The New York Jets will jeopardize their season if they don’t re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick because, quite simply, he’s better than Geno Smith. That said, there comes a point where they have to commit or get off the pot. They can’t allow the contract dispute to stretch through the entire preseason. It wouldn’t be fair to the team or Smith.
If a deal isn’t struck by Wednesday, when the Jets report to training camp, there’s a chance the stalemate will continue into the preseason. Remember this date: Aug. 13. That’s two days after the first game. It’s also the key pressure point.
That day, the Jets return to the field for the first of four practices before the second game on Aug. 19. If Fitzpatrick misses the first and second game, he’d be too far behind to reclaim the starting job. At that point, coach Todd Bowles would have little choice but to hand the keys to the car to Smith. If not, he would be making a mockery of a meritocracy.
Fitzpatrick can afford to miss the opener, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, because the starters usually play only a quarter. In fact, he played only one series in the 2015 preseason opener, two days after being thrust into the starting job because of Smith’s broken jaw from that infamous sucker punch. Obviously, it didn’t affect his regular-season performance, as Fitzpatrick threw for a team-record 31 touchdowns.
But if Fitzpatrick is golfing or coaching Little League instead of playing quarterback for the Jets on Aug. 19, when they visit the Washington Redskins … well, that’s a different story. It would be too late. He wouldn’t have enough practice time or game reps to be fully prepared for the Sept. 11 opener, especially after an idle offseason.
Could he return later in the preseason as Smith’s backup? That seems unlikely, considering the financial implications a backup-type deal would carry.
Another factor that affects the timeline is the backup position. If they can’t come to terms with Fitzpatrick, the Jets almost certainly would have to add an experienced No. 2 to the depth chart, because neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg is ready for that role. Coach Todd Bowles acknowledged last month that they’d consider a veteran in that scenario. The new guy would need at least a few weeks to get acclimated.
There has been some talk about the Jets waiting to evaluate Smith in the first preseason game before making a final call on Fitzpatrick; that would be foolish. Nothing Smith does facing vanilla coverages in a meaningless game should impact the team’s decision-making. The Jets know what Smith is; they know what Fitzpatrick is. If they’re basing a potentially season-altering decision on one quarter of preseason play, good or bad, shame on them.
Fitzpatrick gives the Jets a better chance to win in 2016 than Smith does. Team officials have tacitly acknowledged as much by keeping the light on for Fitzpatrick during this bizarre, six-month staredown. General manager Mike Maccagnan, who drafts by the best-player-available credo, should employ that same philosophy in this situation. If he loses Fitzpatrick over a few million, it sends a bad message to the fan base, not to mention the locker room.
Evidently, Fitzpatrick hasn’t received any offers better than the Jets’ proposal, so give them credit for accurately reading the quarterback market. But what good is that if they don’t land the player? They should add a little sweetener to the three-year, $24 million offer, a face-saving gesture that would allow Fitzpatrick to return to his locker room without feeling like he got beat up at the bargaining table. Make it three years, $30 million or two years, $20 million, in each case adding more guaranteed money in the second year.
At the same time, Fitzpatrick has to be reasonable. At 33, he’s not a $15 million-a-year quarterback and he must recognize this is the only place where he can be a starting quarterback right now. It’s the ideal situation: the right coordinator, the right system and the right teammates.
It makes too much sense not to happen, but time is running out. There has to be a deadline, because the wait eventually will turn into a weight on the team.