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NY Jets: The Unicorn

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Is Ryan Fitzpatrick a mythical creature?

Ryan Fitzpatrick shouldn't exist.  He isn't theoretically possible.  A player like this should only reside in the imagination.  He is a hypothetical in search of an argument.  He is a mythical creature, a unicorn.

What do I mean by this?  Simply this: Fitzpatrick has been more mediocre, more meh, more just slightly below average as a starter longer than any other quarterback in post-merger NFL history.

In the NFL, as a quarterback, you generally have just a few years to establish hope that you can be an above average quarterback before teams decide to pull the plug and move on.  If you are fortunate enough to be a high draft pick that window stays open a bit longer, and maybe more than one team is willing to give you an opportunity to prove yourself. If you are a low round pick or an undrafted free agent, that window is barely open a crack, and you have to force it open with excellent play or it generally shuts and locks quickly and permanently. The vast majority never get a starting opportunity at all.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was a 7th round draft pick.  By all NFL precedent and tradition he should not still be here today.  Seventh round picks do not get opportunities to start.  If they defy the odds and get an opportunity, they need to quickly establish their bona fides as an above average NFL quarterback or they are quickly banished to the bench and, if they are lucky, a long career as a journeyman backup.  Ryan Fitzpatrick never established himself as an above average NFL starter.  He has made a career of mediocrity.  He hasn't been bad.  He hasn't been good.  He has consistently been mediocre, hovering just under the NFL average mark for years.  It has been an almost uniformly mediocre career, yet he has managed to string together seven consecutive seasons as an NFL starter.  This isn't supposed to happen.  Ryan Fitzpatrick shouldn't exist.

Consider the following chart.  It shows all of the post-merger NFL quarterbacks who have passed for 15,000 or more yards and whose careers most resemble Ryan Fitzpatrick's.  For purposes of this chart Seasons As Starter includes only those seasons in which a quarterback started a majority of games. Seasons As Average+ NFL Starter equals the number of seasons a quarterback was a starter and posted a passer rating equal to or better than the NFL average. For obvious reasons Hall Of Fame quarterbacks have been omitted.  Also omitted are any quarterbacks with multiple seasons in which they exceeded the NFL average passer rating by substantially more than Fitzpatrick did in his best season of 2014.  I considered any such quarterbacks clearly better than Fitzpatrick, thus not appropriate in a chart of comparable quarterbacks.  What remains are 17 quarterbacks who played primarily in the post merger era.  Each of these quarterbacks passed for at least 15,000 yards, an arbitrary cutoff that signifies significant time as a starter.  Even after leaving out the obviously superior quarterbacks as noted above, most of the quarterbacks in the chart have had arguably superior careers to Fitzpatrick.  One or two, like Tony Banks, are clearly worse.  A few more, like Richard Todd, Trent Dilfer, Gus Frerotte, Jay Schroeder, Kyle Orton and Matt Cassell, are roughly equivalent.  The rest are arguably superior to Fitzpatrick, although not overwhelmingly so.

QB

Seasons

As

Starter

Seasons

As Average+

NFL

Starter

Career

Yards

Age Last

Season As

Starter

.

Jim Plunkett

9

5

25882

36

Jeff Blake

8

5

21711

33

Dan Pastorini

8

3

18515

30

Ryan Fitzpatrick

7

1

23178

?

Tommy Kramer

7

3

24777

31

Michael Vick

7

3

22464

32

Richard Todd

7

2

20610

31

Doug Williams

6

2

16998

33

Trent Dilfer

6

1

20518

33

Jay Schroeder

6

1

20063

31

Tony Banks

5

1

15315

28

Stan Humphries

5

3

17191

31

Kyle Orton

5

2

18037

32

Aaron Brooks

5

2

20261

29

Gus Frerotte

5

1

21291

37

Jason Campbell

4

3

16771

29

Matt Cassell

4

2

17003

29

The mythological qualities of Fitzpatrick are evident in the chart.  No quarterback in post-merger NFL history (for convenience we'll just call this History) has ever started more than 6 seasons with less than two of those seasons playing at an average or above passer rating, except Ryan Fitzpatrick.  No quarterback in History has ever passed for more than 22,000 yards with less than two of those seasons playing at an average or above passer rating, except Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Only one quarterback in History has ever started past his age 33 year with less than two of those seasons playing at an average or above passer rating.  If Fitzpatrick starts in 2016 and is his usual mediocre self, he will be the second.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has started well past the usual expiration date without giving anyone reason to hope for anything beyond mediocrity.  He is in many ways unique in NFL history.  He really shouldn't exist. Yet stubbornly, he does exist. He is a unicorn, a creature that should be confined to the hazy outreaches of mythology.  It is perhaps not surprising that the Jets do not seem to know quite how to reel him in in their ongoing contract negotiations.  After all, GM Mike Maccagnan has likely never seen a unicorn before.  How would he know how to deal with one?