New York Jets Five Difficult Decisions: Ryan Fitzpatrick Edition

David Aitken on the top five decisions the New York Jets have to make this off-season, starting with how to handle free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Mike Maccagnan’s rookie season as New York Jets general manager was such a slam dunk we should be calling him Macgenius. No general manager in 2015 was able to navigate free agency, the trade market and the draft to come away with a better crop of players and it led to a win improvement margin bested only by the Carolina Panthers and the Jets’ first winning season since 2010. Of course, he was left an incredibly healthy cap situation by his predecessor and a roster so barren of talent he had little to worry about in terms of re-signings. The 2016 offseason offers a new set of challenges: less cap space, players to retain, and more needs to fill. Here is the first of a series of five difficult decisions that await the Jets this offseason, and the arguments for both.

Should the Jets retain Ryan Fitzpatrick?

On the surface this is obvious – why shouldn’t the Jets bring Ryan Fitzpatrick back? He broke the team’s franchise touchdown passes record in what was basically 15 games, has clear chemistry with the team’s two best offensive players, and is easily the best fit to plug in Chan Gailey’s scheme for immediate results than any other option out there. This is less a simple question of yes or no, and more a question of at how much.

The Jets will undoubtedly have to pay more for Ryan Fitzpatrick than he had been on currently, which was 3.25 million for one season. That was good business for the Jets, even as backup quarterbacks go – Kyle Orton signed a one year deal for up to 5 million coming off the couch in 2014 and Matt Cassel’s deal in Minnesota in 2014 averaged a little over 5 million over two seasons. Giving Fitzpatrick a deal that’s a nice bump from such rates shouldn’t be a problem and seems logical for both sides. Having played for his fourth franchise in as many years and winning more games in one season than he ever has, the situation here is the jackpot for Fitzpatrick. It’s easy to see him wanting to be here as much as the Jets would want him back.

In terms of contract leverage, Fitzpatrick may not even be the highest paid quarterback on the market. Even as far as the skimpy quarterback market goes, Fitzpatrick will be competing with Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Robert Griffin III and maybe even Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel. These are players that didn’t have as good seasons (sans Cousins, all but set for the franchise tag), but have youth on their sides and who have appeal to a franchise as reclamation projects. Compare that to Fitzpatrick who has eleven seasons defining who he is, and a bitter end to the season that acted for some as a reminder that he still has that player in him.

What if Fitzpatrick gets offered a big deal elsewhere and decides to play hardball? It only takes one team, and there are a number of franchises with a lot of cap space that could view him as a useful stopgap while grooming a talented prospect on the bench: the Rams, Browns and 49ers for instance. As much sense as it makes to bring him back and continue building around him in lieu of a definitively better option, it doesn’t make sense if the Jets are paying well above the going rate and are unable to make upgrades elsewhere because of it. Fitzpatrick is still the same player he has been for several seasons, it is the coming together of several factors (several years experience in the offense, an excellent receiver pair, and a formidable defense) that have led to his unprecedented production. Most importantly, he is not this team’s long term answer, so the Jets cannot afford to be caught up in a deal that commits to him as such. If Fitzpatrick becomes the prized quarterback on the market, taking a chance on a reclamation project like Griffin or Bradford is probably the more worthwhile risk than putting too many eggs in the Fitz basket. Ultimately, it’s about not paying too much and avoiding a contract that locks the Jets into Fitzpatrick for too many seasons.

Prediction: Fitzpatrick signs a deal over three seasons around 9-10 million annually. Most of the guaranteed money comes in year one with a backloaded year three.

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