And in the 11th hour of the eighth month of a maddeningly illogical contract dispute, the two sides that couldn’t agree on a deal finally figured it out and shook hands on a compromise that is good for all.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is back with the Jets in time for the first training camp practice, and he’ll be $12 million richer for shaking hands on a new deal. The Jets held out until the bitter end in hopes of securing a longer-term deal, but with Fitzpatrick unwilling to virtually halve his salary over the final two years of a three-year proposal, GM Mike Maccagnan blinked and thus sealed the deal to bring back the Jets’ best hope at quarterback.
The bottom line is that Fitzpatrick is back, and that’s the best alternative the Jets have at this point. They simply didn’t have the kind of conviction in Geno Smith that you need for a starting quarterback, and Fitzpatrick’s mostly terrific performance in a 10-win season in 2016 earned the trust of coach Todd Bowles.
So keep Bowles’ positive comments on Smith’s offseason progress in perspective, because the coach was in a difficult spot. Sure, Smith did get a better grasp of Chan Gailey’s offensive system in his second year, but Bowles always has known his best chance is with Fitzpatrick, who first got to know Gailey in 2009 while in Buffalo. But Bowles also understood there was a chance he actually might have had to go with Smith as his starter, so he rightly planned for that possibility by doing everything he could to get the quarterback ready.
In the end, though, Fitzpatrick gets the chance to return on what essentially amounts to a “show-me” contract that is befitting a quarterback who remains somewhat of an unknown. Was last year an aberration, when his 31 touchdown passes established a franchise record? Or is Fitzpatrick capable of repeating those numbers on a second go-round with a much tougher schedule than last year?
The Jets wanted to protect themselves in case Fitzpatrick turned out to be a one-year wonder, which is why they offered a drastically reduced salary of about $6 million a year in the final two years of the deal. That’s decent backup money, but it’s chump change for a veteran starter. Fitzpatrick knew that and the Jets knew that, but Fitz is willing to bet on himself with the one-year deal and reassess next year.
That’s smart business for both sides, because the Jets aren’t locked into a long-term deal with bigger money on the back end — and potentially more in guaranteed salary this season — and Fitzpatrick gains leverage if he has another big year.
And if Fitzpatrick does reach or exceed last year’s numbers, there’s a good chance the Jets would extend his deal beyond this season. Fitzpatrick believes he has found the right place at the right time in his career, and there’s no reason he wouldn’t want to continue with the Jets beyond 2016 if he proves his worth. He’s simply assuring himself of an adequate salary structure moving forward.
And if he regresses to the point where he has outlived his usefulness here, then the Jets can simply move on. It’s unlikely that Smith, whose contract expires after this season, would be their choice, but second-round rookie Christian Hackenberg might be more ready at that point to assume a starting job if Fitzpatrick is gone.
But at least the Jets will be dealing from a position of strength and can have a better idea of what direction that need to go. By getting Fitzpatrick in camp now, they give him and themselves the best chance of figuring out the future. The situation will play itself out, and the answer will be obvious by season’s end: Fitzpatrick either proves his worth again and merits a longer-term deal, or else he turns back into the journeyman he was before coming to the Jets in last year’s trade from Houston. Like he did with the playoffs on the line in his three-interception meltdown in Buffalo.
The answers will reveal themselves soon enough.
Good luck, gentlemen. Glad this financial Kabuki dance has finally ended. Time to get to work.