Ryan Fitzpatrick will have several suitors when he hits free agency on Wednesday, but here is why the New York Jets are his best option.
By Jeff Jarboe
The NFL Network reported this morning that New York Jets starting quarterback and pending free agent, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is set to hit the open market this afternoon as he and the team are reportedly far apart in contract negotiations.
Fitzpatrick, 33, enjoyed arguably the best season of his career in his first year as the Jets quarterback, throwing for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, and leading New York to their first winning record (10-6) in three seasons.
New York Jets GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles have been adamant about bringing Fitzpatrick back and were hoping to do so before the free agency period began, but were unable to and now the 33-year-old will have the option to negotiate with teams around the league.
Though there have been no reports on exactly how much Fitzpatrick is asking for in his new deal, the average asking price for this crop of free agent starting quarterbacks figures to be around $16 million per year after Sam Bradford set the bar with his two-year $36 million deal last week.
If a team emerges in the coming weeks that is willing to pay Fitzpatrick in the $15-20 million/year range and offer him more than a two-year deal, then the New York Jets should be worried. But as of now, Jets fans shouldn’t worry.
First of all, no team is going to offer a 33-year-old quarterback, who has been mediocre for the majority of his career, $20 million per year. It simply won’t happen. If a team is interested in signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s not because they believe he’s going to be their franchise quarterback. It’s because they believe (as the Jets also believe) he can be good enough to win them games and keep them competitive while they find a franchise quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans all have a fair amount of cap space ($40 million+) and are in need of a quarterback, but all three are unappealing situations compared to the Jets.
Fitzpatrick knows what he’s coming back to if he re-signs with New York. He’s coming back to Chan Gailey’s offense, which he’s just about mastered up to this point. He’s coming back to pro bowl wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, both of whom finished top-25 in receiving yards (Marshall, 4th; Decker, 25th) and top-six in touchdowns (Marshall, 1st; Decker, 6th) in 2015. And he’s coming back to one of the league’s top defenses, which finished third in the league in takeaways (30) in 2015.
If Fitzpatrick wants to be the starting quarterback on a winning team, then he will return to the New York Jets. And ultimately, that is the most likely scenario that will occur as both Fitzpatrick and the Jets have expressed a mutual interest in getting a deal done. Fitz will gauge his value around the league, and likely return to New York with a firm asking price.
One cannot say how high that price will be, but New York will certainly have some roster moves to make in order to free up the necessary cap space if they’re serious about getting a deal done.
It may not be what New York Jets fans want to hear, but a trade featuring the recently tagged Muhammad Wilkerson could be in the near future as it would free up the necessary cap space to sign the team’s other priority free agents like Fitzpatrick and nose tackle Damon Harrison.
Wilkerson is set to earn $15.7 million in 2016 and is seeking a long-term deal, but he and the team have gotten nowhere in contract negotiations. They have until July 15 to get a long-term deal done, but the team will have to make a decision on his future long before that if they want to retain Fitzpatrick and Harrison.