BOCA RATON, Fla.
Despite the fact that the Jets continue to be at a stalemate in negotiations with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, there was no sense of urgency in Woody Johnson’s voice or body language.
He said he’s optimistic that a deal can be struck, said if he had a message for Fitzpatrick, it would be “come back to the Jets,” and insisted he’s not frustrated with the seemingly slow pace of contract talks.
But Johnson did bring up an interesting point during an informal gathering with a handful of reporters at the NFL’s spring meetings, and he seemed to suggest that Fitzpatrick might not be the missing piece to the Jets’ quest to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
When it was mentioned to him that a team needs a capable quarterback to achieve that goal, Johnson remarked, “Yeah, although Denver won [Super Bowl 50 last month]. How did they win last year at the end? Good ‘D’, baby. How’d that Von Miller do? How’d you like a guy like that?”
Make no mistake. Johnson wants Fitzpatrick back, especially after the 33-year-old quarterback enjoyed a career year last season with 31 touchdown passes and nearly 4,000 passing yards. But the owner has his limits as far as how much money and how many years he’s willing to commit to Fitzpatrick, and if the quarterback is unwilling to come off his demands in a significant way, then Johnson appears willing to consider other alternatives.
That might mean Geno Smith, who would have been the starter last season if IK Enemkpali had not punched him out in August. Or Bryce Petty, who enters his second season. Or perhaps former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who met with the Jets earlier this month but wasn’t offered a contract.
Johnson is right to hold the line on Fitzpatrick’s contract requests, which at one point were reported to be as high as $18 million per season. Last year, Fitzpatrick made $3.5 million.
There should come a day when there is a compromise number both sides can agree to, but that day and that number might not come anytime soon.
In fact, Johnson raised the possibility that this could go on for quite some time, perhaps even the entire offseason. That means general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles might have to keep all options open for a prolonged period of time.
“One of the things that Mike and Todd will have to weigh is the timeline,” Johnson said. “Do they have a timeline where they’re willing to let it slip? Do they have alternatives?”
What’s the last possible moment an agreement could be reached? “Before the season,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how much offseason he needs.”
Which brings us back to the fact that the Broncos scored a resounding win over the Panthers thanks to a smothering defense that completely dominated league MVP Cam Newton. The Jets aren’t quite in the same league as Denver’s defense, which features Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and several other big-time players. But even with Fitzpatrick, the Jets’ defense is the strength of the team.
That’s not saying the Jets would be better off without Fitzpatrick, given his capable leadership and the improved play he showed last season. But if they go anywhere, it will happen because of what Bowles’ defense does.
It was the same for Denver, which somehow squeezed one final season out of an aging Peyton Manning. Manning — and Brock Osweiler during Manning’s injury-related absence — were asked not to mess it up, and the defense essentially won games by dominating the field-position battle and overpowering the opposition. It’s an old-school formula, but it won a championship for the Broncos.
The Jets aren’t there just yet, but with an impact player or two in this year’s draft and some more good work from Bowles in calling the defense, they are more than capable of dominating that side of the ball.
And so the wait continues, as Johnson’s Jets and Fitzpatrick stare each other down before one side finally blinks. Fitzpatrick doesn’t want to be the first, nor does Johnson, who is within reason to not break the bank to re-sign him at an inflated price. Especially when no other teams are clamoring to sign Fitzpatrick.
For now, it’s a one-team race, and Johnson doesn’t want to negotiate against himself. Which makes sense, especially with the Jets nowhere close to needing a final resolution of their quarterback situation.