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A variety of QB choices to add to Bills’ shopping cart

Now that the Buffalo Bills have lost out in their efforts to sign free agent Josh McCown, it’s time to examine their other quarterback options via free agency and a potential trade.

The Bills identified McCown, who has 12 years of NFL experience, as the veteran presence they wanted at the position and attempted to acquire him after his release from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 11. But he decided instead to join the Cleveland Browns Friday.

Beginning on March 10, many other quarterbacks will be available either through free agency or the trade route.

“It’s not a terrible class of free-agency quarterbacks, but it’s more of a number two class than it is a number one class,” former Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager and current ESPN NFL analyst Mark Dominik said. “You have a lot of guys that have had an opportunity but didn’t really succeed in their opportunity so you’ve got to look at them and say, ‘Was it injury related?’ as in Jake Locker, or was it performance-related. And you sit there and say, ‘Is a new system going to change Christian Ponder? Did you like what Mark Sanchez showed you in flashes last year?’

“Then, there’s a quarterback like Matt Moore, who I’m very intrigued by, who’s always just been on the cusp, but never gotten that real shot to be the starter. But when you go back to ‘Hard Knocks,’ ” when the HBO series featured the Miami Dolphins’ training camp, “you saw that that guy had leadership ability and the team really respected him.”

Bill Polian, another ESPN NFL analyst and a former GM who spent nine seasons with the Bills, said the team’s biggest priority – in light of the hiring of defensive-oriented coach Rex Ryan – should be to find a quarterback who minimizes his turnovers.

“You do ‘ground and pound’ for a reason, and that’s because you don’t want to turn the ball over and you want to give the defense an opportunity to catch its breath,” Polian said. “So if you have a quarterback that has a propensity for turnovers, then it’s going to be difficult to maintain that kind of approach. I also might be inclined to go with a younger guy who might have some upside.”

The following is an analysis of quarterbacks who could be available in free agency or a possible trade:

Free agents

Shaun Hill

Ht./wt.: 6-3, 220. Age: 35.

Experience: 13 seasons.

2014 stats: 9 games (8 starts), 145-229 (63.3 pct.), 1,657 yards, 8 TDs, 7 INTs.

What they’re saying: Polian: “Pretty good prospect. He’s had enough playing time to be seasoned. He’s played pretty well in the opportunities he’s had to play, both in Detroit and St. Louis. I would probably look hard at him.”

Carucci’s take: I wish he had done a better job of avoiding interceptions, but the Bills could do worse in free agency than going with a solid pro who seemingly has what it takes to be at least a one-year solution as a starter.

Brian Hoyer

Ht./wt.: 6-2, 215. Age: 29.

Experience: 6 seasons.

2014 stats: 14 games (13 starts), 242-438 (55.3), 12 TDs, 13 INTs.

What they’re saying: Former NFL GM Mark Dominik: “He’s a classic number two who can get you through games. He obviously played well at Cleveland, but I feel like he’s a player you can win with, but he’s not the reason you’re winning games.” Polian: “I thought that he would do better in Cleveland. I was a little disappointed in the interception issue, and that, to me, is a troubling issue. You’re going to put your defense in a bind and your defense has to carry you, at least in this early going in Buffalo.”

Carucci’s take: Hoyer gets himself in trouble when he starts pressing too hard. He has a great deal of intelligence from which younger quarterback teammates could benefit, and that’s probably the best quality he would bring to the Bills.

Jake Locker

Ht./wt.: 6-3, 223. Age: 26.

Experience: 4 seasons.

2014 stats: 7 games (5 starts), 86-146 (58.9 pct.), 993 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs.

What they’re saying: Polian: “Excellent athlete. His accuracy improved pretty dramatically over the years he was in Tennessee, but the injury issue is overriding. If you’re looking for a guy that could play 12 or 14 games if you needed him to, I’m not sure Jake could do that.”

Carucci’s take: Although his injury history is a big concern, I like his athleticism and progress he displayed when he was healthy. He’s worth a close look.

Ryan Mallett

Ht./wt.: 6-6, 245. Age: 26.

Experience: 4 seasons.

2014 stats: 3 games (2 starts), 41-75 (54.7 pct.), 400 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “I like Ryan Mallett, but I think in terms of just being accurate with the ball and turnovers, and that’s the thing with Mallett I get nervous about. He’s not precise with his accuracy.” Polian: “Completely untested in a system that he was very familiar with and comfortable with in Houston after being in it with New England. He’s got a strong arm. I guess if you were going to take a chance on a guy with some perceived upside, he probably would be it.”

Carucci’s take: For a guy entering his fifth season, he simply doesn’t have enough experience. And the experience he does have is in a specific system, meaning he would have to re-learn how to do things the Bills’ way.

Colt McCoy

Ht./wt.: 6-1, 215. Age: 28.

Experience: 5 seasons.

2014 stats: 5 games (4 starts), 91-128 (71.1 pct.), 1,057 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs.

What they’re saying: Polian: “The guy has been resourceful and done everything you could ask of him, but it’s very hard for him to stay healthy.”

Carucci’s take: He has some play-making ability and knows how to get the most out of his limited physical skills, but the Bills can definitely do better in free agency.

Matt Moore

Ht./wt.: 6-3, 220. Age: 30.

Experience: 8 seasons.

2014 stats: 2 games (0 starts), 2-4 (50.0 pct.), 21 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “He’s the most interesting guy out of that free-agent class. He’s more mature. He’s seen a lot, done a lot. He’s just waiting for his opportunity.” Polian: “He’s an accomplished backup quarterback who I probably would look closely at. He understands the game, knows how to play, been reasonably successful, given the circumstances that he’s been in.”

Carucci’s take: His experience and smarts are worth having. He seems capable of at least filling the role of “bridge” quarterback for a couple of seasons, if necessary, and perhaps providing a bit more than that.

Christian Ponder

Ht./wt.: 6-2, 229. Age: 26.

Experience: 4 seasons.

2014 stats: 2 games (1 start), 22-44 (50.0 pct.), 222 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “His best quality is his intelligence. He can line up anything on the board, he can see it from an X’s and O’s standpoint. He’s almost like a mini-coach in the room. It’s just seeing it happen in front of you, making quick decisions and getting the ball out of his hands and making the right throw. That’s where Ponder has really struggled.” Polian: “There’s nothing here that would tell you that there’s been growth. And, again, the turnovers are worrisome.”

Carucci’s take: Forty-seven turnovers in 38 career games. Waste of roster space.

Mark Sanchez

Ht./wt.: 6-2, 225. Age: 28.

Experience: 5 seasons.

2014 stats: 9 games (8 starts). 198-309 (64.1 pct.), 2,418, 14 TDs, 11 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “I just think he’s really grown up, learning different systems, having a chance to be with Chip Kelly in that up-tempo system and just kind of experience it from a different perspective. And after being in New York and Philadelphia, Buffalo may be a better environment, knowing you can settle down without all the scrutiny and just play quarterback. Polian: “Mark obviously knows Rex and Rex knows him. He was reasonably efficient with Philadelphia, but there were 80 interceptions in 71 games. That statistic, for any quarterback, always worries me.”

Carucci’s take: Conventional wisdom has him being reunited with his former Jets coach, but his history as a turnover machine doesn’t make him a good fit for the power-oriented offense the Bills plan to run.

Michael Vick

Ht./wt.: 6-0, 215. Age: 34.

Experience: 13 seasons.

2014 stats: 10 games (3 starts), 64-121 (52.9 pct.), 604 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “My gut says that there’s a chance Michael Vick would sign somewhere. It didn’t help what happened throughout last season, obviously. But even if Michael Vick is maybe not where you want him to be, if you look at your number two and say he’s better, you owe it to your franchise to say, ‘Hey, we need to consider it,’ and that’s why I think Michael Vick gets another opportunity.” Polian: “He’s probably at the end. I don’t know that, because of injuries, if you could count on Michael to play a full season if you needed him to, and there’s some likelihood that he might have to in Buffalo.”

Carucci’s take: Despite the fact he still shows some good athleticism and a strong arm, I don’t see a starter here because too much of his game relies on running. And the fact he has a hard time staying healthy is a problem whether he’s a starter or backup.

Potential trade bait

Kirk Cousins, Washington

Ht./wt.: 6-3, 202. Age: 26.

Experience: 3 seasons.

2014 stats: 6 games (5 starts), 126-204 (61.8 pct.), 1,710 yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “I know he had a couple of rough games, but when you look at his entire NFL career so far, the limited amount he’s played, he’s played really well. And you sit there and say, ‘I still think there’s a lot of potential there. I don’t think it’s a dangerous potential. I think there’s more ceiling than there is floor with him.”

Carucci’s take: I think he is at the right stage of his career where he could blossom into a solid starter, especially when, as would be the case with the Bills, he isn’t being asked to carry the entire offense on his throwing arm.

Jay Cutler, Chicago

Ht./wt.: 6-3, 220. Age: 31.

Experience: 9 seasons.

2014 stats: 15 games (15 starts), 370-561 (66 pct.), 3,812 yards, 28 TDs, 18 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “Financially, it’s just a heavy burden for anybody that I just don’t see it.” Polian: “Jay Cutler is probably not going to be traded and, if you were to trade for him, the cost would be prohibitive. And I don’t think the Bills, in the stage they’re in right now, can afford to give up too much for a quarterback. They’ve got other needs they have to fill.”

Carucci’s take: Cutler is likely to stay put, largely because no team would want to take on the guaranteed $15 million that comes with his contract but also because of a personality that does not lend itself to the leadership the Bills desperately need.

Chase Daniel, Kansas City

Ht./wt.: 6-0, 225. Age: 28.

Experience: 6 seasons.

2014 stats: 3 games (1 start). 16-28 (57.1 pct.), 157 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.

What they’re saying: Polian: “You’d put him on the list with Mallett, a young guy who is unproven. Might be worth taking a chance on.”

Carucci’s take: Interesting guy whose relatively blank slate that defies his years in the league might appeal to the Bills.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston

Ht./wt.: 6-2, 223. Age: 32.

Experience: 10 seasons.

2014 stats: 12 games (12 starts). 197-312 (63.1 pct.), 2,483 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “Fitz is excellent for that one-year ‘bridge’ role, because he’s mature and he’s shown that he can win this league. That’s the type of bridge you’re looking for.” Polian: “Based on a statistical study that our guys at ESPN did for me, Fitz had the best year of any of these free agents. But, A., he got hurt and, B., he was playing in a system with Bill O’Brien that absolutely maximized his talents.”

Carucci’s take: Anyone up for the return of Fitz? One plus is that he seems to have done a good job of reducing his turnovers, although that might be as much a function of the Texans’ offensive scheme as anything else.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia

Ht./wt.: 6-6, 243. Age: 26.

Experience: 3 seasons.

2014 stats: 8 games (8 starts), 186-311 (59.8 pct.), 2,163 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs.

What they’re saying: Polian: “He isn’t going anywhere. Even if the Eagles were to somehow be able to draft Marcus Mariota, why would you let Foles go?”

Carucci’s take: It’s hard to envision him being available, and even if he was, you have to take a hard look, beyond an injury that sidelined him for half of the season, at the significant decline in production from 2013 to ’14.

Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay

Ht./wt.: 6-6, 225. Age: 25.

Experience: 2 seasons.

2014 stats: 6 games (5 starts), 117-203 (57.6 pct.), 1,417 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INTs.

What they’re saying: Dominik: “He’s extremely smart, he can see the progressions. We talk about Ponder being smart as well, but I think Glennon sees it faster and gets the ball out better and he has exceptional arm strength.” Polian: “I don’t think he’s going to be available. If he was, he would be at the top of the list, although there are interceptions issues that you worry about.”

Carucci’s take: I think there are too many rough edges to his game that need smoothing, especially when it comes to turnovers, and that doesn’t make him a good fit for the Bills.


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