ESPN The Magazine
 Thursday, October 19
Grant: Flutie faces a stacked deck
By Alan Grant


The Bills' quarterback situation is like -- well, like finding someone to build a deck in your backyard.

You (Bills GM John Butler) hire someone who comes highly recommended (Rob Johnson) but with a steep asking price ($25 million). All your friends (other GMs) say he's the best, so you give him the loot. He makes solid progress, but then he gets called away on an emergency (a fractured rib) and is unable to work for awhile. "Fine," you say, "these things happen. Take your time, get things in order, then come back to work."

The next day, your elderly neighbor (Doug Flutie) says he'd like a shot at that deck. He's built some decks in his day (8 years in the Canadian Football League), and he's not asking for much -- just a few bucks ($275,000) to tide him over for a while. You say, "I'll humor the old guy." So you give him the money and let him go to work.

But when the youngster (Johnson) comes back to finish the job, you have to admit the old guy (Flutie) has been building a damn fine deck. But look at this guy, you think. He's not supposed to be that good! You're a little afraid to test out the deck, and even more scared to admit that you didn't hire someone with a name. You can hear your friends saying, "You let him build your deck?"

So you give the first guy (Johnson) his job back. But before he can finish, the kid has another emergency (a separated shoulder) and you have to call on your neighbor (Flutie) once again. But then you have a problem. What if the old guy (Flutie) builds the best deck in the neighborhood and everyone knows it? What if he goes and builds another, better deck for cheap? You heard about someone who hired a scrub (Kurt Warner) to build his deck and he's got the best backyard in town. That guy now has money left over for a patio builder (Orlando Pace) and a pool cleaner (Marshall Faulk). And what about the dude who used his kids' college money to pay that up-and-coming deck-builder who hammered his thumb and never finished (Ryan Leaf)?

Do you stay with your neighbor? Or, at the very least, do you act like a man and say, "I'm sorry, Doug. I gave Rob a lot of money and in order to save face, I gotta keep using him. I know you're the better man. Forgive me for treating you so poorly."

That ain't gonna happen. GMs don't talk like that, and GMs don't admit mistakes. Quarterback is an important position, so I understand Butler's sense of urgency. But even guys named Chandler and Hostetler made the Super Bowl once they had the right tools. Mr. Butler, just let the neighbor build the deck.

Alan Grant, a former NFL corner and a former deck-owner, writes football for ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at


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