That Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to reach an agreement with the Jets on a new contract after all these months is surprising. That we’re looking at the very real possibility that the 33-year-old quarterback and the Jets may not work out a deal at all? Well, now we’re talking about what would be one of the most illogical and pathetic financial staredowns in NFL history.
With the Jets set to report for training camp on Wednesday and no immediate breakthrough in the stalled talks in sight, a team that created so much promise with last year’s 10-6 season will enter Year 2 of the Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan era under a gigantic cloud of doubt. All because the two sides can’t figure out how to bridge the gap in Fitzpatrick’s push for a new deal.
There is still time to work out a deal, and the drop-dead point in negotiations hasn’t arrived yet, despite the current and much longer than expected impasse. In fact, I’d be surprised if the two sides don’t come to an agreement at some point, because the Jets know and Fitzpatrick knows he’s still their best option at a position that is murky at best with Geno Smith as the starter and the inexperienced Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg behind him.
Let’s go already.
The Jets’ latest offer was three years and $24 million, with $12 million of the guaranteed $15 million in the first year. That offer could reach $36 million with incentives.
There is a unique dynamic to this situation because no other team has been remotely interested in signing Fitzpatrick to be anything other than a backup this season and beyond, so the Jets understandably don’t want to be negotiating against themselves. That leaves Fitzpatrick’s only leverage as withholding his services, which is sort of like an old-school holdout in that players used to regularly use that tactic in the days before unrestricted free agency.
Once free agency did hit in 1993, competition among multiple teams for a player’s services hastened contract agreements, to the point where the most prized athletes on the open market strike deals within a matter of hours — sometimes even minutes — once the free-agent signing period begins.
But Fitzpatrick’s case is unusual. His greatest value always has been with the Jets. He enjoyed the best season of his NFL career in 2015 with a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, drawing comparisons to Vinny Testaverde’s 1998 season when he came in as backup but ended up as the starter and produced a career year.
The one big difference, and it was a huge one that has greatly contributed to the current impasse: Testaverde got the Jets to within a game of the Super Bowl, while Fitzpatrick stumbled in the regular-season finale with a playoff berth on the line. His three interceptions in Buffalo against Rex Ryan’s Bills doomed the Jets’ playoff chances.
I would argue that woeful performance cost Fitzpatrick millions, because he could have at least argued from a position of strength in that he had gotten the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Instead, he added his name to the long and unseemly list of “Same Old Jets” moments and gave the Jets pause in assessing his true worth.
Maccagnan was smart to resist the urge to strike a deal quickly, especially after the Broncos had sent out feelers on Fitzpatrick when Brock Osweiler told general manager John Elway to get lost and took the Texans’ $18 million-a-year offer. No sense driving up the price on Fitzpatrick when simply waiting out the Broncos was the better option. And once it became obvious that Elway opted not to consider Fitzpatrick — a development that was hastened by the fact Fitzpatrick is represented by the same agent, Jimmy Sexton, who pulled the rug out from Elway on the Osweiler deal — then the entirety of the market for Fitzpatrick was the Jets and only the Jets.
With no other team out there to prod a deal along, Maccagnan didn’t want to negotiate against himself, so his three-year, $24-million deal stood. And continues to stand as the last and final offer.
But as we’ve seen so many times before in so many different situations, “last and final” often morphs into a deal. It happened with defensive end Mo Wilkerson, who looked like he’d be going into his final season with the Jets on the franchise tag until Maccagnan and Wilkerson’s agent, Chad Wiestling, got a five-year, $85-million done just before a July 15 deadline.
While there’s no official deadline for a Fitzpatrick deal to get done, a practical one is now fast approaching: the start of training camp.
That’s why it’s incumbent for Maccagnan to figure out a way to make this work by sweetening the pot and bringing Fitzpatrick’s overall deal more in line with other lower-tier quarterback contracts, particularly in the final two years of the deal. With a veteran team facing a brutal early season schedule, Fitzpatrick still remains the best man for the job. Time for Maccagnan and Fitzpatrick to meet somewhere in the middle and get this thing done.