Would the New York Jets Be in Trouble Without Ryan Fitzpatrick?
When you've got a problem, you try to find a solution. After that solution is in place, it seems unconventional to let that solution simply walk away.
But when have the New York Jets ever operated under what's conventional?
Ever since the days of Chad Pennington, the Jets have been searching for a quarterback who could just be a consistent, reliable contributor who wouldn't sink the team. Ryan Fitzpatrick -- for the most part -- brought them that in 2015. But now, Fitzpatrick may be hitting the free agency market, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Letting him simply leave would appear to be sub-optimal decision making on the part of the Jets' front office.
However, things are never as simple as they've been laid out above. Would the Jets actually be in hot water if they were to let Fitzpatrick depart to a new home?
Let's try to decipher this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of opponent.
Here's how NEP works. Prior to each play, there's an expected number of points a team will score on its current drive. A positive play -- such as a five-yard completion on 3rd and 4 -- will increase that, giving the team positive NEP. A negative play -- such as a five-yard completion on 3rd and 6 -- will decrease that, giving the team negative NEP. We can sum these fluctuations over the course of a season up to track the effectiveness of a team or player in that time frame.
It certainly seems as if the Jets would be misguided to let Fitzpatrick go. Let's use NEP to see whether or not that is truly the case.
Fitzpatrick's Stellar 2015
I wasn't trying to overstate things at the top when discussing the Jets' search for a quality signal caller. Their spell of incompetency bordered on being impressive.
Prior to 2015, the last time a Jets quarterback finished the year in the top 10 of Total NEP (which tracks expected points added both via rushing and throwing) was in 2006, when Pennington was 10th. From 2007 to 2014, the highest finish for a Jets' quarterback was 21st, done by Brett Favre in his lone season with Gang Green. That was it.
Fitzpatrick changed things radically this year. He came home with a ninth-place finish, the highest for a Jet since Pennington was fourth all the way back in 2002. Part of this was due to off years from previous staples in the top 10 like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck, but you still have to give Fitzpatrick a good amount credit.
With this being the case, it would seem hard to mount an argument against Fitzpatrick as being the Jets' savior signal caller. That said, there were a couple of factors at play that Fitzpatrick's predecessors of suckitude didn't necessarily have in their favor.
Comparing 2015 Fitzpatrick to a 2014 version of Geno Smith is almost entirely apples to oranges. The Jets added that Brandon Marshall dude over the offseason, and Chan Gailey came on as offensive coordinator. Those two moves are going to make a difference.
Whether it be because of Gailey's system, Fitzpatrick's release time, or offensive-line health, the Jets had some of the best pass-blocking metrics in the league in 2015. Fitzpatrick lost the third fewest points on sacks per drop back of any passer who had at least 100 drop backs with a single team in the league this year. He was sacked only 3.27 percent of the time, also the third lowest rate in the league.
This is going to have a major impact on Fitzpatrick's NEP numbers. Because Passing NEP and Total NEP both take into account the points lost on sacks, playing in a system that reduces those numbers will put that player at an advantage.
Thankfully, we can qualify for this. By taking Sack NEP out of the equation and simply looking at the expected points added on pass attempts, we can get a rough gauge on how talented the player was as a thrower.
When we do this, things get a bit less dazzling for Fitzpatrick. He ranked 11th out of those qualified passers in Passing NEP per drop back. When we take sacks out of the equation and look at expected points added through the air, Fitzpatrick falls all the way to 23rd. This puts him right between Brock Osweiler and Alex Smith. That's still definitely not bad, though it puts a slight dent in Fitzpatrick's armor.
Marshall's presence would be similarly impactful. In 2014, Jeremy Kerley finished second on the team in targets behind Eric Decker. This year, Marshall saw 173 targets with Decker second at 132. The duo combined to see 305 targets while that number was only 115 the year before. It shouldn't be a surprise that Fitzpatrick had the best season for a Jet in recent memory; it should have been expected.
All of this may make it seem as if it's impossible to know what the Jets would have done in 2015 without Fitzpatrick. To a certain extent, that's true. However, we can at least bridge the gap by taking a deeper look at the common link between the two years. That would be Decker.
Comparing Eric Decker's Past Two Seasons
No matter who his quarterback has been over his career, Decker has been a solid wide receiver. We can use this to get a pseudo comparison between what Fitzpatrick brought to the table in 2015 and what was a result of the changes around him.
To quantify this, let's compare Decker's numbers when Fitzpatrick has targeted him to when it was Smith, either in 2014 or this season. This would nullify the effects of the offensive line as sacks would not come into play, and -- while it can't remove Marshall from the equation due to changes in coverage -- it can narrow the focus to just one constant.
The metric we'll use here is adjusted yards per attempt, or "AY/A." This takes into account yards per attempt along with touchdowns and interceptions, giving us an accurate picture of under which condition the player performed better. This would appear to muddy the waters a bit further when we compare Decker's numbers between the two quarterbacks.
Even though Smith did throw more interceptions when targeting Decker than Fitzpatrick did, Smith still possessed a higher AY/A. Smith completed 65.9 percent of the passes he threw Decker's way, surpassing the mark of 59.2 percent from Fitzpatrick. Decker's yards per reception also increased to 14.28 under Smith as opposed to 13.07 under Fitzpatrick.
The intent of this is not to say that Smith is a better quarterback than Fitzpatrick. Rather, it's to show that Fitzpatrick's success in 2015 may have been more a result of the situation than his individual talent, lowering his value at the negotiating table.
Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves commendation for the numbers he posted in 2015. You don't just stumble into a top-10 season in efficiency without doing some solid things on the field. As such, the Jets should try to keep Fitzpatrick as they know they can have relative success with him at quarterback. It just may not be a death notice if they can't.
It was the perfect storm for Fitzpatrick and the Jets in 2015. The offensive line and the system allowed him to stay upright, and the Jets finally had an above-average receiving corps to lend their quarterback a hand. It's exactly what any quarterback needs to be successful, and the Jets had each necessary component.
If Fitzpatrick were to leave, it's unlikely Smith or anyone else would be able to duplicate fully the success Fitzpatrick had in 2015. However, it's also unlikely the offense would magically dissolve into a train wreck. As long as the Jets are able to keep the other pieces in place for next year, they could maintain a good chunk of their passing production going forward even if Fitzpatrick isn't the one leading the way.