BUFFALO - Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is coming back to Buffalo after re-signing with the Bills on Friday. And returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick remains part of the team's future for now.
In announcing Jackson's signing, new coach Doug Marrone ended a month of speculation regarding his plans at quarterback by saying he intends to have Fitzpatrick and Jackson compete for the starting job.
"I spoke with Ryan and Tarvaris and told them we will have an open competition at the quarterback position - similar to what we will do at all positions," Marrone said, in a statement released by the team. "I believe that our players will embrace this challenge."
This was Marrone's most definitive statement regarding Fitzpatrick's future since he took over last month. Marrone, credited for turning around a struggling Syracuse program over the past four years, replaced Chan Gailey, who was fired after three consecutive losing seasons.
Jackson had completed the final year of his contract and was eligible to become a free agent next month. He's gone 17-17 in seven NFL seasons as a starter, but did not play a down for Buffalo after spending all of last year as the team's third-stringer.
Fitzpatrick's long-term status in Buffalo had been in question as a result of the coaching change and after the quarterback struggled in his second full year as starter.
Fitzpatrick and the offense's production regressed last year. The Bills finished 19th in the NFL in yards gained after finishing 14th the previous season. In four seasons in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick is 20-33 as a starter.
Though he joined Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly last year in becoming only the second Bills quarterback to throw 24 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons, Fitzpatrick's inconsistency has remained a question. In 55 games in Buffalo, he's thrown 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions, including a career-worst 23 in 2011.
Another knock against Fitzpatrick is an expensive contract. He signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension in October 2011, and is due a $3 million bonus if he remains on the team's roster next month.
The Bills are expected to approach Fitzpatrick in a bid to restructure the deal, but that had not happened as of last week.
In re-signing Jackson, the Bills have, at the very least, added depth to the quarterback spot.
Selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by Minnesota, the Alabama State product has appeared in 51 games, and has starting experience with both the Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.
Buffalo gave up a draft pick to acquire Jackson in a trade with Seattle in August. The Bills made the move to shore up their quarterback depth, after Jackson became the odd man out with the Seahawks. Jackson was expendable after losing a three-way competition with eventual starter, rookie Russell Wilson, and backup Matt Flynn.
Jackson's agent Joel Segal said his client was eager to stay in Buffalo despite his lack of playing time last year.
"Tarvaris told me he didn't need to test free agency," Segal said. "He wanted to stay with the Bills and told me to deal only with the Bills."
Jackson's best season came in 2011, his one and only year with Seattle. He went 7-7, putting up career highs with 14 touchdowns, 271 completions and 3,091 yards.
The Bills have also indicated an interest in selecting a quarterback in the draft in April.
Marrone's background is on offense. He's a former NFL offensive lineman who spent the 2006-08 seasons as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator. Though he didn't call the plays, his arrival in New Orleans coincided with the team signing star quarterback Drew Brees.