Bummer dude but I think the perception is earned.
DANA POINT, CALIF. -- Ask 10 pro football fans about new Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe and it's a good bet eight of them will agree that he's well into the back nine of his career, if not in the clubhouse already.
"And I'm 33 years old," Bledsoe said as he navigated his golf cart through the course at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa last week. Bledsoe was among the 40 or so current, former, and future NFL players represented by David Dunn who convened for the Athletes First Classic benefiting Orangewood Pals, a charity for abused children. The two-day event drew such stars as Matt Hasselbeck, Todd Heap, Carson Palmer, Jake Plummer, and Reggie Wayne, plus standout collegiate quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Kyle Orton, whose careers are just getting started.
Bledsoe, meanwhile, is perceived by many to be finished.
"One thing that is kind of frustrating," he continued, "is that I've been in the league 12 years, [I'm] No. 10 all time in passing yardage, no one other than [Brett] Favre and [Dan] Marino has gotten to 40,000 yards faster than I have [at 39,808, Bledsoe is just 743 yards behind Joe Montana for eighth place], but it's like I'm just another guy."
Bledsoe always has been a "Parcells guy," as in Bill, Cowboys head coach, and he has been reunited with the man who drafted him in New England. The Bills decided J.P. Losman was their guy and released Bledsoe on Feb. 23 after seasonal marks of 8-8, 6-10, and 9-7 with him at the helm.
While the Bills liked his durability and his arm strength, they noticed Bledsoe wearing down and losing some of his velocity as seasons wore on. They also believed it to be impossible to protect him (140 sacks in three years) given his lack of mobility and maddening habit of holding the ball, waiting to hit the big play, and, ultimately, taking hits that too often resulted in lost yardage (955 in three years) or possession. Patting the ball in the pocket might have flown 10 years ago, but not now when defenses are far more apt to get after the quarterback.
By now, every coach, player, reporter, and fan must have the scouting report on Bledsoe memorized.
"The hold-the-ball-too-long one, there are times when that is true," Bledsoe acknowledged. "It's a battle you're always fighting because as a competitor, you're always thinking, 'OK, I can make this next play. This can be the difference in the game.' That's something I've always battled against, going back to college.
"As far as making bad decisions, that's not true. Do I make some bad decisions? Yeah. You play this position, sometimes you're going to throw it to the wrong place. But as far as percentages, compared to anybody else that's playing, I don't make bad decisions. I'm a smart player who makes good decisions. That one's a little crazy."
And Bledsoe wasn't finished.
"As far as taking sacks … part of that also is there were times when people said I was holding on to the ball and there wasn't much time, period. And as far as the turnovers, I had a year two years ago where I was getting hit a lot and fumbled the ball a lot. But that's never really been a big problem of mine.
"The lack of mobility, that one, I've just kind of let that one go forever. I'm not fast. But there are a lot of guys that are a hell of a lot slower than I am. Somebody wants to do a pay-per-view race between me and [Tom] Brady, sign me up."
Buffalo traded a first-round pick to the Patriots to acquire Bledsoe; the Bills are 1-5 against New England since. Buffalo believes that with that defense (ranked second overall), running back (Willis McGahee), and those special teams, it should have won 11 or 12 games last year. Losman threw five passes as a rookie and would have played more had he not been injured early and the team played well late. The Bills are handing him the job, which initially irked Bledsoe. It was a move based not on economics or draft politics or one made under the guise of taking a step back to move forward. Simply put, the Bills consider Losman an upgrade.
Bledsoe said he just wanted a chance to compete. Being a backup "was not OK. If it had been, 'Well, we're going to open it up for a competition,' well, bring it on."
“ One thing that is kind of frustrating is that I've been in the league 12 years, [I'm] No. 10 all time in passing yardage, no one other than [Brett] Favre and [Dan] Marino has gotten to 40,000 yards faster than I have, but it's like I'm just another guy.”
As much of a beating as he's taken on the field, Bledsoe's been hit with even more in the press for his play over the last 2˝ seasons, particularly in big games. He points to the loss of several supporting cast members on offense following a 2002 season in which he passed for 4,359 yards as contributing to his decline in production, though it should be mentioned that fullback Larry Centers (retired), tight end Jay Riemersma (Pittsburgh), and receiver Peerless Price (Atlanta) saw their numbers go down after leaving the Bills.
"After my first year [in Buffalo], when we threw for all those yards, there was a perception that, 'OK, we got Drew, we got the offense, now all we have to do is put the defense in place,' " Bledsoe said. "And they really sacrificed everything else to put the defense in place. And Eric Moulds got hurt. Say what you want, but if you don't have the guys to go get it to, it's harder to put up those numbers.
"So did I get a raw deal? To a certain extent. There was a shift in philosophy that didn't include helping out the quarterback. It does bother me that a lot of the blame for our lack of success was placed right on my shoulders. But I'm never going to be one of those guys who say that I'm being treated unfairly when I'm playing a game for a living. It didn't work out and am I unhappy about that? Yeah. But I'll never say they did me wrong."
Some critics said Parcells made the wrong move signing Bledsoe, thinking he no longer possesses the skills to be an effective quarterback. But as one defensive coordinator put it: "Compared to whom? Compared to some other [bad] quarterback you can get? Bledsoe's still in the top half of the league."
In Dallas, while the receiving corps might lack speed, Bledsoe has a good young runner in Julius Jones and a talented tight end in Jason Witten. And a brutally honest coach to whom he responds.
"Bill is smart enough to know that he's going to get a lot out of me if he puts the guys around me to let me play," Bledsoe said. "Sounds really simple, but that's really what it is. You give me some guys, give me some weapons, and give me some time, I'm going to hit them a high percentage of the time.
"Does Bill get more out of me than another coach? First of all, he trusts me. It goes all the way back to when we were together before. He was like, 'I'm going to trust you. You've got to make me look good.' "
Though many might see Bledsoe as a beat-up quarterback who no longer can cut, he's still stubborn, same as he is in the pocket. Others think he should just throw it away. But he sees something they do not. So he holds out as long as possible. Waiting. Hoping. Knowing.
"I really feel like we're going to win in Dallas," Bledsoe said as he and his four playing partners wrapped up their round. "I've been around long enough. I know who can play the game and who can't. I know what I can do. I know I can play the game. I really think at the end of it, answering the criticisms of me will be done on the field, and that's definitely how I would choose to have it play out. One thing that I really believe is that when my career is done, three or four years down the road, the story's going to be written and it's going to read differently than it does now.
"I'm still living the dream. I'm not done yet. The story's not over yet."
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.