Like many sports debates…or debates in general, there isn’t much of a middle ground when it comes to discussing the New York Jets quarterback position in 2016. It is hard to cut through the noise and find a rational overview of their situation. Yet, there is a reasonable chance the depth chart will replicate the one they rolled out last season. Is this a good thing or should there be a shake up behind center next season? Fortunately, it is possible to put away the #takes when attempting to answer…
When discussing 2015 starter and current free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, one side of the debate goes something like this: Fitzpatrick had the greatest season in Jets franchise history, he is the unquestioned leader of the team, isn’t to blame at all for them missing the playoffs and was the victim of too many dropped passes. He overcame a mediocre offensive line and showed that he could be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL with this team, in this system. There should be no hesitation for the Jets committing to him going forward until he bridges the gap to Bryce Petty who is the inevitable future starter.The other side of the debate is Fitzpatrick was propped up by two great receivers and was too inconsistent last season. He choked in a big spot, played to his absolute ceiling and still didn’t do enough for the Jets to reach the playoffs. There will be no notable improvements to his game at this stage of his career, where he still remains erratic and turnover prone. He was fortunate to get away with a high number of dropped interceptions in 2015 and that luck won’t continue next season against a better slate of projected defenses. The Jets are far from answering the quarterback situation in both the short and long term…and should act accordingly this off-season.
As is usually the case, there are kernels of truth in both sides. If you parse it out, a few things should be apparent:
- Fitzpatrick was very productive last season but people need to calm down with the “greatest season in franchise history” hyperbole. Fitzpatrick breaking a few single season passing records speaks more to the Jets history and current state of the NFL than his talent level.
- He struggled with accuracy down the stretch and did play poorly in a de facto playoff game in week 17. However, his effectiveness in the red-zone compensated for other inconsistencies and he played well the week before in week 16, in what was also basically a playoff game.
- Fitzpatrick’s quick release, pocket awareness and scrambling ability did help overcome a mediocre offensive line. He was also propped up and regularly bailed out by two great wide receivers.
- It is fair to assume his interception total will increase next year based on his previous track record and the number of dropped interceptions we saw against the Jets last season.
The biggest reality to accept though is that Fitzpatrick is going to be back next season as the starting quarterback. There isn’t an appealing free agent market. There isn’t an appealing trade market. There is unlikely to be an appealing option with the 20th pick in the NFL Draft. The Jets don’t have to break the bank for Fitzpatrick because the rest of the league knows who he is and won’t blow away any reasonable Jets offer. It makes sense for both sides for him to come back on a deal that has the appearance of a 2 or 3 year commitment but pays out the bulk of the money in year one. It is basically a formality at this point that they will re-sign him before the league year opens.
As for the rest of the depth chart, unless the draft board breaks a certain way in the early rounds, it isn’t crazy to think Geno Smith will be back as the backup quarterback. He is dirt cheap. He knows the system. The current staff made him their starter last season for a reason until IK happened. He represented himself well around the building in the backup role last season and is 25 years old (7 months older than Bryce Petty). If a more intriguing quarterback in his 20s becomes available at a cheap price, maybe the Jets would pivot then but Geno could very well be back next season.Bryce Petty was a fourth round pick for a reason. The organization is hoping one day he could develop into a starter but that is far from a given at this point. Right now, he needs to prove he is ready to be a backup quarterback, which he didn’t last season. Again, if the board breaks a certain way and the right quarterback is available at #20, the Jets wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger because of Smith or Petty. It is still more likely at this point he will be the long term backup rather than the long term starter.
So despite Colin Kaepernick’s agent posturing, Johnny Manziel insanity and a good deal of excitement over prospects like Jared Goff or Carson Wentz, it could very well be Fitzpatrick, Geno and Petty again next season. Will Fitzpatrick regress? Maybe but if he does, hopefully the supporting cast can pick him up or one of the young quarterbacks is ready to come off the bench.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com