ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix is asking playoff-starved fans for a little more patience while explaining why it's taken him so long to address the team's most pressing need: A franchise quarterback.
With so many holes to fill on the roster when he took over three years ago, Nix said he thought it was better to improve the rest of the team before taking a shot on selecting a quarterback high in the draft.
``There's two ways of looking at doing it: You could get your quarterback first and then try to fill the other holes around him,'' Nix said, Wednesday. ``But then you take a chance on injury and a chance on breaking his confidence down.''
Instead, he added: ``What we did was we had so many needs to start with that every time there was a high-rated player there, we knew he would fill a spot.''
As for whether this is the offseason in which the Bills select a quarterback high in the draft, Nix would only say, perhaps - and only if the right player is available.
``I think the priority is the same,'' he said. ``I think (fans) could take it to the bank every year. We had that intent every year, and we've got it again. Hopefully, they know me well enough that that's what we'll try to do if the guy's there.''
Nix's comments come at a time when the Bills (5-7) are in jeopardy of extending the NFL's longest active playoff drought to a 13th season. Buffalo is on the fringes of playoff contention in preparing to host St. Louis (6-7-1) on Sunday.
Quarterback has been a hot topic of discussion for much of this season in Buffalo because of third-year starter Ryan Fitzpatrick's limitations and inconsistencies. Though Fitzpatrick has been more efficient in helping the Bills win two of their last three, he struggled during a 1-5 stretch in which he combined for nine touchdowns and 10 turnovers (seven interceptions and three lost fumbles).
The Bills did sign Fitzpatrick a year ago to a six-year, $59 million contract extension following the team's better-than-expected 4-2 start. But only $24 million of that is guaranteed. Either way, Nix and coach Chan Gailey haven't ruled out the possibility of Fitzpatrick opening next season as the team's starter.
Last week, Gailey provided Fitzpatrick a vote of confidence.
``We've always said that we are looking to develop a quarterback for the future, but I don't think it's the near future,'' Gailey said. ``As we continue to get better, I think he is going to be the guy.''
That doesn't mean the Bills will ignore looking for an eventual successor.
Nix mentioned quarterback first on Monday, when discussing the team's offseason needs in addressing fans at the Monday Morning Quarterback Club luncheon.
``We want to have a young quarterback we can develop and will be around for eight to 10 years. We're all looking for a Jim Kelly,'' Nix said, referring to the team's Hall of Fame quarterback. ``And I'll tell you this: if you like a quarterback, and like him in the third round, then you had better take him in the second.''
The second position Nix mentioned was receiver, and finding a tall, strong Calvin Johnson-type player to complement starter Stevie Johnson.
On offense, the Bills are set at running back, with the tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The team's offensive line is gelling into place, too, with the addition of rookie second-round pick Cordy Glenn. Buffalo does risk losing left guard Andy Levitre to free agency this offseason, and is attempting to re-sign him.
``We're headed in the right direction,'' Nix said. ``But when you declare your goal is to build the team through the draft, then it takes patience.''
Time and patience might be running out for Nix and Gailey, but both are expected to get one more season to prove they're capable of turning around the team.
The biggest sign of progress comes on defense now that the Mario Williams-led unit is finally playing up to its high-priced potential.
Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract in March, got off to a dreadful start, as did his teammates on that side of the ball. Through seven games, Buffalo ranked 31st in the NFL in allowing an average 424 yards and 32 points a game.
They've since turned it around, particularly during a three-game stretch in which Buffalo has combined for 11 sacks, forced seven turnovers (three fumbles, four interceptions) and is allowing 244 yards and 17 points per outing.
``I think maybe the best word to express on that would be relief. I'm relieved that we're playing better,'' Nix said. ``I knew we would but, yet, to see it come together has been a good thing for us.
``The way it turned out, I did underestimate how long it would take.''