Insiders

NFL AM: When Will One Side Budge in the Jets/Fitzpatrick Saga?

on

As the calendar gets ready to turn to June, and we inch closer to the start of Training Camp 2016, one potential playoff team and their veteran quarterback of a year ago remain at an impasse.

The New York Jets and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick are still reportedly far apart in talks of a contract to have the 11-year veteran return for a second season in New York. But while Fitzpatrick and his camp have maintained that the Jets have been lowballing him on an offer, news broke Friday that was somewhat contrary to their side of the story.

A report from the New York Post, which was later confirmed by several other league insiders, indicated that New York has offered Fitzpatrick a three-year contract in the neighborhood of $36 million with $12 million guaranteed in the first season. For months, we were led to believe that Fitzpatrick, who made $3.5 million as Jets starter last season, was holding an offer in the $5-8 million range.

This latest revelation would seem to indicate that it’s not the Jets who are being cheap, but it is Fitzpatrick who is being delusional.

The ivy-league signal-caller enjoyed arguably the finest season of his career with the Jets in 2015, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for a career-high 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. But he was far from flawless and his erratic play down the stretch, particularly in the final game of the year with a playoff berth on the line, when he was picked off three times in a 22-17 loss to Buffalo, had many in New York hopeful that the Jets would move on.

But, at this point, that doesn’t seem to be a valid option for New York. Their current lot of quarterbacks, which includes 2013 second round pick Geno Smith, 2015 fourth round pick Bryce Petty and 2016 second round pick Christian Hackenberg, leaves much to be desired. Between them, those three players have 29 NFL starts, all by Smith, who went 11-18 with them and seemed to somehow get worse from his first year to his second. Smith’s inability to lead the team is why the Jets turned to Fitzpatrick in the first place last offseason, and nothing has changed in that regard.

Furthermore, a team with playoff aspirations like New York has certainly isn’t turning the keys over to a project like Petty or an unproven commodity like Hackenberg from the start of the season. So bringing back Fitzpatrick appears to be by far the most logical option. Jets head coach Todd Bowles recently spoke on the Fitzpatrick situation, a cloud that has been hanging over his team during OTA.

“You’re hopeful, I don’t know about confident,” Bowles said Wednesday. “A lot of things can happen in football. Nothing surprises you, but they’re working on it and hopefully things work out.”

Still, despite New York’s clear need to bring Fitzpatrick back, it’s hard to judge them for not budging on what seems to be a pretty reasonable offer of a nearly 400 percent raise. Sure, that $12 million figure for 2016 would still put land veteran about 22nd in the league, in terms of earnings for the season for a quarterback, and he’d only be that high because of the volume of current starters on rookie contracts. But isn’t that about where Fitzpatrick belongs at this point?

As good as his season was last year, a lot of that had to do with his supporting cast in wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and it isn’t as if teams have been knocking down his door this offseason. Heck, the defending Super Bowl Champions were in desperate need for a quarterback and barely even approached him, choosing instead to trade for former Jet Mark Sanchez and add an unproven rookie to their mix. That doesn’t say much about the way Fitzpatrick is regarded around the league. Nor does his status as a free agent with one suitor as the month of June begins.

Fitzpatrick could continue to hold on and see if some teams suffers a devastating injury at quarterback during workouts or training camp that may put them in need. But even if that happens, if let’s say Andrew Luck suffers a season-ending injury in the next two months and the Colts come calling, are they really going to offer Fitzpatrick more to sign than the Jets are right now. Are they going to offer him any long-term security? Of course not. Why would they?

And the holdup with the Jets isn’t likely the $12 million 2016 salary for Fitzpatrick, which is about as much guaranteed money as he’s ever gotten in one season in his career. It probably has more to do with the lack of guarantees for him on the backend of the contract. Though a “three-year offer” in name, the Jets’ proposal almost certainly doesn’t offer Fitzpatrick any long-term security because this is a short term solution to a long-term problem for New York, one they’re now hoping and praying can be resolved by Hackenberg in the near future.

Fitzpatrick signed a six-year, $59 million contract with Buffalo in 2011 that was frontloaded with guarantees and has bounced around to more teams in the years since than he did in all the years prior, due in large part to the fact that there was no long-term security in that contract and Buffalo was able to cut him with some ease after two years. He likely does not want a repeat of that situation, which would send him job hunting again next offseason. But he has almost no leverage here to squeeze any more of a commitment out of the Jets, especially when he is stating his desire to play and play for them.

“I would like to be back,” he recently told reporters at a charity golf outing. “It was probably my best season last year in terms of how much fun I had with the guys, out there every Sunday. It’s something I still really enjoy doing, it’s something I want to continue to do. “I’m playing, I’m playing football next year.”

If he wants to do that as a starter, if he wants to make eight figures and have the opportunity to prove himself a capable leader of a playoff caliber team, both for the Jets in the short term and any other potential suitor down the road, he’ll come back to the table, hammer out a contract with New York and get on the field. Because there isn’t a better option out there for him or for the team.

TRENT RICHARDSON IS STILL OUT OF SHAPE

In the least shocking news of the NFL offseason so far, reports from Baltimore have it that running back Trent Richardson, who seems to have more NFL chances than a cat has lives, is still suffering from the same issues that have plagued him throughout his career.

Most notably, he’s overweight and out of shape and he doesn’t seem to get the fact that doesn’t fly in the NFL. Richardson has been sidelined with a hamstring injury during Ravens OTA and coach John Harbaugh pulled no punches when asked about the now journeyman running back on Friday.

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh told ESPN.com. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world-class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand, and that’s where he needs to get himself.”

Baltimore signed Richardson in April with hopes that some extra time would allow the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft to get himself right for their workouts. But that faith they put in him appears to have, shockingly, been misguided.

The Ravens took on essentially no risk in adding Richardson to a crowded backfield mix that is led by Justin Forsett and also includes Javarious “Buck” Allen, who filled in well for an injured Forsett late last year, rookie Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West. For that reason it was always going to be an uphill battle for Richardson to make the roster, but he hasn’t really even given himself a chance.

“When he gets himself (in shape), he’s got talent,” Harbaugh said. “I’m very certain he’ll get there. And when he does, we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

Count us among those who aren’t optimistic as Harbaugh. If he hasn’t gotten there already, at age 26 with so many failed opportunities behind him, it’s never going to happen.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys