Flash forward to April 30 and Fitzpatrick is still a free agent. Geno Smith, at the moment, is the team's presumptive starting quarterback. The Jets selected developmental quarterback Christian Hackenberg with their second-round pick on Friday night, placing him in a room with Smith and Bryce Petty, who the team drafted in 2015.
The pick doesn't change the team's stance with Fitzpatrick, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. However, it does likely change the timetable on a deal for him. Where there was an opportunity to sign a possible multi-year contract before the draft, there is a strong chance he'll only receive a one-year offer from the team now.
"If we get Ryan back, he's our starter going in, but they're more than welcome to take the position from him," Jets coach Todd Bowles said Friday, via ESPN.com. "Obviously, Ryan earned it from last year, and it's going to be hard to take it from him. Everybody else falls in, and let the competition work itself out."
Credit the Jets for not being afraid of taking a future prospect they like. There are great teams in the NFL that believe a quarterback should be drafted every year and that the room should be a high-speed grooming mechanism for future prospects to come. They just have to deal with the troubling optics in the meantime.
Fitzpatrick will probably sign. It is rare to hear a team talk about a quarterback who isn't under contract like the Jets talk about Fitzpatrick. But he'll be returning to a future that seems much less certain than it was before.
Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan did not rule out Hackenberg taking the reins early, either.
"We'll see how he progresses," Maccagnan said.