Mularkey's comments almost as if they were implicitly scripted as a direct result of Donahoe's predictable hiring of a head coach who would not hesitate or even waver for a moment on the retention of Bledsoe right from the get-go. This is all fine and good if Mularkey can indeed resurrect the Bills $6 million man. If not however, the risks by far outweigh the upside and this is not a prescripted drama series where the outcome is predetermined. If Mularkey and Clements fail, then the ramifications may very well impact the team through the '06 season, well into their respective careers. In other words, they are playing with the proverbial fire.
So this will be the question of the season. Can the Bills "rebuild him' Make him better than he was before. Better . . . stronger . . . faster." My money gets laid on an unwavering "no." If not, the clean up tab will be an additional $2 million simply to have the scrap hauled away. Of course that tab will not include irreversible lost good will with Donahoe, huge opportunity costs, lost chemistry, a potentially fatal mark against a new head coach and offensive coordinator and staff including a widespread questioning of their competencies and judgements right from the onset, not to mention potentially large scale damage that can result in terms of the image of the team for several seasons to come as the current talent base erodes due to players aging.
Discuss this on "Thursday Night Bills" live on Thursday evenings beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday February 19th at http://broadcastmonsters.com/BillsReport/billsreport.asx.