FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The marching orders came from above, and the directive was clear. The solution to addressing the conspicuous absence of Ryan Fitzpatrick was to avoid it altogether.
“All questions about Ryan are for coach [Todd] Bowles,” Jets running back Matt Forte told reporters Wednesday. “They told me to tell y’all that.”
Though he wouldn’t divulge who “they” were, it was implied.
“They,” Forte said. “Everybody knows who ‘they’ are.”
On the same day the team returned to the practice facility for the start of training camp, the organization made sure its players didn’t fan the flames of ongoing speculation.
The no-show of Fitzpatrick — the quarterback the Jets have been courting unsuccessfully since March — was a reality players preferred not to acknowledge. As instructed, they maintained it was a topic better suited for members of the front office.
“I’m not speaking on Fitz right now,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “Anything on Fitz, you guys can talk to coach Bowles about it.”
But Bowles never spoke. As was the case last year, he did not hold a news conference on report day. So it was the players — five, in all — who were forced to deal with the proverbial elephant in the room that hung over interview scrums with the same heaviness of hot, humid air.
“I don’t know, man,” center Nick Mangold said. “Listen, I don’t claim to know what’s going on or have any feelings of what’s going on because I have no control over it. Hopefully, things get worked out. If they don’t, they don’t. If they do, that’s great.
“I have to worry about blocking nose tackles and linebackers. And that’s my focus. The other stuff will figure itself out. I have no control over it, so I don’t particularly worry about it.”
The center said he spoke to Fitzpatrick as recently as Tuesday, but he insisted their conversations are never about the contract negotiations. They’re about family life, he said.
“I have talked to Fitz. Do I talk football or business? No,” Mangold said, adding that “it’s not my place” to discuss contract matters with management.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Fitzpatrick would re-sign with the Jets when free agency began. But 4 1⁄2 months later, the two sides are still engaged in a standoff. The multiple contract offers from the Jets have been deemed insufficient by Fitzpatrick’s camp, including the three-year, $24-million deal that came with a total of $15 million guaranteed and $12 million in 2016.
As long as Fitzpatrick remains unsigned, the offense belongs to Geno Smith (who also was not made available Wednesday). Still, the Jets’ preference remains having Fitzpatrick under center.
So, how long is long enough for Smith to be in this limbo?
“That, you could ask somebody else,” Mangold said. “I don’t know.”