Was Thad Lewis the Bills' best option?

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
12:50
PM ET

On Friday, hours after an MRI revealed that Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had a sprained knee, coach Doug Marrone said he would join general manager Doug Whaley in looking for an interim signal-caller.

Asked if practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis was an option, Marrone said the Bills were looking "outside the organization."

Three days later, Lewis was tapped as the starting quarterback.

It was a head-scratching move that belied the organization of the roster through the first five weeks: undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who played significantly in the first and third preseason games, was Manuel's only backup on the 53-man roster. Lewis, who went 7-for-16 in his only preseason action with the Bills, was on the practice squad.

When Lewis was acquired via trade Aug. 25, the Bills were uncertain if Manuel, who underwent knee surgery shortly prior, would be ready to play in the regular-season opener. They held Tuel out of the preseason finale in case he needed to start Week 1; instead Lewis (after a forgettable five possessions led by Matt Leinart) played most of the game.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesFollowing a loss at Cleveland, the Bills are wavering in their confidence in rookie QB Jeff Tuel.
Now the Bills' decision-making has taken another twist and turn, with Tuel pushed aside and Lewis named the starter for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Buffalo's most likely defense for sitting Tuel is that he is inexperienced, and as his 8-for-20 showing in Thursday night's loss to the Browns may show, is not ready for the starting role. But if that's what the Bills believe, then why were they getting him ready to start against the New England Patriots in the season opener? Why would they hold such an inexperienced player out of valuable reps in the preseason finale?

The quarterback pinch the Bills now face isn't unexpected when you consider that Manuel and Tuel, both rookies, were the only quarterbacks kept on the 53-man roster through the first five games.

Sure, the Bills had Kevin Kolb in training camp and may very well have kept him as the backup even if Manuel won the job without Kolb getting hurt. But when Kolb was placed on season-ending injured reserve, the Bills decided not to bring in a veteran as insurance for Manuel.

"I don’t have a problem if someone is a rookie, a veteran, whatever it may be," Marrone said Sept. 1. "Our job as coaches is to make sure we put people on the field that we can rely on and we feel that we can win with."

Apparently, Tuel was the Bills' best option as the backup at the start of the season. Now he isn't.

Nor were Pat White or Dennis Dixon, the veteran backups who worked out Sunday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Dixon was sent home, Schefter reported, while White continued to Oakland for another workout. Would the Bills really want a quarterback, signed off the street, starting six days later? Probably not.

This is the position the Bills are in. If they believe Tuel isn't ready, then Lewis (outside of Josh Freeman, whose price tag may have been too high) is their best option.

Or, more accurately, their least worst option.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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