Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
We interrupt this feel-good moment for Jets fans with the news of their latest quarterback acquisition, a sobering reminder that all the dynamic moves of the past several days can't diminish the fact that their biggest problem on the roster won't be solved any time soon.
For all the goodwill created by the reacquisition of Darrelle Revis, the trade for Brandon Marshall, the signing of Buster Skrine, and the re-signings of David Harris and Bilal Powell, the Jets still don't have a trustworthy alternative at quarterback. And the trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Texans doesn't change that equation.
With Fitzpatrick now set to challenge incumbent Geno Smith for the starting job, the Jets continue to operate without a franchise-caliber quarterback. And unless they get lucky on draft day by somehow selecting Oregon's Marcus Mariota (assuming Tampa Bay does the expected and takes Jameis Winston first overall), the Jets' situation won't change as a result of the Fitzpatrick trade.
Fitzpatrick has made the most of his limited talent, getting plenty of opportunities in a league where there simply aren't enough good quarterbacks to go around. A former Ivy League star at Harvard, Fitzpatrick has played for the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans and Texans, and the Jets will make it half a dozen stops for the 32-year-old.
He's better suited as a backup, but in the quarterback-starved NFL, he has had more than his share of opportunities with 89 starts, a 33-55-1 record, 123 touchdown passes and 101 interceptions. The numbers scream mediocrity, and there shouldn't be an expectation of anything other than that if he wins what is expected to be a quarterback competition with Smith.
Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback Bill Parcells refers to as a "hold-the-fort guy," a player who is just good enough to play in this league but is basically holding things together as best he can until a more suitable alternative can be found.
It's the role Doug Pederson played for the Eagles in 1999 until Donovan McNabb was ready to become the starter. Don Majkowski was the Packers' hold-the-fort guy until he got hurt and Brett Favre began his Hall of Fame-caliber career in 1992.The Jets ought to hope that Smith beats out Fitzpatrick over the summer, because if Smith can't play any better than his journeyman teammate, then it means he has no future with the team. What Smith needs to do is play more like he did against the Patriots and Dolphins on the road last season, when he nearly beat Tom Brady in Foxborough and pitched a perfect game (158.3 rating) against the Dolphins in the regular-season finale.
If he can get to that level on a more consistent basis -- and if you do it more than once, you should be able to do it more and more as you gain experience -- then Smith has a chance to be a functional quarterback who can succeed with good players around him. But if it's going to be more bad Geno, like his awful game against the Bills, when he produced a 0.0 rating with three picks, then he's not going to last much longer with the Jets.
Fitzpatrick was the odd man out in Houston, where the Texans re-signed Ryan Mallett and brought in free agent Bryan Hoyer from the Browns. And he does make some sense with the Jets because of his familiarity with GM Mike Maccagnan, who came here from Houston, and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who coached Fitzpatrick for three seasons in Buffalo.
In fact, Fitzpatrick enjoyed his best years in the NFL while playing for Gailey from 2010-12. He played so well early in the 2011 season that the Bills rewarded him with a six-year, $59-million contract that included a $10-million signing bonus. But his play deteriorated soon thereafter, and by the end of the 2012 season, he and Gailey were out in Buffalo.
Signed as a backup in Tennessee the following year, he started nine games in place of the injury-plagued Jake Locker and went 3-6. And last year, he earned the starting job under first-year coach Bill O'Brien, but was replaced by Mallett in early November. Fitzpatrick started again after Mallett was injured, but it was clear that O'Brien wanted to upgrade his quarterback situation by keeping Mallett and signing Hoyer.
It's on to the Jets for Fitzpatrick, where he'll either be the starter for Todd Bowles or serve as Smith's backup. So unless Smith has a breakout year or the Jets can somehow luck into Mariota next month, then all the money they've invested in their latest acquisitions will only be worth what the quarterback position can deliver.