Sully's Mailbag: Fitz Would be Ideal Backup for Bills in 2019


A few days ago, my daughter texted me and said I had to watch the TV show, “This Is Us.” She said I would cry during every episode. I took her up on it and I’m hooked. And yes, this crusty old sports writer has shed a few tears.

The pivotal episode in the first season takes place during the fourth Super Bowl that the Steelers won with Terry Bradshaw. The family lives in Pittsburgh and two of the main characters — twins — are conceived that day in a bar bathroom.

Since I spend about half my time these days researching Pro Football Reference for The Maven and the Bucky & Sully radio show, I figured I would look it up. The game was played on Jan. 20, 1980. The Steelers beat the Rams, 31-19. If you’re a fan of the show, I thought you might like to know that.

On to this week’s Mailbag:

Frank in Cheektowaga asks: Would McBeane have signed Fitz this offseason if he had made a pit stop in Carolina during his NFL journey?

Sully: Funny. It does seem Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have a thing for players they knew in Carolina. Was Derek Anderson really the best option at backup quarterback? Did they not know that Kelvin Benjamin was miscast as a No. 1 wideout?

Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t such a crazy idea. In fact, we have been pushing it on the radio show on 1270 The Fan this past week. It’s not just that Fitz is a great guy who played in Buffalo. He’s an ideal candidate to be the backup next season if the Bills are interested in bringing in a veteran who can mentor and push Josh Allen.

Fitzpatrick, who turns 36 in three weeks, is having a career year, and he’s only started four games. He’s completing 68.1 percent of his passes and leads the NFL in yards per pass attempt for the Bucs. Fitz still has that gunslinger mentality, but the game has slowed down for him and he’s making big throws while minimizing his blunders.

There are no guarantees that Allen will be ready to play at a high level next season. He’s the presumed franchise guy and yes, the best thing for the franchise if he makes big strides and is the unquestioned starter. But history shows that young QBs in his position tend to struggle in their second season in Buffalo.

J.P. Losman was pulled after four weeks in his second year. EJ Manuel lost his job after four weeks in his second year. In both cases, the Bills had a defense that finished in the top 10 the year before. There was pressure within the team and in the community for the Bills to make a playoff push. Another parallel: Both head coaches, Mike Mularkey and Doug Marrone, walked away from their jobs after those seasons.

I could see the same scenario play out next September. McDermott and Beane will be in their third season. The pressure will be turned up. They can’t afford to repeat their mistake at backup quarterback, which has turned them into a national laughingstock. They must have a solid backup in case Allen falters.

That’s where Fitzpatrick comes in. All he’ll ask for is a chance to compete for the job (something they weren’t willing to give him before he left in 2013). He’s a smart, mature guy who would be a great mentor for Allen. He’s seen it all with seven teams over 14 NFL seasons and I imagine Allen would look up to him.

But would Fitz come back, and would they want him? He’s making $3.3 million a year in Tampa Bay and will be a free agent after the season. He just won the No. 1 job back from Jameis Winston, so he could be in high demand if he sustains his current production over the rest of the season.

Still, teams have always been reluctant to show long-term faith in Fitz since the Bills gave him a big deal in 2011. He usually follows the good with the bad. But as a short-term solution as backup for a franchise that utterly botched the position this year, he’d be perfect.


@InYourEyes4U asks: In hindsight, McDermott’s “process” would’ve been better served if didn’t keep Tyrod & end the drought. That being said, moving on from him in year 2 when he would’ve proven to be a good mentor & kept the QB disaster from occurring this year may accelerate his departure. Thoughts?

Sully: A lot to “unpack” there, but good questions. First of all, when McDermott was hired, I strongly urged him to move on from Taylor. I figured that as a defensive coordinator he would recognize Tyrod’s limitations and want to move on to a rookie quarterback right away.

Instead, he middled it. Acting as de facto GM in the 2017 draft, he moved out of the 10th position and a chance at either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson (my choice). He traded down and took Tre’Davious White, who has been terrific at cornerback.

Still, it’s fair to suggest that keeping Taylor, who was their “best chance to win”, cost the Bills a chance to pick higher in the ’18 draft. We’ll never know who was their top choice, but I don’t believe it was Josh Allen. Yes, they broke the playoff drought, but the glow has worn off. Maybe bottoming out last year would have been the better play.

As for this season, I think they needed to move on from Taylor. They were 31st in passing with him. His shortcomings as a passer were clear. He had no interest in restructuring his deal for the second year in a row. The Bills saved $10 million by cutting him, so it was the obvious move for a team looking to draft a QB high.

Taylor got what he wanted, a guaranteed starting job in Cleveland in front of Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick. We saw how that turned out. He played even worse than he had with the Bills and quickly lost the job. The coach who anointed him, Hue Jackson, got fired.

There’s no way Tyrod would have been happy as a mentor in Buffalo. And really, how much better would they be if he was the starter, considering the sorry collection of weapons? They might be 3-5 instead of 2-6. What would that have accomplished?


Big John asks: Not sure how the @buffalobills will perform next year but rest assured they'll have a fantastic “culture”. What exactly does that mean anyway?

Sully: You’ve touched a nerve here. Changing the culture is one of those pet expressions used by coaches and executives to assure the public that the old ways have been abandoned and meaningful change is coming to the organization.

It’s like Sean McDermott’s favorite word, “process,” another way of suggesting to fans and media that it’s a long-term job and people will have to be patient. Lions rookie head coach Matt Patricia told a reporter to “respect the process” when he chided him for not sitting up straight while asking a tough question the other day.

Don’t judge them by wins and losses in the short term, in other words. Trust the process and their “vision”. That’s another popular buzz word.

Culture in this sense is defined as “the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a particular social group.” Every team tries to create the same culture, one in which the players submerge individual goals and work together for a common goal.

That’s winning, of course. Do you know what really creates a fantastic culture? Good players. In the end, it comes down to personnel. Draft well, make solid choices in free agency and see how quickly the culture comes around. Oh, and you know what’s great for the culture? A great quarterback.

************************************************** asks: Why is Bruce Smith rated below Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Deacon Jones despite more sacks and a positional disadvantage ( 3/4 end).

Sully: Because he wasn’t as good as those three. Smith was a dominant player, but you can’t go solely by sacks. He wasn’t as good an all-around defender as Taylor, White and Jones. They didn’t keep sacks in Jones’s day, so it’s hard to judge him on statistics alone. He was the best defensive end of his time.

I watched Smith in his prime, and while he was an athletic marvel, he was also a selfish player who was keenly aware of his own stats. At times, he was more concerned with finding a path to the quarterback than defending his spot against the run.

Smith played in four Super Bowls and wasn’t a difference-maker in any of them. Great left tackles handled him one-on-one. It matters. It’s no disgrace to be considered behind the three guys you mentioned. But he wasn’t quite in their league.

I don't get the idea that playing in a 3/4 defense put Smith at a disadvantage. The Bills had strong linebackers in his day, which was an advantage, the way I see it.


@Dad716 asks: Enough with QBs and the NFL! How does the Big 4 shape up this year on the hardwood? Can this be the year that Reggie gets to the Big Dance? Can UB find the magic of last year? Will Schmidt over deliver once again? Can the Purps get back into the conversation in the MAAC?

Sully: I'm fired up for hoops, too, Dad716. Can you believe that UB opens at home against St. Francis (Pa.) at 4 p.m. on Tuesday? Don’t forget to vote before heading out to Alumni!

Here'a an early treat. Two Big 4 men's teams play teams that made the Final Four. Niagara plays Loyola-Chicago on Nov. 14 in the Fort Myers Tipoff. Canisius meets defending national champion Villanova on Nov. 22 in the Advocare Invitational at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

It’ll be hard to repeat what the Big 4 did a year ago, when our four men’s teams all finished above .500 for the first time since UB went back to Division I in 1991. In fact, all four were at least five games above .500. All but Niagara won 20 and they won 19 games. The four combined for a 93-33 record (.738 aggregate win percentage.)

But it’ll still be a good year. UB won a school-record 27 games last year and shocked Arizona in the NCAA Tournament — and the Bulls should be better this season if Nate Oats can keep everyone happy and work in another crop of solid new players. CJ Massinburg is preseason player of the year in the Big 4 and should contend for that honor in the Mid-American — along with teammate Jeremy Harris.

Canisius should still be very good after Reggie Witherspoon coached them to a surprising 15-3 record in the MAAC last season. Junior Isaiah Reese could be the player of the year. The Griffs have two other all-league caliber players in Takal Molson and point guard Malik Johnson.

St. Bonaventure should slip back after winning 26 games and getting an NCAA at-large bid. They graduated the Atlantic 10’s top backcourt in Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams, who is playing for the Hawks in the NBA.

But coach Mark Schmidt has a way of overachieving and developing his kids. LaDarien Griffin and Courtney Stockard, who had a strong finish, should take the next step. Jalen Poyser, a transfer from UNLV, should have an immediate backcourt.

Niagara finally had a winning season under Chris Casey, but the Eagles will be hard-pressed to repeat it without guards Khalil Dukes and Matt Scott, who combined for 40 points a game last season. Casey will rely on Marvin Prochet and James Towns, who went off for 31 points in a win at Canisius last season.

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2

Fitzy again? Not a chance - Sully you summed it up perfectly - “ he follows the good with the bad” .Fitzy has been good because he has players around him and is in the twilight of his career - remember how exasperated we were when he was with the Bills ?

Tommy C
Tommy C

Also on January 20, 1980 the Sabres beat Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers at the Aud before a sold out house.