Four magical months together ended badly in a haze of interceptions and defeat in Buffalo back in early January and both sides have yet to decide if they truly want to give it another go.
The Jets offer to Fitzpatrick is a three-year, $24m deal that pays him like a backup in years two and three. Fitzpatrick’s agent reportedly responded last week with a counter of one year for a guaranteed $12m and the Jets balked, unwilling to figure out a way to fit that number in underneath their $3m in cap space.
Fitzpatrick will turn 34 this season. He’s been with five other teams before, but none of those stops worked out. After a career year in which he set Jets passing records, he understandably wants to be wanted. The Jets have been in the NFL for 46 years. They’ve been through more quarterbacks than anyone can remember and simply desire the one that’s right for them and on their terms.
While an agreement has yet to be reached, the prevailing wisdom is that both parties will eventually decide to settle down with each other. Maybe even raise a wildcard team together. For who could bear to look into Eric Decker’s beautiful eyes and tell him Fitzpatrick is leaving and that he’s going to be raised by Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg? No GM wants to do something like that. It would hurt too much.
But Fitzpatrick and the Jets should break up. For good. They shouldn’t settle. Life is simply too short to accept 10-6.
It’s no surprise the impasse has stretched from the early days of free agency all the way into June, through OTAs and right up to the Jets mandatory minicamp, which begins on 14 June. Both sides so far have been unwilling to budge because both sides are right.
Fitzpatrick came to the Jets last offseason in a trade for a conditional, late-round pick and was expected to be Smith’s backup at a budget friendly cost of $3.25m. New York GM Mike Maccagnan said the team was “committed” to Smith. But then IK Enemkpali exploded the presumptive starter’s jaw in training camp and Fitzpatrick became the No1. He helped the Jets off to a 4-1 start, weathered a poor November, and had the team sitting at 10-5 with a playoff spot in their grasp before it all fell apart in Week 17 against the Bills.
That disappointment aside, Fitzpatrick broke Vinny Testaverde’s franchise record for touchdown passes in a single year and had the best season for a Jets quarterback since Chad Pennington’s heyday. In an offseason in which Sam Bradford got a two-year, $35m deal with $22m guaranteed from the Eagles and Brock Osweiler received four years and $72m with $37m guaranteed and a $12m signing bonus from Houston, you don’t need a Harvard degree to understand why Fitzpatrick feels he’s owed more than Maccagnan’s standing offer. (By the way, did you know that Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?) And when the Jets other options are Smith, Hackenberg or acquiring Nick Foles, Fitzpatrick is right to think the team will eventually have to cave if they want to make another run at a playoff spot.
The Jets are also right. (If you’ll endure a moment of personal reflection, that’s the first time I’ve ever written that sentence and it was kind of fun.) Fitzpatrick’s career year in 2015 may have rewritten part of the Jets record books, but the NFL record books were never in danger. Through multiple career stops, the former Ram, Bengal, Bill, Titan and Texan (what have you been waiting for Browns?) has proven to be a few cuts below a top-tier NFL quarterback and his three-interception disaster to close the season only left that thought to simmer in Maccagnan’s mind all offseason.
Just because teams like the Eagles are happy to shell out big money for middling arms doesn’t mean the Jets have to do it, too. As any good GM’s mom will tell you: you don’t jump off a bridge even if the Eagles did it first.
And so the Jets and Fitzpatrick should end it. Their brief fling didn’t start with high expectations, but they did OK together. That’s not nothing.
If Fitzpatrick wants to feel wanted, he will get more interest than he’s ever seen when late summer rolls around and starting QBs start going down to injury in training camp and during the season’s opening weeks. Football is a brutal game, regardless of what NFL-approved science might say, and injury will create openings. Who else are desperate GMs going to call? Mike Vick? Johnny Manziel? Tim Tebow? Jeff George? Some of the teams lighting up Fitzpatrick’s cell phone might even have better 2016 prospects than the Jets. Maybe even the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos get a long look at Mark Sanchez during training camp and decide they’re better off going with Fitzpatrick, the premier Jet quarterback of modern times. There is love out there for Fitzpatrick just around the corner. But for now he can relax, enjoy his offseason, tend to his garden and/or beard and confidently wait for the offers to pour in when camps open and ACLs break.
A separation will be harder for the Jets. A team with a solid defense and Matt Forte added to Brandon Marshall and Decker feels promising. But the Jets surprised a year ago with a weak schedule that included eight games against laughing-stock teams from the AFC South and NFC East. The 2016 slate includes the AFC North and NFC West, gives the Jets the Bengals, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals all in the first six weeks, and then drops the Patriots on them twice after Thanksgiving, long after Tom Brady’s suspension is over. While it’s absurdly early for NFL point spreads, the Jets are only favored to win five of their games this season. Fitzpatrick would have to improve dramatically on his career season just to see the Jets contend again for a postseason spot. The Jets should bite the bullet – or take the punch, the more appropriate phrase if Smith is under center – and load up for 2017 when a much better prospect than Hackenberg could be had in the draft, the schedule won’t be as daunting and the QB free agent class includes Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins and Tyrod Taylor.
It doesn’t need to be messy. They can remain friends. But it’s time for Fitzpatrick and the Jets to separate for good. There were some good times. They’ll always have Fitzmagic.
This article was written by DJ Gallo, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 7th June 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010