The standoff between Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets was already messy four months ago, when the team reportedly offered Fitzpatrick “backup money,” despite him having just turned in the kind of solid quarterbacking season the Jets have been sorely lacking in recent years. If you’re like me, you probably assumed that the two sides would work something out well before training camp, and the hardball negotiations would be less than a footnote on this offseason. But here we are in July, with Fitzpatrick still a free agent and things starting to look pretty grim.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Fitzpatrick and the Jets have only dug in deeper since contract talks began at the start of the offseason. Jets receiver Brandon Marshall says he’s scared by the fact that Fitzpatrick is no longer returning his texts, and the stalemate has gotten so intense that a scenario which should truly frighten Jets fans is reportedly in play: Geno Smith could be the starting quarterback heading into the preseason.
This is what a contract negotiation looks like when neither side has any real leverage. Fitzpatrick could probably scare the Jets into upping their offer if another team showed a real interest in swooping in to steal him away, but the interest from other teams wasn’t there in March, and it apparently isn’t there today. As long as nobody else wants Fitzpatrick, the Jets probably feel that they can simply wait him out.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick is looking at a team whose only other option is Geno Smith, and is likely flabbergasted by the fact that he can’t get the money he wants. The Jets were 10-6 last season and boast a ferocious defense that can win games, but it’s hard to imagine any team accomplishing much with a full season of Smith under center.
Unfortunately for Smith, he remains the only variable that can swing leverage to the Jets’ or Fitzpatrick’s side. The Jets can pledge confidence in Smith all they want, but if Fitzpatrick remains unsigned through the start of the preseason, they will eventually have to play their hand. Maybe Smith will look great in camp and the preseason, and Fitzpatrick will come crawling back to accept a discount contract. Or maybe Smith will blow it, and the Jets will be forced to give in to Fitzpatrick’s demands. Whatever happens, I don’t see any way this doesn’t end with Smith watching Fitzpatrick from the bench in Week 1, and a fair number of people angry about how things played out.