New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan uttered some pretty predictable statements last week when addressing the team's negotiations with free-agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Along with acknowledging that Fitzpatrick is "a very good fit" and that the team's goal "eventually is to get Ryan under contract," Maccagnan also pointed out that free agency is a process.
That's basically another way of saying the Jets don't really value Fitzpatrick in the manner they should. His signing essentially determines this team's potential success for this coming season.
The situation in New York has reached the point where it's time to start assigning blame for Fitzpatrick still being on the open market.
All indications are that something will get done eventually, because Fitzpatrick wants to be with the Jets and the franchise wants him to stay. The problem is that Maccagnan doesn't want to overpay for a 33-year-old journeyman quarterback who began last season as a backup. The general manager also apparently believes that it's easy to find quarterbacks who can help him win games.
Maccagnan has hinted that he's been willing to increase an offer that reportedly hovers in the annual salary range of $7 million to $8 million. What he's not willing to do is move anywhere near the neighborhood that Fitzpatrick wants to live in, which is about twice that amount. As Maccagnan told reporters on a conference call last week, "We like Ryan -- we'd like to have Ryan back -- but at the end of the day, it's free agency. You go through it. At some point in time, hopefully, we can find a middle ground we're both happy with."
Owner Woody Johnson echoed these sentiments at the NFL Annual Meeting on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida.
"He had a great year last year and we'd like to get Ryan back, of course," Johnson told NFL Media's Judy Battista. "But we've got to -- and it's just part of the process in free agency -- his side and our side and trying to come up with something that both sides are happy with."
The Jets eventually will have to move closer to what Fitzpatrick wants. Skeptics can crow all they want about Fitzpatrick not finding any other suitors in free agency, but he just threw more touchdown passes in a season (31) than any other quarterback in Jets history. That counts for something. It means it's time for Fitzpatrick to receive a healthy bump in salary.
It's laughable to think Fitzpatrick is going to be content with a Jets offer that rivals what the Philadelphia Eagles just paid career backup Chase Daniel (three years, $21 million) to compete for a job. After all, Daniel has started all of two games in seven seasons. The Eagles also just gave Sam Bradforda two-year deal worth $36 million that was based largely on what Bradford did in the second half of 2015 after struggling through the first half. Don't think that Fitzpatrick's representatives don't see that information as a guidepost in these discussions.
That isn't to say Fitzpatrick doesn't have his flaws. He's a game manager with a limited arm who can be prone to turnovers in critical stretches. Fitzpatrick's three interceptions in a season-ending loss at Buffalo were a big reason why New York missed the playoffs. That last impression and his age are likely two of the biggest concerns for Maccagnan.
Now comes the reality check. The Jets have a phenomenal supporting cast around Fitzpatrick on offense, a group that includes newly signed running back Matt Forte and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. They also have a strong defense blessed with playmakers on the front and back end. If Fitzpatrick plays like he did for most of 2015 -- when he threw multiple touchdown passes in a dozen games, leading the Jets to 10 wins -- this team should challenge for a playoff spot again.
That argument should be simple enough for an impasse to not exist at this point. However, recent history suggests that Maccagnan is applying the same logic that has become popular in other parts of the NFL. He's worrying more about the product he's paying for than the value that's assigned to the position. That's the kind of approach that can put teams in precarious situations.
Broncos general manager John Elway just adopted that stance in Denver, as he watched Brock Osweiler bolt for Houston. Was Elway really just unwilling to pay an extra $2 million annually to a quarterback who helped the Super Bowl champions win five games last season? Yes, the difference in guaranteed money ($37 million from Houston versus $30 million offered by Denver) is a bit starker, but still. (Denver ultimately traded for Mark Sanchez, but you'd assume they're not done with the position.) The St. Louis Rams appear willing to play with fire, as well, with general manager Les Snead openly saying that Case Keenum will be their starter when training camp begins. Those teams are taking calculated gambles. They're hoping defense, special teams and a quality running game can compensate for deficiencies under center.
The argument here is that the Jets might have to accept the same fate that befell the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2013 season. Like the Jets this past year, those Chiefs had a solid quarterback (Alex Smith) with limitations who led that franchise to an 11-5 record (after K.C. had gone 2-14 a year earlier). The only difference was that Smith was entering the final year of his contract and the Chiefs knew he was their best option. So they gave him a four-year, $68 million extension and moved on with their starter in place.
There was plenty of debate about where Smith should fit into the pay scale of NFL quarterbacks. He wasn't good enough to command $20 million annually, but he was proven enough to ask for a sizable amount. He also had the one thing Fitzpatrick has going for him in this situation: Smith understood how hard it had been for the Chiefs to find a decent option at quarterback before he ever came to town.
That is the final point to be made here for Fitzpatrick: The Jets can hint about the possibility of going back to Geno Smith, but they know what that would mean in the short term. You're talking about a turnover machine at quarterback, a player who earned so little respect in the locker room that a former teammate broke his jaw during a training camp fight over money. Good luck selling that one as a step in the right direction. There's no way this team even sniffs a winning season with Smith back under center.
That means Maccagnan has to eventually find a way to get this deal done. It's surely not going to be for what they're offering right now, nor will it be a long-term commitment that stretches into the $16 million-per-year category.
But if the Jets are serious about winning games this season, they'll have to do something that most teams in this league already understand. They'll have to accept that quarterbacks with good timing usually end up getting what they want.