The Ryan Fitzpatrick contract standoff has been one of the big stories of the offseason. Just weeks before the start of training camp, the quarterback who started all 16 games for the Jets a year ago remains unsigned. We are nearing a resolution one way or another.
I wanted to take some time to look at the situation and really break it down. There are a number of assumptions people (even those in the press) have made. Some are accurate. Some aren't. Let's dive in.
Are the Jets offering Fitzpatrick backup quarterback money? No and yes.
One frequent comment I hear is that the Jets are offering Fitzpatrick backup quarterback money. Is it true? Well, it isn't black and white. I have to start off by noting that we can only go on what has been reported. The latest report I have seen that had specifics on the deal the Jets offered Fitzpatrick had the following parameters.
A source familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday that the Jets made a three-year offer to Fitzpatrick in March that included $12 million in the first year. It was unclear, however, what the rest of the deal - which has been on the table since - was worth over the final two years.
Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that the Jets' full offer is worth a total of $24 million - with $6 million in each of the final two years.
Based on the structure of this offer and the Jets' current quarterback situation, I think you almost have to look at this like it is two separate contracts, the $12 million for the first year and the $6 million a piece in years two and three.
Todd Bowles has already stated that Fitzpatrick would be the starting quarterback if he signs. For 2016, his salary would be $12 million. Is that backup money? Simply put, no it is not. It is starter money. You can see here. There isn't a backup quarterback in the NFL who will make $12 million in 2016. The only guy who even comes close who could be a backup is Nick Foles at an $8.75 million cap number. Even that one is on shaky ground, though, since the Rams viewed Foles as their starter at the time they signed him to that contract. Chase Daniel at $5 million would be the most expensive quarterback signed specifically on a deal to be a backup. The Jets are offering Fitzpatrick a deal to be a starter in 2016.
What about after that? The offer does drop to $6 million annually after the first year. That is much closer to backup range, albeit high-end, expensive backup range. Why is this? The Jets probably would like to keep Fitzpatrick around as a backup. They have two young quarterbacks on their roster in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Neither of these guys is projected to see the field in 2016, but the Jets surely hope they are ready to play by 2017 rolls around. In that event, having an experienced, quality backup like Fitzpatrick would be a nice luxury.
While Fitzpatrick signing a one year deal at $12 million per year seems plausible, perhaps even likely, the three year deal the Jets are offering him wouldn't make much sense for him to take. Even if Fitzpatrick regresses and is benched, he'd likely be looking at a similar high-end backup contract from somebody after the season. If he has another good season, however, the Jets or some other team would probably give him more than the $6 million for 2017 the Jets are currently offering.
Why won't Fitzpatrick take a middle class deal? There is no middle class for quarterbacks.
One of the incredible things about the quarterback market is the donut hole in the current salary structure at the position. What do I mean? The Jets are reportedly offering Fitzpatrick $12 million to be their starter in 2016. Such a deal just doesn't exist in today's market.
Quarterbacks Making Over $16 Million Per Year
Quarterbacks Making Between $7.5 Million and $16 Million
Quarterbacks Making Between $1.6 Million and $7.5 Million
|Robert Griffin III||Browns||$7,500,000|
The Jets are offering Fitzpatrick a deal where there are almost no players making a similar salary for a point of comparison. For his part, Fitzpatrick seems to want a deal near the top end with some of the successful (and not so successful overpaid) quarterbacks. The Jets don't feel he's worth that but seem to be offering him a bonus based on his track record of success in this system in 2015.
Can the Jets Let Fitzpatrick Go and Use the Savings to Re-Sign Muhammad Wilkerson? Not in Any Practical Sense.
I have seen a few writers in the media suggest the Jets should move on from Fitzpatrick and use the money to lock up Wilkerson. Any such writer doesn't really understand the team's cap situation much. Wilkerson already counts $15 million on the books for 2016. Any long-term extension likely would reduce Wilkerson's cap hit. A Wilkerson extension almost assuredly pays for itself in 2016 through this cap reduction. The Jets have enough cap flexibility to pay Wilkerson in 2017 and beyond if they so choose with or without Fitzpatrick.
If anything, Wilkerson working out deal would impact Fitzpatrick negotiations more than Fitzpatrick signing would impact Wilkerson. By lowering Wilkerson's cap hit, the Jets would have more room to fit Fitzpatrick into their salary structure.
Have the Jets Handled the Fitzpatrick Situation Correctly? Probably.
Fitzpatrick did have a good year for the Jets in 2015, but there is a reason the Jets were his fourth team in four years. This is not a franchise quarterback. It is a credible journeyman, not the type of guy to whom you hand the keys to the franchise. The last team to commit to him on something resembling a top end deal was the Buffalo Bills, and they lived to regret the contract.
Have the Jets Handled Their Quarterback Position Correctly? We don't know.
At this point, Mike Maccagnan has either handled the quarterback situation expertly, or he has totally botched it. There is no in between.
I doubt many people would want to pay Fitzpatrick over $16 million per year. With that said, there were other options available earlier in the offseason for a credible veteran quarterback. If Fitzpatrick does not return to the Jets, Maccagnan misread the situation and passed on those options.
It frankly would be an unfathomable failure for the Jets to enter training camp with Geno Smith, a quarterback who has only known failure in the NFL, as the only viable starting option. At the very least, the Jets needed to enter camp with some sort of viable competition for the quarterback job. Not landing Fitzpatrick would show that Maccagnan should have cut the cord sooner and gone in another direction. Remember, the Jets squeezed a good season out of a cheap journeyman last year. At some point, you have to conclude that you can do it again.
On the other hand, if Fitzpatrick finally folds his cards and takes the offer the Jets made months ago, Maccagnan comes out looking very good. He read the situation properly and didn't bid against himself out of panic, despite many in the media calling for him to do so.