Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So Long and Good Luck Trent

In April of 2007, I was making a new beginning. I had just moved to NYC from Burbank, CA after two years of successfully negotiating myself deeper and deeper into a rut. I had moved to New York in an attempt to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and directly into the poor house. I succeeded for six months, before finding the job that landed a crippling blow to my bright hobo future.

I watched the draft that April on a huge, obscenely heavy fifteen year old TV I had bought at a thrift store relatively cheaply, and chatted via webcam with my bset friend from college. We both loved Marshawn Lynch, although I worried that it meant we would miss out on Paul Posluszny. I have rarely been more excited than when I saw the Bills leap up to the 34th pick that year and snatch him up. I pumped my fist in the air (carefully, as my room was tiny), and looked around desperately for someone to high five. At the time I was living with two artists, and it was difficult to explain exactly to people who spent time dissecting something like Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa" why this draft was so important.

As the 2nd round drew on, I drifted away to find some Chinese food (i.e fried chicken), and received a text from my friend. The Bills had picked, and they had picked Trent Edwards. My first thought was of course: "People still name their children Trent?". When I got home I began to research this Trent person. It turns out that he was a highly recruited high school QB. Notre Dame wanted him. Michigan wanted him. Florida wanted him. He picked Stanford, and even went on to pick up a degree in something other than physical education. Even more exciting, the man I still think is the greatest head coach in the history of the game, Bill Walsh, gushed about the kid.

What this all added to for me was the most dreaded word in any Buffalo sports fan's lexicon: expectation. I knew that JP Losman had just had his best season as a pro and was entrenched as the starting QB. I was never a big believer in Losman though. Trent was something different. He had everything you wanted in a QB: intelligence, accuracy and work ethic. How could he fail? Here at last was the long term answer at QB. Even more importantly, he was going to be this era's Thurman Thomas. He was going to be the guy that got passed over twice or three times by every other team in the league only to be snatched up by the wily Bills. We'd be laughing in our Molson Canadians all the way to the Super Bowl.

And for a season and a half, Trent did nothing to dissuade me from that line of thought. He certainly didn't light it up in 2007, but he was solid, and more importantly, a winner (5-4 in games he started). 2008 seemed even brighter as the Bills rolled to four straight wins, including two blowouts and two 4th quarter comebacks from Trent. He was cool and efficient, going 78/119 with 930 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs in those games (and one of those INTs on a deflection off of Lee Evans as I recall). Peter King openly touted him as an MVP candidate. We all know that it went downhill from there, but at the end of the year I was still convinced. Even his bad games usually gave some reason for optimism. People remember his three terrible INTs against the Browns, but most people forget the gorgeous throw he made to Robert Royal to get the Bills in position to try a game winning field goal (which of course, they didn't make).

In retrospect, it may have been worth my while to look more closely at Trent's college days. He spent most of his four years at Stanford crumpled up in a heap beneath a pile of USC Trojans. He wasn't a winner in college, he wasn't even a standout in his own conference. In his best year (2005) he still finished 7th in passer rating. He threw 17 touchdowns that year, half of what Drew Olson threw, and two less than Kellen Clemens, despite the fact that Clemens was splitting significant time with Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf that year. The 2007 me would point out the dearth of talent on Stanford's offensive line and at the skill positions. How can you succeed against the USC's of the world with that kind of talent around you?

Some college QBs answered that question, but Trent did not. That question raises a more important question though, and that question is: How can you expect a player who couldn't succeed without elite talent around him at the college level to suddenly do so in the pros? The truth is that I, and many other Bills fans, expected Trent to  play behind the likes of a Duke Preston and throw to the likes of Robert Royal and still win. And the most improbably part of the whole story is that, for a time, he did. And thats the hardest part about the Edwards Era in Buffalo. For a brief golden month at the beginning of 2008, we had a winner.

And now Edwards is a Jaguar. There has been plenty of criticism over his release, but I happen to think that it was perhaps the best option for both parties. Edwards had little more value to give the Bills this year, and it wouldn't do Edwards any good to sit around as a lame duck for the next thirteen weeks waiting for his outright release. He has a new start in Jacksonville, a start with very tempered expectations, and maybe he can get a once promising career back on track.

Good luck Trent. With the state that the Jags offensive line is currently in, you will need it.

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