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As usual, it comes down to the quarterback

The idea here isn’t to create a rain storm of pessimism during this most optimistic of offseasons for the Buffalo Bills. It’s just to provide a necessary reality check. Rex Ryan and others buying in to the tremendous excitement that he and the Pegulas’ deep pockets have generated can talk all they want about the playoffs. The simple truth is that the Bills, along with roughly half of the NFL, lack the essential ingredient for postseason contention.

An unquestioned, rock-solid starting quarterback.

No, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll play beyond the final game on the schedule. But it does give you a significantly better chance to do so than if, as in the case of the Bills and several other teams, you don’t even know your No. 1 QB’s identity yet. Think of how much more credible those bold predictions about the Bills’ season would sound if “good quarterback” could be added to the checklist along with “dominant defense” and (at least presumably) “solid running game.”

You can make the strongest argument for the following eight teams being the “haves” in the unquestioned, rock-solid quarterbacking category: the Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Patriots (Tom Brady), Saints (Drew Brees), Broncos (Peyton Manning), Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger), Cowboys (Tony Romo), Chargers (Philip Rivers), and Colts (Andrew Luck).

The argument loses a little steam with the Ravens (Joe Flacco). And it grows a bit weaker with the Falcons (Matt Ryan), Seahawks (Russell Wilson), Giants (Eli Manning), Lions (Matthew Stafford), Dolphins (Ryan Tannehill), Cardinals (Carson Palmer), and Panthers (Cam Newton).

Still, they all have something the Bengals (Andy Dalton), Bears (Jay Cutler), Chiefs (Alex Smith), 49ers (Colin Kaepernick), and Redskins (Robert Griffin III) can only say they might have; the Raiders (Derek Carr), Vikings (Teddy Bridgewater), Jaguars (Blake Bortles), Rams (Nick Foles), Buccaneers (Jameis Winston), and Titans (Marcus Mariota) can only say they hope they have, and the Bills, Jets, Texans, Browns, and Eagles can only say they hope to have one day … when and if that day ever comes.

Now, you understand why Newton recently became the third-highest paid player in the NFL this season after Rodgers and Roethlisberger. The Panthers didn’t give him a five-year extension worth $103.8 million because they believe he’s on or even close to an equal footing of accomplishment with Rodgers or Roethlisberger, or the lower-paid Brady for that matter.

They did that deal because of all of those teams that are desperate for a quarterback. They did that deal before Newton could become a free agent and wild bidding would ensue that would make that $100-million investment seem like a bargain.

It’s the same reason other such extensions are done, even if the quarterback is at or below the line of demarcation for top-10 status but is above or right around the 16th spot. Because he’s closing in on free agency. Because his hitting the open market would be akin to a massive chunk of raw meat hitting the water in the middle of a school of piranhas.

Because after that middle area, there are many more questions than answers at the one position that starts and ends any discussion about playoff/Super Bowl prospects.

This is what Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman told reporters after the team announced the Newton signing: “He’s gifted, he’s a worker, it’s important to him. That’s why we did this deal. We think he’ll take us to the Promised Land.”

No one says that about a defensive end or a defensive tackle, the spots where the Bills are loaded with players who rank among the NFL’s very best. No one says that about a running back, either, where they have another league standard-bearer.

That’s what made the Internet chatter early in the offseason that the Chargers would be interested in shipping Rivers to the Bills so comical. Take away Rivers, and where else are you going to get a top-level quarterback? As the Panthers reminded us, they aren’t – or won’t be – available.

And if the Bills’ season comes remotely close to the optimistic projections of Ryan and others, there won’t be a high enough draft pick to maybe find one that way, either.

Staley praises Murray

Perhaps it all plays into the war of words that Bills running back LeSean McCoy started with his former team last month when he called out Eagles coach Chip Kelly for making roster decisions based on race.

Or, perhaps, it’s just an honest and clear explanation of why McCoy no longer carries the football in Philadelphia and why DeMarco Murray, the former Cowboy that the Eagles acquired to be his replacement, does.

Whatever the reason, Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley, who spoke up in defense of Kelly, heaped plenty of praise on Murray … while maybe taking at least a slight swipe at McCoy in the process.

“He’s a perfect fit for us, exactly what we want to do,” Staley told reporters. “Downhill, full-steam ahead. That’s what we’re preaching every day: one, two, three, four yards and a cloud of dust. And all the backs we have, they’re able to do that.”

Screen passes

• How’s this for a blunt assessment of the Jets’ quarterback situation? Willie Colon, a veteran guard on the team, said the following on SiriusXM Radio about Geno Smith: “Geno … has made his mistakes. He’s said some things where you look at him like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But I think that’s all about his maturation period. And I think right now … we bought the Porsche. We’ve given him the keys. He can’t crash it. Bottom line. He can’t crash it.”

• After a career-low 5.5 sacks last season, Jared Allen and the Chicago Bears are looking for something to boost his production. They hope the answer is moving him from end to outside linebacker, something he was strongly against doing when he was with the Vikings. Looking back, Allen blamed “ignorance” for preventing him from seeing the biggest benefit of the switch – no longer taking on 300-plus-pound offensive linemen snap after snap. “My body feels fresher,” he told reporters. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio expects the move to serve as a “rebirth” for the 33-year-old Allen.

• Jason Babin is offering some revisionist history about the negotiations that led to the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association in 2011, ending a lockout only days before training camps opened. The Jets’ linebacker is raising questions about how the union handled talks that ultimately allowed Commissioner Roger Goodell to have the power that allows him to appoint himself to oversee Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension from the Patriots’ “DeflateGate” scandal.

“A lot of guys aren’t happy that we gave away the right to a fair and balanced procedure when it comes to discipline, giving carte blanche to the commissioner,” Babin told “A lot of guys, when we re-visit the CBA again, hopefully re-think that option or at least fight for it.” Babin contends that the issue of the commissioner having such power “never got brought up” before players overwhelmingly voted to ratify the deal four years ago.


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