The Buffalo Bills continued their search for a Quarterback to get some return on significant defensive investments, this time signing former Cardinal Kevin Kolb to a two year contract. Sometimes as fans we get caught up in “name value” and memories and the immediate reaction to this signing was that Kolb was destined to be the starter and a sign that the Bills would not draft a QB. Kolb fed into it himself with the statement as to how he was in Buffalo to win a Super Bowl portraying himself as some type of superstar QB looking for a home. A closer look at the situation paints a much different picture.
The Bills find themselves in a bit of a QB hole due to the poor decision made to extend journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative $59 million dollar contract after a handful of good games in 2011. I heavily criticized the move at the time on my nyjetscap site, (which in turn saw me criticized by Bills fans), because it was a move that had almost no upside and did not need to be done at that time. It was a situation where the Bills had struggled so badly for so many years, the only team in 2000s to fail to make the playoffs, and been perceived as a cheap organization that GM Buddy Nix got caught up in sending a message that the Bills organization was going to become a spender in the NFL. Unfortunately it was the wrong player and Fitzpatrick crashed the minute he signed his name on the dotted line.
Fitzpatrick now compromises the Bills spending allocation on the position for the next two seasons. The Bills designated Fitzpatrick a June 1 cut meaning he will count for $3 million in dead money in 2013 and $7 million in 2014. Not that the free agent market was going to provide strong QB candidates but $10 million in dead money is nothing to sneeze at. Cutting Fitzpatrick was absolutely the right move to make and restructuring his deal was simply going to eat into more cap room for no reason, but if there was one move that Nix would want back in his tenure it has to be the Fitzpatrick one.
With Fitzpatrick gone but not forgotten on the books the Bills are in a position where they needed to look for a stopgap player and continue to still look in the draft. The two are not exclusive events as many have portrayed. The Bills situation is not all that different than that of division rival Miami last year. In 2012 the Dolphins signed former Jaguar starter David Garrard in March to a one year contract to compete with Matt Moore, entering the final year of a two year contract to be the backup in Miami. When the draft came around the presence of low tier starters made no impact on the Dolphins’ draft decisions, drafting Ryan Tannehill with the 8th overall pick. In the Bills case the low salary of a rookie contract will counteract the $7 million in dead money that Fitzpatrick leaves the team in 2014.
The Bills and Nix are far more protective of their rights with their latest QB signings of Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Neither is signed to a big money deal and both will need to perform if they want to earn their keep. Kolb received a $1 million dollar signing bonus and will earn a $250,000 roster bonus if he makes the team in September. Jackson received a $500,000 signing bonus and will earn $450,000 if he makes the team in September. Kolb has an escalator in his contract for 2014 while Jackson can earn $2.25 million in additional 2013 compensation if he is named the starter and stays in that role.
The salary cap hits and contract makeup don’t proclaim the job to be Kolb’s by any means. Kolb carries a $2.5 million cap hit compared to Jackson’s $2.25 million. Kolb’s cash takehome in 2013 is $3 million while Jackson can max out at $4.5 million. Cutting Kolb before week 1 saves the team $1.9 million in cap and $1.9 million in cash consideration. The team would take on a $500,000 dead money hit in 2014 if released. Cutting Jackson saves $1.7 million in cap space and cash consideration not taking into account the incentives in the contract. In general the two deals are equal and both players need to be active to see the money come their way. If a third QB enters the mix it is likely that the loser of the preseason competition will be cut as the contracts were both designed to be team friendly, allowing the Bills to cut bait with minimal cash outlay.
Bypassing consideration of the draft is simply not an option. In the last two seasons Jackson has only suited up for 16 games, starting 14 of them and throwing for 3,091 yards. The often injured Kolb has played in 15 games, starting 14 of them, and thrown for 3,124 yards. Jackson’s TD/INT totals were 14/13 and Kolb’s 17/11. Kolb completes around 58% of his passes and Jackson right around 60%. Both players, especially Kolb, have name value but neither is likely going to amount to anything more than a 1 year fill in. Both players have had two teams look elsewhere for answers which is usually not the trait of a quality player. In a QB market where Drew Stanton earns $3 million guaranteed the dollar figures tell you everything you need to know about how the rest of the league values Kolb and Jackson.
Now it may turn out that there is no QB in the draft this year the Bills want to draft but the signing of Kolb wasn’t a sign that the Bills completed the search. All Kolb represented was a $1 million gamble that he might be better than the $500,000 gamble in Jackson for this upcoming season. Drafting a QB makes the decision that much easier to cut the cord on one of the two players come September and at least gives the Bills the upside they need to look at a potentially bright future. With Tom Brady getting older, the Jets in a rebuild, and the Dolphins having a question mark at the QB position, getting the young arm gives the Bills an opportunity to supplant the Patriots in a year or two as Brady nears the end of a dominant career, a similar strategy the Dolphins are using. Neither Kolb nor Jackson gives the Bills that chance, and they know it as evidenced by the contracts they have given the two players.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.