It had been several weeks in the making, but on Friday Ryan Fitzpatrick signed off on a multi-year contract extension with the Bills. He had already been voted a captain by his teammates, but with this kind of long term commitment from the club Fitzpatrick is unequivocally the face of the franchise.
"We're going to go as far as he takes us," said Fred Jackson. "Everybody in that locker room supports him and has a lot of faith in him. This just shows that everybody in our front office has a lot of faith in him too. We'll get behind him and do whatever we can to help him take us to where we all want to go."
"Ryan is a leader," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "He's got all the intangibles you want in a quarterback and he's got a good arm and a quick release. You put him with Chan Gailey and you've got a pretty good combination there and we thought that all along really."
From the time he entered the lineup as the starting quarterback in Week 3 last season, Fitzpatrick improved the collective performance of Buffalo's offensive unit even though they did not initially translate into victories.
"Fitz sparked the team from last year," said Stevie Johnson. "The record was bad but he provided that spark that we all needed and it's just showed that he's our guy."
"He's a scrapper when he's out there and I think that motivated guys to scrap with him," said Jackson. "He brings that different excitement. He's a gunslinger. He gives his receivers an opportunity to make plays for him. I think that's another big thing. When he was added you could see that element of our offense come around. Him being willing to take chances in one-on-one coverage with receivers allowing them to make plays."
Fitzpatrick has done nothing to disappoint in 2011 as far as performance as he ranks in the top three in the AFC in passer rating, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He's also largely responsible for Buffalo's offense being the third-highest scoring unit in the league at 31.3 points per game.
What this contract means however, is Fitzpatrick is the player everyone else falls in line behind. When the general public thinks about the Buffalo Bills he will be the first person that comes to mind.
That may not sound unusual knowing quarterbacks are often the most visible players on an NFL team, but Fitzpatrick is the first quarterback the Bills have signed to a second contract of this size and length since Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. That's significant. Perhaps even more significant is the reaction his teammates had to the deal.
"This is something we all wanted," said Eric Wood. "We wanted Fitz to get a big deal. We're glad he got it and he deserves it. He puts in as much time as anybody and he makes plays and that's what getting a big deal is about. He's put in his time over the years and ironed out a lot of wrinkles in his game and he's playing good ball and the Bills obviously recognize that."
The extension for Fitzpatrick provides a measure of stability that Buffalo's offense has not seen in quite some time.
"When you think about it, it's for the future," said Stevie Johnson. "For the future you want to have a team. You don't just want to have guys in the locker room and you don't know what's going to happen next year. You want to have a team that stays together."
Even head coach Chan Gailey, who is not a fan of labels, believes Fitzpatrick is a franchise quarterback.
"Is he capable of being a guy that's can play for you and win for you a long time," he asked rhetorically. "Yes he is."
"He's a guy that we believe is, and will be, a franchise quarterback for us," Jackson said. "We think he has all the intangibles that he needs. He's a really smart guy and knows this offense inside and out. That's the type of guy you want leading you on the field. We're excited that he's going to be around for a while to do that for us."