Ryan Fitzpatrick had a great year for the Jets, he was much better than anyone could've realistically expected (and admittedly much, much better than I expected). The Jets traded for Fitzpatrick so he could be the backup and provide the team with solid quarterback play for stretches if they needed. Fitzpatrick was able to give the Jets much more than they originally counted on but now his contract is up and he's a free agent.
"Obviously, Ryan is going to be a free agent," Mike Maccagnan said last week. "We'd very much like to get him back, obviously based on how he played this year. I don't really want to get into the speculation aspect of it. I would simply leave it as we'll see how this thing works out."
The first order of business is for the Jets to make sure they bring Fitzpatrick back on a two or three-year deal, Fitzpatrick should get a raise but he won't command big-time quarterback money so signing him will give the Jets plenty of flexibility to bolster the rest of their roster. Regardless of the actual length of the contract it will almost certainly be a true two-year deal. He might sign a contract for three-years but it's safe to say Maccagnan will structure the deal in a way that the Jets will be able to move on from Fitzpatrick, with little-to-no impact on the Jets salary cap, after the 2017 season.
The tricky part about this is that I'm not sure anyone can expect Fitzpatrick to turn in a repeat performance next year, even if the Jets improve in other areas such as offensive line, tight end, a third reliable receiver and a more consistent running game, but at the same time you can't just turn your back on the best quarterback play the team has had in years. Obviously playing under Chan Gailey is a good thing for Fitzpatrick and even if his play slips a little the Jets have to ensure the bring him back and if they do, which they will, Fitzpatrick will have the starting job until he gets hurt or he plays himself out of the gig.
Will some team out there offer Fitzpatrick more money than the Jets will be willing to offer him? Of course that's a possibility but will they offer him enough money to move, yet again, and leave Gailey, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker? That seems unlikely. The Jets have been vocal about wanting to bring Fitzpatrick back but more evasive with other free agents like Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison, many people are taking that to mean the Jets don't intent to bring either of those players back but I tend to think it has more to do with standard negotiating. The Jets know Wilkerson and Harrison will be tougher to re-sign with much more complicated negotiations where I get the feeling they already know bringing Fitzpatrick back next year will be a much easier task.
The Jets still have two other quarterbacks under contract, Geno Smith will be going into the last year or his rookie deal and Bryce Petty will of course return, and as badly as some Jets fans want to see Smith off the roster it just doesn't make sense to get rid of him now. Whether the Jets bring back Fitzpatrick or not it shouldn't impact either Smith or Petty from being on the roster. Of course it could affect Smith as he would be less likely to be the starter at some point next year but he'd still be a quality, and cheap, backup option for the team if something went wrong with Fitzpatrick. Sure, they could trade him (don't tell me no one would trade for him the 49ers traded for Blaine Gabbert, someone would offer a late round pick for Smith), but it's better to keep him as a potential backup than trade in for a sixth or seventh round pick.
The Jets have said they liked what they have seen from Petty but no one believes they will expect him to compete for the starting job next year. Ideally they'd love to have him sit and learn for another year then compete for the starting it in 2017. So, it seems likely that the Jets quarterback situation will remain the same as last year but there could still be another quarterback brought into the mix through the draft.
"I would say simply, quarterback like a lot of positions in the draft, we're going to kind of evaluate it as a whole and once we sort of establish our board, we'll make that determination if the best player available at our pick is a quarterback or another position and go from there. I think in a perfect world, it's such an important position, I think every NFL team probably goes into the draft, with maybe a few exceptions of people who have really well established quarterbacks, are always looking at that position as a position of interest. We'll be no different than them," Maccagnan said. "I don't want to sit there and say, with the 20th pick we're going to be targeting a quarterback. Two things: one is you don't want to tell the 31 other teams what you're going to do, but I also think that's kind of a flawed approach to a certain degree."
The Jets will absolutely consider taking a quarterback during the draft but whether they will actually pull the trigger depends on how the board falls, which quarterbacks are still available to them and which one(s) do they like. I haven't begun studying the quarterbacks from this year's class yet (might start that during the impending snowstorm coming this weekend) but it seems pretty clear that Jared Goff won't be an option for the Jets as he will likely go in the top five, would Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz be wishing their reach? Would they even want them if they were?
There will be plenty of time for the Jets to figure the answer to that question out but if you're hoping for the Jets to draft a possible franchise quarterback this year it would probably have to be one of those three. Sure Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg will be drafted but I've seen enough of them to not want to waste my time drafting either of them. If Wentz is available at 20 I could certainly see the Jets pulling the trigger but if they don't take him at 20, and assuming he doesn't last until they pick in the second round, I don't see the Jets adding another quarterback in the first three or four rounds, so be ready for the returning trifecta of Fitzpatrick, Smith and Petty.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (email@example.com)