Now, the fun begins.
After more than a month off, Jets players will report to Florham Park, New Jersey, on Wednesday for the start of training camp. They’ll look to build off their 2015 success by taking a big leap forward in Year 2 of the Todd Bowles era. If all goes according to the coach’s plan, the Jets will be more than just a contender in the AFC East. They’ll finally be a playoff team again.
But before they can focus on their future, they must address the present — and, more pointedly, the glaring absence in their locker room. The franchise’s quarterback of choice, Ryan Fitzpatrick, still remains unsigned after more than 4 1⁄2 months of negotiations.
Although both sides expressed a desire to reunite, the sticking point remains how the team and Fitzpatrick view his value. The Jets have had multiple contract offers on the table for several months, but Fitzpatrick and agent Jimmy Sexton have yet to accept one. In March, the team offered a three-year, $24-million deal that included a maximum value of $36 million and $15 million guaranteed. Fitzpatrick, who turns 34 in November, would stand to earn a guaranteed $12 million in 2016.
But those figures — and the start of camp — haven’t been enough to entice him to sign on the dotted line. With no clear end to the Fitz saga in sight, his absence will hover over the team.
There’s plenty of buzz surrounding the Jets after their marked improvement in 2015. Bowles transformed the 4-12 team he inherited into a 10-6 club that fell just short of its first postseason berth in five seasons. Additions Matt Forte, Ryan Clady and Steve McLendon are eager to build on what Bowles started. Plus, rookies Darron Lee, Christian Hackenberg and Jordan Jenkins have fans excited for the future.
But the most important position on the field has yet be resolved. Geno Smith, a second-round pick in 2013, is penciled in as their No. 1 quarterback, just as he was during OTAs and minicamp. “Time to lock in! #year4,” Smith tweeted Tuesday.
Smith will get his chance to shine this summer. For now, it’s his team, but it remains to be seen how long he’ll be able to hold the reins of the offense.
The stalled negotiations haven’t soured Fitzpatrick’s relationship with the franchise, which has not put a drop-dead deadline on his return. Nor has it affected his relationships with teammates.
Receiver Brandon Marshall said a few weeks ago that Fitzpatrick had stopped returning his text messages, but the pair recently reconnected in Chicago. Marshall, who caught 14 of Fitzpatrick’s franchise-record 31 touchdowns last season, posted a photo of him to Instagram on Monday. It showed Fitpatrick, two of his children and Marshall standing on a balcony, with downtown Chicago behind them.
“My boy and his boys stopped in #chicago to say hello,” Marshall wrote.