BILLS NONCOMMITTAL ABOUT KEEPING RYAN FITZPATRICK:
INDIANAPOLIS – Beleaguered quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a Buffalo Bill today.
Past that, team president Russ Brandon and GM Buddy Nix on Thursday were surprisingly noncommittal.
In a morning scrum with Bills beat writers at the NFL scouting combine, Brandon was asked flat-out if the 30-year-old Fitzpatrick will remain with the team past next month.
“The main thing there, and I know I’m sounding a little repetitive, but we’re continuing to evaluate,” Brandon said during a wide-ranging 20-minute session. “And that’s really more in line with where (GM) Buddy (Nix) and (assistant GM) Doug (Whaley) come out on that. We’re looking at everything …
“I’m evaluating the organization from top to bottom, those guys are evaluating the roster. So we’ll see where that goes.”
Some six hours later, Nix’s endorsement of Fitzpatrick was no less ringing.
“He’s a member of our football team,” Nix said of Fitzpatrick. “And if anything changes with Ryan, he’ll be the first to know.”
Either Brandon or Nix could have scotched any such speculation about Fitz’s future with the team with a clear, unequivocal endorsement.
Instead, they left the door open wider than a Scott Norwood field-goal attempt. Fitz’s departure might be imminent.
Loathed now by most Bills fans, the Harvard grad took over as starting quarterback early in the 2010 season. He enjoyed a measure of success and, in October 2011, was rewarded with a $59-million, seven-year contract – $24 million guaranteed.
Fitzpatrick is due to earn a $4.25-million salary in 2013, but he also is set to receive a $3-million bonus early next month for remaining on the club’s roster.
Since rewarding Fitzpatrick with his lucrative contract extension 16 months ago, the Bills have won only eight of 26 games – in which the quarterback completed 60.2% of his passes, with a 33-30 TD-interception ratio and a poor 79.5 passer rating.
Brandon was asked if the club has approached Fitzpatrick about renegotiating his contract – much as the Philadelphia Eagles did last week with Michael Vick in retaining him only after he agreed to reduce his 2013 salary from $15 million to a base of $7 million.
“No, not at this point,” Brandon said.
But is that something the club might yet do?
“I think it’s too early to talk about that at this point,” Brandon said. “Fitz is on our roster, and that’s where he is right now.”
Nix more or less answered that question the same way.
“Again, if there’s any plan like that, we’ll tell Ryan first,” Nix said. “That’s who we’d talk to about it if that is, in fact, the case.”
If I’m Fitzpatrick, I’m not counting on getting another dime from the Bills.
Brandon said he will direct most of his energies at the combine to touching base with the agents of Buffalo’s pending free-agent players, which include star safety Jairus Byrd and standout guard Andy Levitre.
“It’s an opportunity to get a pretty good understanding of where they’re coming from, and what their focus is on moving forward, and to have very open and frank dialogue on both sides,” Brandon said.
“And it also gives you an opportunity, if you’re making some progress, to sit down later that day, or the next day, and continue that dialogue. So it will go fast and furious here over the next few days.”
Players whose contracts expired at the conclusion of the 2012 season become free agents on March 12, the first day of the 2013 league year.
Brandon said applying the one-year franchise tag to either Byrd or Levitre before then is something the club would prefer to avoid.
“(There are) a variety of reasons why you don’t want to use it, but it’s available to us if we need it,” Brandon said. “You prefer not to from a cap-management standpoint. But we’ll see how that goes.
“From our standpoint, we’re focused on trying to get long-term deals done, so we’ll see where that takes us.”
Nix said the team intends to jump into the free agency pool once they become available March 12.
“We’ve got a list. We know who we’d like to have if they become available,” Nix said. “We will try to be active in free agency. I don’t know how that will work out.
“We’re not going to go crazy and overspend and get ourselves in a bind, where we can’t keep some of our own. But we will be a player. We’ll attempt to make some moves in free agency to plug some holes.”
The team’s biggest hole remains at quarterback – whether or not Fitzpatrick remains on the roster by mid-March, $3 million richer.
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Does new Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman see similarities between the quarterback he inherited five years ago with the Montreal Alouettes and the Bears’ good but not yet great signal-caller?
“Well, I think No. 1 that Anthony had already won a Grey Cup,” Trestman said in a walk-away interview Thursday morning outside Lucas Oil Stadium, after his official and unofficial news conferences at the NFL scouting combine. (My photo above)
“I think Anthony was an elite player already, because he’d played already 14 years or something and had established himself as an elite player in the league.”
But might his success in helping the veteran Calvillo raise his play to an even higher level for five years in the CFL help him do likewise with Cutler in the NFL?
“I think the experiences (are similar) – the general manager was willing to do everything he could to provide the coaches with resources, and the quarterback had the skill set to be a high-level player. So I think going in, that’s what we’ve got.
“And, again, Anthony was sort of at the end of his career and he wound up playing five or six more years. Jay has played eight or nine years, so I think he has a sense for the importance of the moment and moving forward.”
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INDIANAPOLIS (8 am EST) — Some leftover pre-combine notes and quotes:
*** Of the 332 players invited to the combine, there are 13 Williamses, 5 Taylors, 4 Smiths; 3 Johnathans, 3 Jonathans and 1 Johnthan; a Stefphan, a Stepfa’n and a Stephane; and 4 T.J.s, 3 D.J.s, 1 E.J., 1 C.J., 1 P.J., 1 A.J., 1 J.J. and 1 Jay Jay.
*** There are no players from Canada, but 1 named Onterrio (McCalebb, a running back from Auburn).
*** Think the cream doesn’t rise? Oklahoma QB Landry Jones told me at the Senior Bowl that he has known fellow QBs Mike Glennon of N.C. State, E.J. Manuel of Florida State and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas since before college. He met Glennon and Manuel at an Elite 11 camp, and Wilson at a Mannings camp.
*** There are a lot of chips on shoulders of combine players. Including Miami-of-Ohio QB Zac Dysert. At the Senior Bowl he told me: “Coming from a smaller school like Miami, I think some people won’t give me the credit, or might think I can’t handle the bigger situations. So that just made me have a chip on my shoulder.” NFL buzz for Dysert began before his senior year. Asked if that’s a distraction, he said: “No, I don’t think so. I have a lot of faith in God. And I put a lot of it in His hands. He’s been able to calm me through the storm. And like I said to somebody before, I just try to control what I can control. And if you get caught up in that kind of stuff, you’re going to be worrying about the wrong things. You’re not going to put the team first, like I pride myself on doing, and you’re just going to worry about the wrong things.”
*** How closely do teams eyeball the quarterbacks? At the Senior Bowl, Dysert told me: “They tell us every day that every move we make is being watched, even when we don’t think it is. Even just walking up the stairs, going up the elevator, getting off the airplane – things like that. Just things that you’d never even think of.” Brother … Big brother, evuuun.
*** Glennon told me he knows escapability is a big question mark with him: “That’s something I do need to work on, but a lot of people under-estimate it in me, probably, because I’m so tall. I think it’ something I work really hard on because I know how important it is, and restrictions I face for being a long-lever guy. But I think I move around a little better than most people give me credit for.”
*** Glennon has a gun for an arm, is proud of it — and likes to underscore its importance. He said the deep out is probably the hardest throw: “If you can make a deep out, then you can probably put the ball just about anywhere. I think that says a lot about a quarterback’s arm strength. I’m sure it’s something that the scouts will be evaluating.”
*** Manuel, like the other QBs I met at the Senior Bowl, exudes confidence, says the right things, and is eloquent in doing so. For instance he told me: “I feel that as a quarterback, you can always get better at something, each and every day. So that’s my main focus, especially this week. Just going out there and answering any question that a scout might have. And interviewing well – giving them the opportunity to get to know me a little bit as a person, the way I live, and eat and breathe football. This is a huge opportunity for me and I plan on taking advantage of it.”
*** Perhaps because of his elite athleticism and skin colour, many might think Manuel rushed a lot in designed runs at Florida State. Well, he didn’t. “No, not a lot,” he told me. “But, hey, if someone asks me to do that in the NFL, I’ll definitely do that for them.”