Let’s face it, Bills fans: the Bills simply don’t have a long history of great quarterbacks. The franchise doesn’t stand up to other franchises known for great quarterbacks, like the Packers or the 49ers. It just doesn’t. The history of the franchise, for the most part, has been one of strife and hardship. Outside of their early days in the AFL and the back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl runs over two decades later, the team has rarely known the kind of success that franchises typically associated with great quarterback play have.
That said, there have been more than a few really good quarterbacks who have played for the Bills, and perhaps even a great one or two. Due to the relative anonymity of the team for many years and the fact of playing in a small NFL market, some better-than-advertised quarterbacks have had their day. Without further ado, the countdown of the five best quarterbacks in the history of the Buffalo Bills.
5. Trent Edwards
The Bills have a long history of quarterbacks with short tenures under center. One of those quarterbacks was Trent Edwards. Edwards’s stat lines aren’t the least bit impressive, but in his best season, in which he started 14 games, the Bills went an even 7-7. For those reading this and thinking Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves to be here instead, know that the Bills never won more than six games with Fitzpatrick under center. Edwards also has a .438 QB winning percentage compared to Fitzpatrick’s .377.
“But quarterback wins aren’t a stat, Brock.” Edwards also had a lower interception percentage during his time in Buffalo at 3.1% to Fitzpatrick’s 3.7%. Fitzpatrick also led the NFL in interceptions in 2011 with 23. Bottom line: Trent Edwards was an average quarterback who was never going to light up the scoreboard, but you could count on him being average more than you could count on Ryan Fitzpatrick being good.
4. Joe Ferguson
The constant in many of the Bills’ struggles throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Ferguson nonetheless was almost always a better-than-advertised quarterback. In 1975, he led all NFL quarterbacks in touchdowns and touchdown percentage, during an 8-6 season. Being the quarterback of a team that was usually below average was a thankless job for him, but he managed to become (and remains) the longest-tenured quarterback in the history of the franchise.
Under his generalship, the team made the playoffs on three different occasions, winning one playoff game in 1981 against the New York Jets in the Wild Card round, in which he threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw four interceptions in a game that came down to the wire, 31-27. Besides this, he’s known for bridging the gap between the O.J. Simpson and Joe Cribbs eras of Bills running backs.
3. Jack Kemp
Jack Kemp was the leader of the back-to-back AFL champion Buffalo Bills of the mid-1960s. These were good Bills teams, sporting 11-2 and 9-3-1 regular season records respectively. Besides Kemp, these teams featured other Bills greats Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion, and Mike Stratton. A young Daryl Lamonica was Kemp’s backup on these teams, which should tell you a bit about the kind of player Kemp was.
In addition to the back-to-back AFL championships, he led the team to three consecutive winning seasons, losing in the AFL championship game to the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the third season. Later in life, he became known for his political involvement, serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H. W. Bush and being chosen as Bob Dole’s running mate in the 1996 presidential election.
2. Josh Allen
When all is said and done, Josh Allen will be the greatest quarterback in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise. I can say this rather comfortably, knowing extremely well what he’s been able to do so far, and anticipating all that he has left to do in his still-young career. Allen is the best athlete to ever play quarterback for the Bills; maybe the best athlete to ever play quarterback in NFL history.
Everyone reading this knows what his accomplishments have been thus far, but among these athletic feats is his leading the NFL in rushing yards per attempt in 2021 at 6.3. Don’t be surprised if he does so again in 2022. Also, don’t be surprised if he wins MVP in 2022 and other seasons further on down the line. He’s gotten better every season so far and it’s impossible to say at this point where is his ceiling. How lucky the Bills are that they took a chance on the kid from the University of Wyoming.
1. Jim Kelly
I mean, did you expect anyone else? So much has been written about Jim Kelly in Bills’ lore that there isn’t much left to say. Consistency was the ultimate mark of Kelly’s job as the quarterback. In many ways, he is also the perfect metaphor for the entire history of the franchise. Coming up short in four consecutive Super Bowls is the ultimate Buffalo-ism if you will.
Time and time again, this team has fought its way up from nothing just to come up short when it matters. The guy at #2 on this list is hopefully going to change this reality. But until he does, Bills fans will continue to be faced with the legacy of Kelly. The one who got the team so far so many times just to fall in the end. The duplicitous memory that the Buffalo Bills of the early- ‘90s left behind, led by the Hall of Fame quarterback.