INDIANAPOLIS – Earlier this week, the Buffalo Bills kicked the tires on a used, low-mileage, veteran quarterback.
Now, they’re focused on the new models.
One way or another, the Bills will add players to the position. In all likelihood, they’ll go both the new and used route because for the time being they’re not ready to declare that EJ Manuel – who spent 12 games on the bench last year and has only 14 career starts – is their best option.
“I think, in an ideal world, you’d have a veteran quarterback with a young quarterback,” Ryan said Wednesday during a gathering with Western New York media at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, whether it’s a young guy starting, a veteran backup, or vice versa. But we’ll see how it shakes out. I know we’re going to try to upgrade that position, if you will, or add to that position, certainly, any means necessary. So we’ll see.
“Right now, we know we feel good about EJ, but obviously we’ve got to add to that as well.”
With the free-agent quarterback market widely viewed as thin and a QB draft crop generally considered weak, the Bills seemingly face an uphill challenge finding an upgrade. And with no first-round pick, they have virtually no chance of landing either of the two projected high-end choices – Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota – unless they’re somehow able to pull off a trade of mammoth proportions.
So far, the Bills seem determined to exhaust all available avenues. That was the reason they had 12-year veteran Josh McCown, primarily a backup recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Orchard Park for a visit on Monday.
“We’re not going to tip our hand one way or the other on what our thoughts are, but it’s safe to say that obviously we’re interested in him, that’s why we brought him in,” Ryan said. “It was a great visit. It was a chance for our organization to meet him” beyond a few assistant coaches with whom he has previously worked. And an opportunity for Josh to come out and see what we’re all about. And I think both sides were impressed.”
Through the rest of the week, the Bills will take their first extensive look at the quarterbacks in the draft.
Besides Winston and Mariota, who will draw the most attention from the 1,000 or so media members on hand, other quarterbacks who figure to have a better chance at falling to the Bills in the second round or lower are Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Grayson was impressive during drills leading up to last month’s Senior Bowl college all-star game.
“Just like anybody else, you hear one thing about, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not a very deep class or whatever,’ ” Ryan said. “But there’s always guys that you’ll get excited about, whether it’s at the end of the draft or the beginning of the draft.”
Ryan said he has spoken with Manuel. Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association, coaches and players aren’t allowed to talk about football this time of year, which is considered a “dead period.”
But Ryan has seen enough of Manuel as a player, both at Florida State and during his limited pro career, to say he is “excited” about having him on the team.
“Obviously, I knew EJ when he was going through this” Combine “process a few years ago, and I was very impressed with him,” Ryan said. “One thing I know about EJ is he’s got a great work ethic, and I think that’s key when you’re trying to reach your potential and things like that, obviously. But I’ll be excited, obviously to see how he is around” offensive coordinator “Greg Roman,” quarterbacks coach “David Lee and” senior offensive assistant “Chris Palmer. I think all three of those guys have a track record of developing quarterbacks, and I’ll be excited to see and watch EJ develop under those three.”
It’s no secret that Ryan struggled badly with the quarterback position during his six seasons as coach of the New York Jets. Ultimately, it is what got him fired after last year’s 4-12 finish.
Asked what he learned during his previous experiences of drafting and developing quarterbacks, Ryan laughed.
“That it’s not very easy,” he said. “It’s a lot easier said than done. With that, you’re still going to fire at it as many times as you can because you can hit on it. If you can ever get one of those franchise quarterbacks, then you’re pretty much in the playoffs. I think it’s been proven. You get one of these top five, six guys, every year they’re in the playoffs … and certainly that’s something we’re going to work hard at.
“What’s the answer? I think if anybody had the answer, we’d be in great shape. Hey, you have to have arm talent, you have to have a great head on your shoulders, you’ve got to be a football junkie, you’ve got to be this, that. You’ve got to be everything. It’s hard to target specific things that make the difference.”
Somehow, though, the Bills have to find that difference-maker.