After months of exhaustive conversations and stalled negotiations, the Jets finally got their man: 33-year-old free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Hours after players reported for training camp, negotiations between the organization and Fitzpatrick’s agent finally heated up — with the help of a team-issued ultimatum that expired Wednesday evening. Soon the quarterback was back in the fold, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $12 million, a source confirmed. It also includes incentives that could push the deal to $15 million if Fitzpatrick hits specified benchmarks, the source said.
When the Jets’ 2015 season ended one win shy of the playoffs, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would reunite with the team quickly. But as the weeks dragged on, both sides refused to budge. But everything changed Wednesday when the Jets upped their offer from $9 million to $12 million with one important caveat: Fitzpatrick had until 7 p.m. to accept the one-year offer or the team was moving on.
When free agency began in March, sources indicated the team’s initial offer was around $7 million or $8 million a year — well below the going rate for NFL starting quarterbacks and well below the $18 million Fitzpatrick had been seeking at first. Over the past 4 1⁄2 months, multiple offers from the Jets had been deemed insufficient by Fitzpatrick’s camp, including the three-year, $24-million deal that came with a total of $15 million guaranteed and $12 million in 2016.
But now, he’s back. At least for one year. And that’s welcome news for many Jets fans.
Following his trade from Houston in March 2015, the career journeyman assumed the No. 1 job (after Geno Smith was injured in training camp) and helped transform a 4-12 team into one eyeing a playoff berth. With Fitzpatrick leading their revamped offense, the Jets finished 10-6, one win shy of the final AFC wild-card spot. Aided by star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, he threw for a career-high 31 touchdowns, a franchise record, and 3,905 yards.
His arrival in Florham Park, New Jersey, can’t come soon enough for teammates who were forced to address his conspicuous absence on Wednesday — even though they had been directed not to by the organization.
“All questions about Ryan are for coach Bowles,” running back Matt Forte told reporters. “They told me to tell y’all that. Everybody knows who ‘they’ are.”
The news of Fitzpatrick’s return came a few hours after it was reported that quarterback Nick Foles would be hitting the free-agent market, following his release by the Los Angeles Rams. The Jets could have flirted with Foles, who went 4-5 with seven touchdowns and six interceptions in nine starts last season. But Fitzpatrick was always their intended target.
Now, they have four quarterbacks on the roster, including Smith, Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg. Although the Jets drafted the former Penn State quarterback in the second round this year, the organization always viewed Fitzpatrick as part of their 2016 plan.
“Our focus from the pro standpoint is to get Ryan back in the fold. I’ve said that repeatedly,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said April 30, the day after they drafted Hackenberg. “Nothing has changed from that standpoint.”
Hackenberg may very well be their future. But the present belongs to Fitzpatrick.