FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Less than 24 hours after their storybook season imploded, Jets players pounded the table for the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Said guard Willie Colon, “I think he’s definitely our quarterback for the future.”
Fitzpatrick, 33, helped guide the Jets’ new-look offense, providing leadership, grit and savvy. But on Sunday — against Rex Ryan’s Bills, no less — he helped sink their playoff hopes with three fourth-quarter interceptions.
Had they won, the Jets (10-6) would be prepping for the postseason. Instead, they spoke Monday of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential while stuffing their belongings into garbage bags at their practice facility.
Coach Todd Bowles insisted that Fitzpatrick’s subpar performance against the Bills shouldn’t “tarnish” his on-field success this season. He’d like to have Fitzpatrick back as his starter in 2016.
“Obviously, it’s pretty high,” Bowles said of the importance of re-signing Fitzpatrick, who threw for 3,905 yards — second in franchise history behind Joe Namath (4,007 in 1967) — with 31 touchdown passes (a franchise record) and 15 interceptions. “He’s a quarterback and he’s had a great year for us. So we want him back.”
The question now is: At what price?
The Jets assumed Fitzpatrick’s contract when the Texans traded him for a sixth-round draft pick in March. He earned $3.25 million in the final year of his deal.
After breaking Vinny Testaverde’s Jets record for TD passes in a season and leading the team to the brink of its first postseason berth in five years, the 11-year veteran is sure to get a lot of offseason interest. But Fitzpatrick, now on his sixth team, wants to stay in green and white.
“I try to let my agent handle a lot of that stuff, but this is obviously a place that I want to be, a place that I’m comfortable with,” said Fitzpatrick, whose poor play in Sunday’s 22-17 loss put a damper on the best season of his career. He had a 106.5 rating, 13 touchdown passes and only one interception during a five-game winning streak that began in Week 12.
“I don’t really want to live with the hypotheticals, but I had a lot of fun this year,’’ he said. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in a season with the guys in this locker room, with the run we had there in December, so hopefully I can be back and we can continue to build on that.”
Bowles said he’s also high on Geno Smith, who lost his starting job to Fitzpatrick when then- teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali broke his jaw in a locker-room altercation Aug. 11.
“I like Geno Smith as a quarterback and a person as well,” Bowles said.
Smith, a three-year veteran, expressed confidence that he still has a shot at playing next season. “If you’re saying I don’t have an opportunity here, I don’t believe that,” he told reporters. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
But it’s clear Fitzpatrick is the starting quarterback the Jets want for next season.
“Without a doubt,” said Colon, who spent most of the season on injured reserve. “I don’t think yesterday’s performance, Fitz should be judged by that. I think what he’s been able to do this year, especially in the fourth quarter, how many people respect him in this locker room and the leadership he brings. Hell, yeah. Get Fitz back, for sure.”
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall said “it’s really important” to re-sign Fitzpatrick, adding: “He earned everything that he’s going to get, as far as from respect to contract. Whatever it is, the minimum salary or $100 million, he’ll deserve every bit of it.”
Fitzpatrick’s asking price could be a sticking point during negotiations, but Marshall is pretty confident that he’ll be catching TD passes from him next season.
“Oh, no doubt,” Marshall said. “I mean, he’s definitely coming back. He’ll be back.”