The final notable free agent remaining is finally off the market with the Jets agreeing to a one year, $12 million contract with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will retake his spot as the starter with the Jets. This was a contract situation that dragged on for months seemingly for no reason. Fitzpatrick has, more or less, zero options by April besides returning to New York and the Jets had Geno Smith as their other option. Reportedly the Jets had been offering a $24 million contract over three years with $12 million guaranteed so it seems the compromise was to keep the guarantee the same but on just a one year contract. I would think this contract could have been signed by April but both sides dug in and it carried to the start of camp.
I am sure the first thought is that the Jets end up the losers in this since a $12M annual value is worse than the $8 million they wanted. There may be some merit to that but from the Jets perspective things could work out the same despite the bigger price. The Jets have been cautious with Fitzpatrick because Fitzpatrick has all the makings of a one season wonder. You dont want to get locked into this type of player for any length of time as it will normally end badly as Fitzpatricks run with the Buffalo Bills did. The Jets contract offer was representative of offers made to the highest quality backup quarterbacks which is probably the role the Jets envisioned long term for Fitzpatrick.
Assuming the clock does strike midnight on Fitzpatrick this season it would not be impossible to imagine the Jets bringing Fitzpatrick back as a backup behind 2nd round pick Christian Hackenberg. The price for Fitzpatrick at that stage would be around $4 million. That would also be around the price that the Jets would pay any other veteran backup. So at the end of the day they still are likely to allot $16 million to veteran quarterbacks over the next two years. If Fitzpatrick defies the odds and plays well the Jets will be more than happy to have forked over the extra few dollars and then go through this dance again next year. Thats why this deal, in my opinion, makes sense for the Jets to do even if the concept of Ryan Fitzpatrick, $12 million man, sounds crazy. They either end up in the same place they would have ended up or they win and dont care so much about the cost.
While it would be better to have the extra years under control, given the Jets other options on the roster the compromise makes sense. For Fitzpatrick it gave him an APY that would match that of Nick Foles (who was coincidentally released today), the current low end starter in the NFL and the chance to hit again in free agency next season. Again I cant see why it took so long to agree to this deal a few months back but it is what it is.
From a cap perspective the Jets do not have the cap space needed to fit a $12 million cap charge on the books this season. That means they will either have to restructure a contract to create cap space of use a voidable contract structure to push cap charges into years where Fitzpartick is not actually under contract. Given that the Jets may look to bring Fitzpartick back next season it would make sense for both sides to have wanted the void structure. For Fitzpatrick it would force the Jets hand by March and for the Jets it keeps them from going deeper on other players, such as Darrelle Revis, where the future can be compromised. If the Jets do go the restructure route they will need to create about $7 million in room to fit in Fitzpatrick and then have space to function during the season when the accouting expands to the full roster.
One way that they can, and probably should, create some cap room would be to trade or release Smith from his contract. Smith is in the final year of his contract and it is clear that he no longer fits into the Jets plans. They drafted Hackenberg and opted for this contract rather than giving Smith a chance to start, despite the lip service from the coaching staff this offseason. Smith’s tenure with the Jets showed some promise at times, but he seemed to lack the discipline needed for the position, missing a team meeting because he went to the movies and having his jaw broken by a teammate last year in an off field issue. Cutting or trading Smith would save the Jets $1.089 million on the cap. If they do not release Smith releasing Bryce Petty would make sense, though that will only save $525,000.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.