FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The most drawn out, least suspenseful contract dispute in recent NFL history is finally over. Ryan Fitzpatrick is back with the New York Jets, just like everybody expected back in February.
The initial takeaway: Fitzpatrick gets what he wanted, and the Jets get their quarterback. If you’re looking to declare a winner, give a slight edge to Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick agreed to a one-year contract for a fully guaranteed $12 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. He can earn an additional $3 million with team incentives, but it’ll take a deep playoff run for him to see any of that money. It’ll be tough, but he can make a total of $15 million, which is what he wanted at the outset of this long and crazy staring contest.
The Jets had been opposed to a one-year contract (hence, the three-year, $24 million offer), but a couple realities hit them hard: Training camp begins Thursday, and Geno Smith would’ve been under center. No matter how much they talked up Smith’s performance in the spring, the Jets never wanted him to be their starter. They would’ve told The Beard to take a hike if they felt Smith were anywhere close to Fitzpatrick.
Basically, they sliced off the second and third years of their initial proposal, which contained $12 million in the first year. In exchange, Fitzpatrick surrendered $4 million of the $16 million guarantee that was included in the offer that had collected dust. There is the compromise. This wasn’t a total cave by the Jets.
There was quiet confidence at One Jets Drive that a deal would get done. In fact, members of the football staff were given strong indications in recent weeks that Fitzpatrick would be back. And so he is.
Obviously, it’s the right move for the Jets, who need Fitzpatrick to compete for a playoff spot with a win-now roster. They tried to squeeze him into taking a three-year deal for backup money, but Fitzpatrick — despite having no other suitors — wasn’t budging. He played it brilliantly, using his teammates to do his negotiating in the media and landing a good contract with no market. The Jets were bidding against the Jets, but they increased their offer from $9 million to $12 million on Wednesday and gave Fitzpatrick a 7 p.m. deadline.
Take it or leave it. Of course, he took it. Who wouldn’t? It’s almost a 400 percent raise from last year’s salary.
Fitzpatrick will collect $12 million for 2016, and if he maintains his starting job for the year, he’ll have another trip to the bargaining table next offseason. If he gets his team to the playoffs, he’ll have some real leverage. It’s a win-win for the man with the Harvard education.
The Jets got antsy. After five straight years of missing the playoffs, owner Woody Johnson wasn’t about to entrust his team to Smith. Perhaps the boss exerted some pressure on general manager Mike Maccagnan, who coughed up a few extra million on the eve of the first practice — just as he coughed up the money to sign Muhammad Wilkerson at the franchise-tag deadline.
Yes, the Jets are all-in for 2016, as they should be. This isn’t a rebuilding situation; it’s a veteran team with championship-starved players such as Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, David Harris … and the list goes on. The Jets will have to rework other contracts to absorb Fitzpatrick’s $12 million cap hit, as they began the day with $9.1 million in cap space. The Wilkerson contract created added flexibility, with $5.7 million in cap space. That allowed them to do the one-year deal.
This will make the locker room happy, especially Marshall and Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick’s receivers. There might have been a revolt if the Jets had blown the negotiations. What happened Wednesday was laughable. Team brass instructed players to not discuss Fitzpatrick’s situation, treating some of their most respected players like children.
It’s over now. Fitzpatrick is back, and the Jets have zero excuses this season. Everybody is happy.
Well, everybody except Geno Smith.