Hidden Damage: Tom Brady and the Buffalo Bills

Tom Brady has seen many Bills quarterbacks through the years, and dominated all of them. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady has had a hidden effect on the Bills quarterback position beyond just routinely beating them. (Getty Images)

Evan Sally

No discussion of the Bills playoff drought is complete without a mention of its key antagonist, Tom Brady. Don’t worry Bill Belichick I didn’t forget about you and your evil genius, but to list Belichick and Brady as equally responsible for the Patriots dynasty is a bit unfair to Brady. We’ve seen Belichick routinely out coach whoever is on the Bills sideline, leaving the Bills usually looking grossly unprepared so I’m by no means dismissing him. But we all know where the Patriots true greatness comes from. Brady is New England. And no opposing fanbase is more familiar with Brady’s greatness than this one. His record against the Bills is obscene. It’s comical. Fans have to account for the guaranteed two losses when making their playoff projections or risk looking foolish. You just don’t pick the Bills to beat the Patriots. It’s a waste of time.

The Patriots’ dominance has had a massive effect on Buffalo’s playoff chances, not just because of the two seemingly automatic losses each year but also by making the opportunity to make the postseason smaller as well. Brady’s excellence has made 12+ win seasons the norm in New England, to the point that one of the 3 possible playoff spots the Bills could get into might as well be deleted from the realm of the possible. It’s been Wild Card Weekend or bust for 15 years. But there’s another, even more subtle effect that not the Patriots, but Brady the individual has had on the Bills franchise. Brady, the 6th round draft pick, more specifically.

The Bills have been strange when addressing their quarterback issues while wandering the quarterback wasteland Jim Kelly’s retirement left them in. They’ve only drafted 5 quarterbacks since 2001 (the year Brady first rose to prominence), with only two of those selections coming in the 1st round. It’s been worse in free agency and the trade market, even when you account for the difficulty Buffalo has had attracting players. We’ve settled for and been seduced by back ups turned starters like Kelly Holcomb and Ryan Fitzpatrick, only to be shocked when they play like a backup again. The best move the Bills have made in the quarterback market during The Streak was trading for Drew Bledsoe, a bold move that surprised when it happened and of course was made possible by, you guessed it, Tom Brady.

However that’s the not the effect I’m leading up to. As Bills fans, there’s no conversation that’s more common and more depressing than trying to figure out why it’s been so long since we’ve had consistently good quarterback play. As we lament the organization’s failure at finding a quarterback, not often enough is mentioned what I outlined above, a strange timidness at trying to solve the problem. Far more often franchises with quarterback problems have a recent history littered with failed 1st and 2nd round picks, if not top 10 picks and big name free agents that couldn’t quite figure it out in the NFL. But not the Bills. It’s an odd situation. This is where Brady comes into play.

Brady-Combine-snap-02-15-15

Brady’s journey from awkward combine guy to all time great has reverberated around front offices around the league. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady’s journey from 6th round also-ran to 3 Super Bowl victories in 4 years after coming off the bench and eventually joining the conversation as one of the best quarterbacks ever has had an subtle effect on the way teams league-wide evaluate quarterbacks, but particularly in Buffalo because of the way his particularly ridiculous level of dominance is in our face all the time. This organization has been far too patient with quarterbacks whose play didn’t merit that level of patience. The problem hasn’t simply been that the quarterbacks that have tried and failed for the Bills got the opportunity, each time the Bills made the decision to start that particular quarterback they thought he was the best man for the job. It’s that by buying into the notion that mediocre quarterback X might develop into something great if “we just get the right pieces around him” or “get him in the right system” therefore leading the Bills to remove themselves from the quarterback market, and instead choosing to focus entirely on bolstering the team around them. Only using recent history, below is a list of quarterbacks since 2011 that were available to be drafted by anyone (Picked 2nd round or later) that are now starting in the NFL that the Bills passed on because they were happy with waiting to find out if Ryan Fitzpatrick or EJ Manuel were going to become slightly less mediocre:

Year Drafted Name Team Round Drafted
2011 Andy Dalton Bengals 2nd
2011 Colin Kaepernick 49ers 2nd
2012 Brock Osweiler Broncos 2nd
2012 Russell Wilson Seahawks 3rd
2012 Kirk Cousins Redskins 4th
2014 Derek Carr Raiders 2nd

Of course there was no guarantee that the Bills, if they had decided to draft a quarterback in any of these drafts would’ve drafted one of these guys. It can also be debated if any of these guys would’ve reached the same level of success in Buffalo, perhaps they’ve been drafted to the perfect situations. However, the Bills don’t even give themselves a chance. With drafting a quarterback being the complete crapshoot that it is, the Bills have done themselves and their fans a disservice hanging on to known mediocrities like Fitz and EJ for a season (or two) too long.

I believe Brady’s improbable success is partially to blame for this mentality. That might sound a little crazy, a little conspiratorial, I know. Anyone is fully within their own right to dismiss the Bills quarterback woes on incompetence and leave it at that. However, their behavior spanning different GMs and coaches is not simply just incompetent, it’s odd as well, odd enough that I believe it may merit a deeper explanation.

The Bills did go looking in the discount quarterback bin again last year but this time it looks like they have pulled out a gem. Tyrod Taylor’s 2015 was finally the kind of season that should get you excited about a Bills quarterback’s long term development. And what did the Bills do? Draft a quarterback in the 4th round anyway. See I told you not to be so pessimistic, this team is starting to get it! Only took 16 years.

Stay posted for the next part in the Drought History.

evan sally– Evan Sally (@Evan_Sally)

 

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