The Buffalo Bills have a formidable defense. They finished third in the NFL in opposing passing yards per game (205.8) and first in sacks (54). The Bills also have an interesting collection of skill position players. Sammy Watkins has the potential to dominate the league and Fred Jackson seemingly doesn't age with how effective he has been.
Unfortunately, what the Bills don't have is a quarterback. Veteran Kyle Orton retired this offseason and 2013 first-rounder EJ Manuel was benched after just 14 starts by the previous regime. So what is new head coach Rex Ryan going to do?
"We are in the evaluating stages," Ryan said Thursday on WGR Sports Radio 550. "So, we're looking. You mentioned it: we've got the draft coming up, free agency is coming up. You're looking at all those type of things. Are there some scenarios out there, are there trade possibilities? You look at every possible scenario is. From Doug Whaley all the way to our scouts, all our positional coaches...we're looking at that. Believe me, we'll be prepared for every scenario out there."
If Ryan is going to be prepared for every scenario, then we should too. Let's break it down.
The top two quarterbacks in this year's draft class are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston. They are expected to be taken within the first five or so picks. Thanks to the Watkins trade last year, the Bills are without a first-round in 2015 pick so neither QB is likely headed for Buffalo next season.
Of course, the Bills could target someone like Baylor's Bryce Petty or UCLA's Brett Hundley in the middle rounds. But NFL scouts do not expect those guys to be able to contribute right away. Bills fans may have to wait another year to draft a potential franchise quarterback.
The top two quarterbacks set to hit the open market this offseason appear to be Mark Sanchez and Brian Hoyer (with all due respect to Josh McCown and Jake Locker, this title isn't exactly a ringing endorsement). Neither option inspires a ton of confidence right now.
A reunion with Sanchez seems unlikely given how much heat the pair took while together in New York. Hoyer would become the best bet to start in Buffalo, but it's unclear how effective he'd be. The 29-year-old helped to guide the Browns to a 6-3 start before throwing just two touchdowns against nine interceptions in his final five game appearances.
High quality starting quarterbacks just don't hit free agency all that often.
The three quarterbacks most likely to be traded are Washington's Robert Griffin III, Chicago's Jay Cutler and St. Louis' Sam Bradford. However, just because they are the most likely to be moved does not mean they will be. Trade speculation around all three QBs has died down considerably since the end of the regular season. As of now, it would be surprising if each signal-caller didn't get at least one more year with their current team.
It's very possible that Manuel will be Buffalo's starting quarterback in 2015. Sure, a veteran could come in and beat him out in training camp. But is that the most likely of scenarios? I'm not sure. Manuel is still just 24-years-old and at least he has a positive TD:INT ratio for his career (16:12).
"Will EJ Manuel have an opportunity to win a job? I believe he will," Ryan said. "He'll be given an opportunity certainly. I think he's gonna improve. I think he'll improve a great deal under the leadership, obviously with Greg Roman being our offensive coordinator. David Lee, in my opinion, is one of the best fundamental quarterback coaches that there is, so I think he's going to improve that way."