It's Tuel Time in Buffalo!

The following things are all true about Jeff Tuel and the Buffalo Bills:

  • Jeff Tuel is likely going to be the starting quarterback for the Bills in Week 1.
  • The Bills are playing the Patriots in Week 1.
  • The Bills do not deserve this.
  • Tuel is an undrafted free agent who spent the last four years at Washington State University.
  • Undrafted free agents have not played particularly well during their rookie seasons in the league. There are a few ringers — Jeff Garcia spent a few years bouncing around camps before joining the 49ers, and Warren Moon played in the CFL before joining the Oilers — but since 1990 (and without considering Garcia), undrafted free agents have combined to complete just 54.5 percent of their passes, average 6.1 yards per attempt, and throw 65 interceptions against a mere 37 touchdowns.
  • Tuel would be the first quarterback since the merger in 1970 to go undrafted, head directly to the NFL, and start in Week 1 without spending any time in the league as a reserve. In other words, Jeff Tuel might very well be the least-qualified quarterback to start a game in modern NFL history.
  • The Bills do not deserve this.
  • The history of UFAs heading from college and starting during the first few weeks of their professional career isn’t very pretty. There were a bunch who showed up during the player strike in 1987, but it’s not fair to count them. As far as I can tell, there’s only one undrafted free agent to head straight to the NFL and start during the first quarter of the NFL season, and he did so in 1970, 43 years ago.
  • That player was Don Gault of the Cleveland Browns, and his career was pretty incredible. When Browns starter Bill Nelsen went down with a knee injury in Week 2, the Browns inserted Gault — as opposed to third overall pick Mike Phipps, the player the team acquired when they traded legendary wideout Paul Warfield to the Dolphins — and then started him next week under the logic that he was a “little more ready” than Phipps to play by virtue of his Week 2 experience. No, really. Here’s the article saying as much.
  • In that Week 2 game, Gault threw three passes and went 1-for-3 with 23 yards and an interception.
  • That following week, Gault started against the Steelers and went 1-for-16 for 44 yards with two interceptions.
  • The Browns actually won that game, 15-7, thanks to nine points from their defense (a safety and a pick-six of Terry Bradshaw) and a 53-yard touchdown pass from Phipps in the third quarter. Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly also left the game and was replaced by Reece Morrison, who caught the touchdown pass, but also ran 21 times for a mere 29 yards. This might have been the worst offensive performance, that one play aside, in league history. And it won.
  • Gault never threw another NFL pass, which means he finished his career 2-for-19 for 67 yards and three interceptions; he also finished it 1-0, having beaten Terry Bradshaw in his only NFL start. That, my friends, is a winner.
  • But back to Tuel. The Bills are stuck starting him because their top two quarterbacks are injured: Kevin Kolb suffered a likely career-ending concussion last weekend, while first-round pick E.J. Manuel underwent knee surgery during the preseason and is unlikely to return in time for Week 1. The Bills traded for Thaddeus Lewis and signed Matt Leinart to give them options, but Tuel is the only one who actually knows the Buffalo playbook, which gives him the inside track for Week 1.
  • You can’t really blame the Bills for being stuck starting Tuel in Week 1. Sure, he has no experience, but just about every third quarterback in the NFL is a developmental arm with little or no NFL track record. The guys who do have notable NFL experience are just better-known awful options: all the guys Kolb competed with in Arizona over the past couple of years, Trent Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Brady Quinn, Kellen Clemens, Rex Grossman … you get the idea. There’s a lot of seventh-rounders and undrafted free agents and three players who stand out: a pair of 2013 fourth-round picks (Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib, who was Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone’s starter at Syracuse) and Tim Tebow. Tuel is one of the lesser third quarterbacks out there, but none of these options would be very useful in Week 1 of the 2013 season.
  • What are the odds that the Bills would have needed to turn to Tuel at some point during the 2013 season? Pretty slim. It’s more complex than this, but if you assume (estimating arbitrarily) that Kolb has a 10 percent chance of missing any given game and Manuel has a more typical 2 percent chance of being unavailable, there’s a 3.2 percent chance that they would need Tuel to start at least one game. You can’t commit serious resources to worry about something that will happen to you, on average, once every three decades.
  • The Bills also lost top cornerback Stephon Gilmore this weekend; he’ll miss six to eight weeks with a broken wrist. His absence might be more ruinous for the Bills than anything they lost at quarterback.
  • The Bills do not deserve this.
  • One final question: Are the Bills crapping out for Clowney or bumming it for Bridgewater?

Filed Under: Buffalo Bills, NFL

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Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ billbarnwell