Ryan Fitzpatrick officially is a free agent. Again.
The contract the quarterback signed with the Jets last July was voided Friday, making him eligible to hit the free-agent market March 9.
Fitzpatrick, who turned 34 in November, technically signed a two-year contract after a five-month holdout last offseason. But the deal contained language that allowed the Jets to void the deal five days after Super Bowl LI, essentially making it a one-year, $12-million contract.
As part of his deal, Fitzpatrick’s $10-million signing bonus was spread over two years. As a result, he’ll count for $5 million in “dead money” against the salary cap.
He followed up a career year in 2015 (a 10-6 record, 3,905 passing yards, a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes) with the worst season of his 12-year career, one in which he was benched twice. He threw 12 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, completed 56.6 percent of his passes and was 3-8 as a starter during the Jets’ 5-11 season.
Fitzpatrick was benched for Geno Smith on Oct. 19 after the Jets got off to a 1-5 start, then regained his job after Smith suffered a torn ACL four days later against the Ravens. Fitzpatrick then was replaced by Bryce Petty at halftime of a Monday night blowout loss to the Colts on Dec. 5. He started the team’s season finale Jan. 1 after Petty suffered a shoulder injury a week earlier.
“It was a season I came in with high expectations,” Fitzpatrick told reporters Jan. 1. “I didn’t meet my own expectations or anyone else’s, probably. But mine are probably higher than everybody else’s. So there’s some disappointment there. But that’s just the way it went.”
The Jets were the sixth team for Fitzpatrick, who was a seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2005, and he seemed to find the perfect home with them. Working with playmakers such as Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, Fitzpatrick flourished in Chan Gailey’s new-look offense in 2015.
He entered training camp as Smith’s backup but took over when Smith’s jaw was broken by then-teammate IK Enemkpali in an August locker room incident. Fitzpatrick remained the starter even after Smith’s jaw healed, and the offense clicked down the stretch during a five-game winning streak.
But with a playoff berth on the line, the Jets’ storybook season crashed and burned in Week 17 when Fitzpatrick threw three fourth-quarter interceptions against the Bills in Buffalo.
But that poor performance didn’t sour the Jets’ front office. Instead, coach Todd Bowles, general manager Mike Maccagnan and owner Woody Johnson all voiced their desire to bring back Fitzpatrick. Contract negotiations dragged on for months as Fitzpatrick and his agent sought as much as $18 million a year while the Jets aimed for a much smaller contract.
Rather than accept the team’s three-year offer, which included more guaranteed money ($15 million) but considerably less in the second and third seasons ($8 million), Fitzpatrick (46-69-1 as a starter in 12 seasons) instead signed what amounted to a one-year, $12-million deal.
“How could I look myself in the mirror every morning and say: ‘Yeah, I’ll try to play good this year and then next year I’ll just collect some checks and teach the young guys’? That’s not who I am, it’s not in my nature,” he said July 28, the day after he agreed to return to the team.