Bills coach Marrone wants QB competition in training camp
Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is coming back to Buffalo after re-signing with the Bills on Friday. And returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick remains part of the team's future for now.
In announcing Jackson's signing, new coach Doug Marrone ended a month of speculation regarding his plans at quarterback by saying he intends to have Fitzpatrick and Jackson compete for the starting job.
"I spoke with Ryan and Tarvaris and told them we will have an open competition at the quarterback position — similar to what we will do at all positions," Marrone said, in a statement released by the team. "I believe that our players will embrace this challenge."
This was Marrone's most definitive statement regarding Fitzpatrick's future since he took over last month. Marrone, credited for turning around a struggling Syracuse program over the past four years, replaced Chan Gailey, who was fired after three consecutive losing seasons.
Jackson signed a one-year deal after completing the final year of his contract, and was eligible to become a free agent next month. He's gone 17-17 in seven NFL seasons as a starter, but did not play a down for Buffalo after spending all of last year as the team's third-stringer.
Jackson elected to return because of the opportunity to compete for the starting job. He also referred to a conversation he had with general manager Buddy Nix, who had expressed an interest in re-signing him last month.
"You want to feel wanted," Jackson said. "To get a chance to compete, that's very important."
Bills could still draft a QB
Jackson's no stranger to quarterback competitions. The Bills gave up a draft pick to acquire him in a trade with Seattle in August after Jackson lost a three-way competition with Seahawks eventual starter, rookie Russell Wilson, and backup Matt Flynn.
And it makes no difference to Jackson that the Bills have already indicated a desire to add a third person into the mix by selecting a quarterback in the draft.
"Somebody's got to go," Jackson said. "And I know that personally just from the situation last year. I guess we'll just see how everything plays out."
Fitzpatrick's status in Buffalo had been in question as a result of the coaching change and after the quarterback struggled in his second full year as starter. Fitzpatrick and the offence's production regressed last year. The Bills finished 19th in the NFL in yards gained after finishing 14th the previous season. In four seasons in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick is 20-33 as a starter.
Though he joined Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly last year in becoming only the second Bills quarterback to throw 24 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons, Fitzpatrick's inconsistency has remained a question. In 55 games in Buffalo, he's thrown 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions, including a career-worst 23 in 2011.
Another knock against Fitzpatrick is an expensive contract. He signed a six-year, $59 million US contract extension in October 2011, and is due a $3 million bonus if he remains on the team's roster next month.
The Bills are expected to approach Fitzpatrick in a bid to restructure the deal, but that had not happened as of last week.
In re-signing Jackson, the Bills have, at the very least, added depth to the quarterback spot.
Selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by Minnesota, the Alabama State product has appeared in 51 games, and has starting experience with both the Vikings and Seahawks. Jackson's best season came in 2011, his one and only year with Seattle. He went 7-7, putting up career highs with 14 touchdowns, 271 completions and 3,091 yards.
Marrone's background is on offence. He's a former NFL offensive lineman who spent the 2006-08 seasons as the New Orleans Saints offensive co-ordinator. Though he didn't call the plays, his arrival in New Orleans coincided with the team signing star quarterback Drew Brees.
Jackson's already begun studying film of Marrone's offence at Syracuse, and is looking forward to getting another shot to prove himself as an NFL starter.
"I'm very confident in myself, but I'm not taking anything away from anybody else," Jackson said, when asked to compare himself to Fitzpatrick. "That's not really for me to say. That's really the coach's job to say who's best for the team. So I just leave it at that."