FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Ryan Fitzpatrick sat in his truck, circling the neighborhood around the Jets’ facility.
At some point, he knew he’d get the official word from his agent that he could return home — back to 1 Jets Drive to reunite with his teammates. But as time ticked by, he grew increasingly anxious.
“I expressed to him that it was really important for me to be in that 7 o’clock meeting,” said Fitzpatrick, who agreed to terms on the deal minutes before players gathered Wednesday evening. “I just wanted to be there for my guys, I didn’t want to miss anything. So finally I got the go-ahead. I had like six minutes to get into the building.”
And he made it. Barely.
When Fitzpatrick arrived a few seconds late, his coach was on him. “That’s a 12-million-dollar fine,” Todd Bowles joked.
There was a mixture of shocked faces and smiles when Fitzpatrick made his entrance. And then, Brandon Marshall said, it was back to “business.”
“Let’s go win some games,” the receiver said of the atmosphere in the room. “You got all this money, you better throw some touchdowns.”
After months of stalled talks and staredowns, the pace of the negotiations picked up considerably after the Jets essentially offered Fitzpatrick a one-year, $12-million deal with the condition that he be in the building by 7 p.m. But by Thursday, there was calmness in the air and a sense that everything finally was in its rightful place.
“I always thought it would get done just because it made too much sense for me to be here and it made too much sense for them to have me here,” said the quarterback, who arrived with a beard that’s bushier than ever and a “mini fro,” as receiver Eric Decker called it.
“I never really lost faith that it would get done. But it was tough,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “It was definitely a trying process for as long as it lasted.”
The 33-year-old chose to bet on himself by accepting the Jets’ latest offer rather than agreeing to the three-year, $24-million proposal the team placed on the table in March. That deal would have provided $15 million in total guaranteed money but would have paid him only $8 million in the final two years.
“How could I look myself in the mirror every morning and say: ‘Yeah, I’ll try to play good this year and then next year I’ll just collect some checks and teach the young guys’? That’s not who I am, it’s not in my nature.”
But contract figures were the furthest thing from his mind when he was back under center, splitting first-team reps with Geno Smith.
Barring something “drastic” happening, Bowles said, Fitzpatrick will enter Week 1 as the Jets’ starter and Smith will be the backup. Just as Fitzpatrick and the Jets always had envisioned.
“It’s his job,” Bowles said. “I said he was the starter in the spring. Geno has a chance. It’s OK to have two quarterbacks. It’s a good problem to have, because you never know what might happen. Based off what he did last year, he’s earned it.”