The quarterback market wasn’t a loaded one this offseason, and even so the New York Jets missed out on targets like Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. After most of the dust settled, the traded for a veteran signal-caller who just may be a pleasant surprise on the field.
The New York Jets traded a late-round conditional pick to the Houston Texans for journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jets fans are sure to remember Fitzpatrick’s four years in Buffalo as the teams met twice a year. Fitzpatrick even showed some flashes of brilliance in his tenure in Buffalo.
Despite these flashes, Fitzpatrick is not a brilliant quarterback. What he has been recently, however, is a solid game-manager. He won’t make huge plays or break the opposing defense, but can conduct an average offense to a couple touchdowns a game. For a team like the Jets with such a strong defense, this could be just what the doctor ordered.
A product of the Ivy League, playing his college ball at Harvard, Fitzpatrick has gotten better with age. Last year with the Houston Texans, Fitzpatrick had career-highs in both quarterback rating (95.3) and completion percentage (63.1). These two attributes are integral in the role of game manager. Completing passes at a high rate and throwing more touchdowns than picks are the biggest factors in keeping a game close.
The Jets have an offense that could easily move the ball with a competent quarterback. With Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall on the outsides, and Jeremy Kerley and Jace Amaro on the inside, Fitzpatrick would have weapons on the field. These players are playmakers, and simply would need to get open enough to catch a ball from Fitzpatrick.
The defense that GM Mike Maccagnan has built this offseason fits a QB like Fitzpatrick beautifully. Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, Marcus Gilchrist, Calvin Pryor, David Harris, Sheldon Richardson and company will both halt drives early and produce turnovers for the Jets. The Jets won’t need to put up 30 points a game to win next year, a couple touchdowns and a few field goals while dominating the turnover battle is a great winning recipe.
An underrated aspect of Fitzpatrick’s game is also his ability to tuck and run. By no means does Fitzpatrick have blazing wheels, but he’s smart enough to gain a couple yards when necessary. On third and short, defenses need to respect his ability to pick up a couple yards in distress and keep a drive alive. Fitzpatrick averages 4.7 yards per carry over his career, along with a high of 6.7 over a full season in Buffalo. He’s also found the endzone 11 times on the ground.
One area Fitzpatrick has struggled in historically is fumbles, putting the ball on the ground a remarkable 54 times in his career. He’s only lost 24 of these fumbles though, and has only lost one in the past two seasons. Fitzpatrick will have to continue holding onto the ball if he wants to be a successful game manager.
Fitzpatrick has spent time with the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Houston Texans in his 10 year career. While usually not starting the season atop the depth chart, Fitzpatrick routinely finds ways to start games. He’s started at least eight games a year since 2008 with the Bengals. Whether due to injury or lack of production, Fitzpatrick seems to find his way onto the field.
So will Fitzpatrick be starting games for Gang Green this fall? It’s too early to tell, especially as Fitzpatrick doesn’t plan to practice until training camp opens. Geno Smith ceded some starts to Michael Vick last season, and a similar situation could arise this year.
But could Fitzpatrick open the season as the starter? While it’s likely at this point with the current roster that the Jets brass will give Smith at least one more shot, Fitzpatrick may be the best chance the Jets have to win.
Smith has been a turnover machine in his first two NFL seasons. In fact, he’s given the ball up more often than he’s scored in his first 30 career games.
- Passing: 25 Touchdowns Vs. 34 Interceptions
- Rushing: 7 Touchdowns Vs. 7 Fumbles
This is inexcusable for a starting quarterback in the NFL. Smith’s supporters within and outside of the organization stress that Smith needs more time to improve his game. But after 30 games, what more does the Jets staff need to see from him?
Yes, Smith did make strides last year, improving his completion rate and cutting down on some turnovers. But at best, Smith is capable of about what Fitzpatrick can do in the air, and with slightly more turnover potential. Smith does have an edge on the ground, but the Jets current offense doesn’t need the quarterback to run very often.
The Jets made some huge offseason moves, have a top draft pick, and seem headed in the right direction. They’re still one piece away from being a real contender, and that’s a good quarterback. Geno Smith cannot fill this role. Fitzpatrick also doesn’t quite fit the bill, but he relieves some pressure from the defense and gives the Jets a better chance to win football games.
Smith doesn’t appear to be the long-term answer for the Jets. The team has nothing to lose by rolling out Fitzpatrick instead next season, a stopgap that will hopefully segway nicely into a better quarterback situation in the future.
The Jets may and should draft a quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft or add another arm before training camp starts. But at this point in time, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the best option under center to win football games next season.