Coach Chan Gailey did tell Fitzpatrick during a pre-lockout phone call that if the Bills drafted a quarterback, they would only do so because someone they projected as a 10- to 12-year starter was available. Either way, Gailey said, Fitzpatrick could count on starting in 2011.
That is a fairly loud statement that they have enough trust in him to conceivably remain their starter for the next two seasons.
The Bills entered the draft believing there were just two quarterbacks who fit the profile of a 10- to 12-year starter: Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Once Newton became the top overall pick and Von Miller went to Denver at No. 2, they were left to consider Gabbert at No. 3. But they couldn't pass up the defensive player on their board with a much higher rating -- lineman Marcell Dareus.
And once Gabbert was selected later in the first round, by Jacksonville, the Bills were done shopping for quarterbacks. They stuck with defense in their next two picks and essentially told Fitzpatrick: "This is your team."
The thinking is valid. Fitzpatrick was a 3,000-yard, 23-touchdown passer last season. If Dareus and third-round linebacker Kelvin Sheppard are able to help significantly improve an atrocious run defense, Fitzpatrick can be good enough to make the Bills more competitive than they were in the 4-12 debacle of 2010.
Fitzpatrick is intelligent and a strong leader. He is bound to have greater trust from teammates who, like Fitzpatrick and everyone else, have received the message that he is Gailey's guy. There won't be any rookie breathing down his neck. It is unlikely the Bills will bring in any veteran challenger through free agency or a trade.
Even if the Bills were to draft a quarterback in 2012, it would be reasonable to assume that Fitzpatrick still could be the starter while helping the rookie learn the ropes.
Of course, Fitzpatrick's goal is much more ambitious. Surrounded by a team that has a couple of offensive playmakers and a potentially upgraded defense, he just might be able to do enough to convince the Bills to avoid drafting a quarterback once again.