The New York Jets Shouldn't Start Ryan Fitzpatrick
Geno Smith replaced Fitzpatrick as the starter permanently after Smith came in for a struggling Fitzpatrick in the team's Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals. During the week, Smith was officially named the starter for the Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens, but he only lasted a quarter before he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of the game.
It was assumed Smith’s knee injury wasn’t going to be serious, but further tests were needed. It appears those tests revealed an injury more serious than anyone thought, as it’s been reported that Smith has a torn ACL.
This injury now raises the question of where the Jets should go at quarterback going forward.
At this point in the season, it probably shouldn’t be Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick entered the game against the Ravens in the second quarter down 13-7, and the Jets eventually won the game by a score of 24-16. That, however, greatly overplays Fitzpatrick’s performance against the Baltimore defense.
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Fitzpatrick had just the 20th-best quarterbacking performance by Passing NEP per drop back in Week 7 at 0.01. That’s well below the league average of 0.13 and below Smith, who was fifth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.40) in his brief appearance.
After the game, Fitzpatrick told reporters -- or at least one in particular -- that the owner, general manager, and coaches had stopped believing in him. He might be right there, and those three parties would have some pretty compelling reasons to lose faith in the quarterback many felt they should re-sign this past offseason.
Heading into this week, Fitzpatrick had been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. Among 31 quarterbacks who had at least 100 drop backs on the season, Fitzpatrick ranked 30th in Passing NEP per drop back. The only player worse was Blaine Gabbert, who was replaced by Colin Kaepernick as the San Francisco 49ers' starter for Week 6.
Part of Fitzpatrick’s starting stretch also included a six-interception game, which will likely be the worst single-game performance from a quarterback in 2016.
There was a good reason for the Jets to bring back Fitzpatrick for this season even when it appeared his 2015 was likely unsustainable. He was brought back because he gave the Jets the best chance to compete and win in 2016. Whether the rest of the roster was in a place to win now is another conversation, but the Jets’ brass believed that the team could win this season and that Fitzpatrick was going to be the best option to lead the offense in that scenario.
However, now we’re just through seven weeks of the 2016 season, and that dream has already passed the Jets by. At 2-5, the Jets are in fourth place in the AFC East and have the second-worst record in the AFC. Teams with a 2-5 record go on to make the playoffs just 4 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, and entering Week 7, the Jets had just a 1.5 percent chance of making the playoffs at 1-5, according to our algorithm.
The one thing Fitzpatrick was brought back to do -- help contend for a playoff spot -- is no longer an option, which is why he shouldn’t be either.
There are two other quarterbacks on the roster for the Jets: Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Those aren’t the most compelling options for the position, but they’re who the Jets have and one of them should be the starter for the Week 8 game against the Cleveland Browns.
More than likely, if the Jets were to make this move, it would be to Petty because the plan -- “plan” used loosely -- with Hackenberg was to let him sit and develop. Petty might not even be ready, but putting one of those two in against the Browns would be one of the best ways to break in a new starter. It’s possible neither one will turn into anything useful, but it should be better for the team going forward to find that out now with a fairly easy first test.
Entering Week 7 the Browns were 28th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, they allowed Andy Dalton to have the third-best quarterback performance of the week by Passing NEP per drop back.
Five of the six opposing quarterbacks against the Browns this season have put up a Passing NEP per drop back of at least 0.18. That’s around the level of a full-season 2016 Kirk Cousins, which ranks 14th among quarterbacks -- Cousins also happens to be the one to have put up the 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back against Cleveland.
The Browns have a mix of talent and injuries that make them an ideal defense to break in a new quarterback.
After Cleveland, the Jets will play the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams before a bye. Both of those teams have been in the top half of pass defense by Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back, but both teams have also been hit-or-miss in some games this year.
For the Future
Geno Smith is in the last year of his rookie deal, and it’s highly likely now he won’t be re-signed in the offseason.
Fitzpatrick’s deal also voids at the end of this year, and it’s clear he’s not the future of the Jets at quarterback. He was brought back to be the win-now option, and the winning never came.
That leaves the Jets in a position to find out where they stand at the quarterback position moving forward.
Putting Fitzpatrick back in does nothing to help the Jets solve that problem. Petty and Hackenberg are both under rookie deals, and it’s possible one could be good enough for the Jets to build around in the future.
And if not, it’s better for the Jets to know now than to find out later when it’s too late. The Jets already lost out on their Fitzpatrick gamble for 2016. They shouldn’t risk assessing the future to double down on it for the rest of the year.