Written by Sal Maiorana, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Bills fans who simply could not bear the thought of Ryan Fitzpatrick being on the Buffalo roster in 2013 can rest easy: The team announced Tuesday afternoon that it released him.
"We kept every possible option open right down to the wire when we had to make a decision on whether to keep Ryan," said general manager Buddy Nix. "In the end, we had to do what we feel is best for our football team and it was a very difficult decision."
Nix inadvertently tipped his hand that this move was coming when he was duped by a prank phone call late last week, and a recording of the call was published on the website Deadspin.com earlier Tuesday.
In a conversation with Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik, Nix said, "We're still struggling here with our quarterback. I say struggling. We're not really struggling. He's going to have to do something, or we'll have to. You can't afford to pay that kind of money to a guy that's fighting for probably a backup job."
Reading between the lines, that meant the Bills wanted Fitzpatrick to take a pay cut, and if he was unwilling to do so, they would release him.
The Buffalo News reported that the Bills did ask him to restructure the six-year, $59 million contract he signed in October 2011, but he declined. The report indicated the offer was a four-year deal that averaged $3 million per season with incentives that could have increased his salary to as high as $7 million a year.
Before announcing Fitzpatrick's release, the Bills issued a statement regarding the prank phone call, which was allegedly perpetrated by two young men who apparently sent the phone recording to Deadspin. It read: "We are aware of the report on Deadspin involving a phone conversation with Bills GM Buddy Nix. We have made the league aware of the report and are reviewing it with legal counsel."
Fitzpatrick's salary cap figure was going to be $10 million for the 2013 season. By releasing him Tuesday, and using what is called a post-June 1 designation, the Bills' cap hit for this season will be $3 million, but it will jump to $7 million in 2014.
When players are released prior to June 1, all of their amortized bonus money goes on that year's cap. If the cut comes after June 1, only that year's portion of the cap number counts, while the rest is pushed to the following year. However, teams are allowed exemptions where they can release up to two players before June 1, and use the post-June 1 designation to split the cap hit.
This maneuver gives the Bills approximately $23 million in cap space to work with as the free agency signing period starts.
Fitzpatrick was Buffalo's starter for almost three full seasons, and his record with the team was 19-31. He completed 59.8 percent of his passes with 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 79.8.
On his Twitter account, Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson said, "13 wouldn't have been anything without 14. Thank you Fitz for making me better, wish you and the fam all the best."
Running back Fred Jackson, who Fitzpatrick once called his all-time favorite teammate, said on Twitter, "Jus wanna wish Fitzy the best! Tough news, but I know he'll be cool. Loved playing wit the dude, but even Better friend off the field!"
Fitzpatrick's departure leaves the Bills with only one quarterback who has any NFL experience, the recently re-signed Tarvaris Jackson. The only other quarterback on the depth chart is undrafted free agent Aaron Corp, so it appears the Bills will certainly try to draft a quarterback in April.
"Ryan did some great things as our starting quarterback," said Nix. "He is a class act, a terrific guy with a great family and has been involved in many charitable endeavors in our community. But difficult decisions often have to be made and so we are moving forward. We wish Ryan and his family the best of luck in the future and offer him our sincere thanks for everything he has done for the Bills."
On the free agent front, as expected, the Bills were quiet on day one, and they lost one of their own free agents when guard Andy Levitre agreed to join the Tennessee Titans for a reported five years and $39 million, a contract far richer than the Bills were willing to pay.