It’s been the one commonality throughout Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career. Every place the former seventh-round pick has ventured, he’s had to fight for everything he’s earned. Not once, minus a few years with the Buffalo Bills, has Fitzpatrick been given anything.
Now that Fitzpatrick is with the New York Jets--his sixth NFL franchise in his 11 NFL seasons-- he knows that’s not going to change. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“With Coach Bowles,” Fitzpatrick said, “The thing he’s made clear to everyone in this locker room is you’re going to have to earn your spot. A lot of my career has been not necessarily being the guy right away and having to step in and not having there be any kind of drop-off. That’s something that I pride myself on.”
Presently listed as QB No. 2 on New York’s depth chart, the Harvard grad finds himself behind Geno Smith heading into the team’s mandatory minicamp next week. He’s still recovering from a broken leg suffered last year, is learning New York’s playbook and looking to acclimate himself with his third team in as many seasons.
It’s hardly an ideal situation, but few things about Fitzpatrick’s career have fit the bill of a dreamlike scenario.
He bounced around his first four NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. Then, he made his way to Buffalo where he found his most success. In 2010, Fitzpatrick set career highs in passing yards (3,000) and passing touchdowns (24). The next season, he shattered both marks throwing for 3,832 yards and 24 scores.
But in 2012, Fitzpatrick took a step back. His completion percentage and yardage dropped and he was released on March 12. Fitzpatrick spent 2013 with Tennessee, and last year with the Houston Texans. After being named Houston’s starter following training camp, Fitzpatrick completed 63.1 percent of his passes and threw for 2,483 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 12 games.
Smith, in his two NFL seasons, has never thrown more than 13 touchdowns or fewer than 13 interceptions. He’s been sporadic. If Fitzpatrick is nothing else, he’s consistent: What you see is what you get in the 32 year old—A smart, mistake-free, mobile-enough signal caller. Fitzpatrick won’t win many games himself, but he won’t lose them, either.
“(This offseason) has been fun for me,” Fitzpatrick said. “To get on a new team, to be the guy that everyone is coming to in order to ask questions and to have a lot of those answers. It’s been an enjoyable experience thus far.”
In Wednesday’s organized team activity, Fitzpatrick showed he’s not just smarts. The quarterback hit receiver Eric Decker perfectly in stride for a 50-yard touchdown past cornerback Darrin Walls. With more throws like that, accompanied with the struggles of Smith, Fitzpatrick may earn himself the starting spot.
“I go in with the mindset that I’ve got to put in all the preparation like I do every year going into a season,” Fitzpatrick said. “Again, whether it was QB 1, 2, 3 or 4, I’ve got to be my best.”