The New York Jets Need to Re-Sign Ryan Fitzpatrick
The AFC East could be wide open this season.
The New England Patriots are looking at four games without their star quarterback, Tom Brady. The Buffalo Bills are getting more injured by the day. The Miami Dolphins are still run by the people who run the Miami Dolphins.
There might not be a better chance for the New York Jets to make waves in the AFC East than what they’ll get in 2016.
It’s not a stretch to imagine the scenario.
Even though they missed the playoffs, the Jets were the eighth-best team in the league last regular season, according to our nERD metric, which indicates expected point differential against a league-average team. Plus, the Jets will bring back most of the roster that played quite well in 2015
Except for one fairly significant piece: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Sure, the Jets were mostly reliant on their defense last season, a unit that ranked sixth in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.
However, they were just 17th in Adjusted NEP per play on offense but were slightly better -- 15th -- through the air. That was a big jump from the 23rd ranking in 2014. An improvement at the quarterback position certainly helped.
There’s been a back-and-forth in the media between Fitzpatrick and the Jets regarding contract talks to bring the 33-year-old back to New York.
Fitzpatrick has wanted a lot of money because, in this era of the NFL, most quarterbacks have gotten a lot of money. The Jets have been hesitant to hand over a large chunk of their cap to an older journeyman quarterback. Both sides have valid points.
While that’s gone on, the Jets have flirted with a few other prospects at the position. They were a rumored trade destination for Colin Kaepernick and met with Brian Hoyer after he was released from the Houston Texans. Neither the trade nor a signing came to fruition, and the Jets still don’t have a frontrunner for the quarterback position as they progress toward the start of OTAs on May 24.
So then how important is Fitzpatrick to the hopes of a competitive season for the Jets?
Do You Believe in Magic?
Before figuring out what Fitzpatrick could be going forward, let’s better understand his impact on the 2015 Jets. By raw stats, Fitzpatrick’s 2015 appears to have been a great success. He set career highs in passing yards (3,905) and touchdown passes (31, also a Jets franchise record) while having his best touchdown rate (5.5 percent) and third lowest interception rate (2.7 percent) of his career. Even by NEP Fitzpatrick had a good season. Among 46 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times last season, Fitzpatrick ranked 13th in Passing NEP per drop back.
Fitzpatrick had an inconsistent start to his career, but he’s been above-average as a starter over the past three years on a per drop back basis -- even as those three years have come on three separate teams.
|Year||Team||Drop Backs||Passing NEP/DB||Rank|
|2015||NYJ||581||0.14||13 (of 46)|
|2014||HOU||334||0.08||19 (of 43)|
|2013||TEN||371||0.09||12 (of 45)|
What still remains concerning about Fitzpatrick, though, is the high variance of his play. While he’s managed to finish the past few seasons with respectable efficiency numbers, his play-to-play efficiency can be a question mark. In those three seasons, the gap between Fitzpatrick’s rank in Passing NEP per drop back and Success Rate -- which measures the percent of drop backs that have a positive impact on NEP -- has been glaring.
The passing efficiency has been well above average, but the rate at which he’s successful on passes rates much closer to the bottom of quarterbacks each year.
|2015||NYJ||44.2%||31 (of 46)|
|2014||HOU||45.5%||26 (of 43)|
|2013||TEN||45.3%||19 (of 45)|
With no other real openings for quarterbacks at this point in the offseason, this seems to give the Jets some leverage in negotiations with Fitzpatrick. But Adam Schefter reported in late April that Fitzpatrick has told those close to him he’d “rather not play football” than play for the amount New York has offered. That gives him some of the leverage back, and so does looking at the alternative options at quarterback in 2016.
Geno Smith would likely have the upper hand in a quarterback competition, but he wasn’t good the last time he was on the field. In his time as a starter in 2014 Smith was worth 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back, which ranked 30th among the 43 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs that season. 2013 was even worse for him, finishing at -0.14 Passing NEP per drop back -- 39th among quarterbacks.
The Jets drafted Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but it might be a stretch to imagine he’s ready to take over by Week 1. Despite being a top recruit out of high school and having an impressive true freshman season, Hackenberg struggled his sophomore and junior years and compares to Kyle Boller when judging his college production.
If there’s a silver lining for Hackenberg hope, it’s that his freshman year success at Penn State came while getting to throw balls up to a productive receiver in Allen Robinson. He’d get that type of opportunity with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
New York’s other quarterback can now identify an under front in Madden as of this offseason. There's a chance that might even make him the frontrunner.
Fitzpatrick might not be the best quarterback, or the sole reason for New York’s success last season, but it makes too much sense for each side not to find a middle ground and have him return under center in 2016.
There was a point in the offseason when the Jets could have gone out and found a cheaper alternative if they had acted quickly, but that well has now run dry.
Waiting until this point in the offseason to make this decision has made it a little harder to get Fitzpatrick on the roster now. Per Spotrac, the Jets only have $3.1 million in 2016 cap space for their top 51 contracts. There are a few moves that could be made to save some money to bring the quarterback in -- either restructuring the contract of Darrelle Revis and spreading out his $17 million 2016 cap hit or signing Muhammad Wilkerson long-term and reducing his $15.7 million cap hit from the franchise tag.
For the Jets, it's either giving a little more to last year's starter or leaving the best chance for their first division title since 2002 in the hands of Geno Smith or an unpredictable rookie.
The Jets clearly don't want to go all-in on Fitzpatrick by giving him a massive contract, but if they do want to go all-in on a playoff appearance, then Fitzpatrick is their best remaining hope.