By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
So here we are, with the 2016 NFL draft just four business days away, and many questions remain as to the construction of the New York Jets roster for the upcoming season and beyond.
There are certainly more issues than Mike Maccagnan and company would have hoped for with the draft on the approaching horizon, but considering the cap space they started out with, the front office has done an admirable job in trying to fill the holes that existed at the end of the 2015 campaign.
One of the most evident mysteries and pressing issues facing the team is who will be Gang Green’s starting quarterback in the upcoming season?
It has been assumed by many, and further fueled by the team’s contingency of beat reporters, that the only reason that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not currently a member of the Jets’ roster is that he is a greedy individual that refuses to accept the fair market-value offer that the Jets have sent his way.
The reality is that we do not really know the true nature of the discussions the team and Mr. Fitzpatrick have had regarding his future with the team. We can speculate all we want as to how much he was offered and how much of that was guaranteed, but the only ones that know what is on the table is those who have been involved in negotiations.
The simple fact remains that the Jets would love to have him back behind center for at least the 2016 season and Fitzpatrick would love to finish what he started with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and company in 2015.
The team’s fans on the other hand seem to be quite torn on what to do about that situation. Many seem to think that the record-setting numbers put up by FitzMagic and his group of receivers were an aberration that will be impossible to repeat and build off of in the season to come.
Several people point to his subpar performance in the season-ending Buffalo game, where he has faced a great deal of the blame for the team losing in their win-and-in Week 17 scenario.
While it is true that Fitzpatrick came up short in the biggest game of the year, it is highly irresponsible to not take into account that a major culprit in that pathetic performance was a defense that could not seem to stop the Bills’ mediocre offense at all on third down and a special teams unit that was awful that week as well as the entire season.
Another argument against Fitzpatrick is that he has never gotten the job done throughout his career. That would be ignoring the fact that he was not exactly blessed with a Pro Bowl roster in his time with the Bills or at any of his other brief stops along the way.
Nobody is going to claim that Ryan has all of the tools to be a true franchise quarterback, but it is hard to deny that he has seemed to progress as he has gained more experience in the league. During his 2014 campaign with the Texans, Fitzpatrick was on his way to one of his best statistical seasons when he broke his leg, ending his season prematurely.
In 2015, Fitzpatrick continued his ascension, breaking the Jets’ single-season franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and was second best in completions with 335 and passing yards with 3,905.
For a fan base that has seen nothing but incompetence at the quarterback position for far over a decade, you would think that the guy would be welcomed back with open arms in 2016, especially considering the alternatives currently sitting on the roster and the sad collection of available free-agent signal callers.
I understand the whole contract and salary cap situation, and as far as I know Maccagnan has made him a fair offer, but worrying about the salary cap and fitting players under it is the job of the front office, not us fans.
All things being equal, it is not a stretch to say that the team is far better off bringing back Fitz to continue building on the chemistry established in 2015 as opposed to rolling with the highly inconsistent and maddening Geno Smith, the still green Bryce Petty or the extremely mediocre Bryan Hoyer, if the Jets even decide to sign him.
Just ask the two star receivers and all-time-great center who they would like calling the signals for the team this year. I am pretty sure that their opinions are much more valid than us armchair quarterbacks, and the answer to that question is: Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Regardless of my opinion or anyone else’s thoughts on who the Jets’ starting quarterback should be in 2016, the fact remains that it is out of our hands. I trust that Maccagnan and his staff know what they are doing and it is only a matter of time before we find out who their answer is behind center for the upcoming season and beyond.
There is definitely some thought that the draft can supply the Jet’s with an answer at the position, but the recent trades for the top two picks all but make it certain that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the consensus top two NFL-ready QB’s, will be off the board immediately.
The next quarterback on the board is the extremely talented Paxton Lynch, who has an incredibly high ceiling. Most of the “experts” see him as a project on the NFL level, which is what the Jets already have in Bryce Petty. But you also have to remember that the “experts” saw Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell as surefire bets and we all know how that ended, so take their opinions for what they are worth.
Lynch undoubtedly has the tools to succeed in the league, and I would surely be excited about the Jets landing him on Thursday night, but it is hard to see him even making it to pick number 20 with the quarterback-needy 49ers and Browns picking well before Maccagnan gets to make his choice. They would most likely have to give up a number of picks to move up and grab him, which would end up forcing them to neglect some other needs on a team that is not getting any younger at numerous key positions.
Even if the Jets do find a way to land the Memphis signal caller, it is quite possible that he will need some seasoning before he is ready to take over, and they would then have two projects at the position, with the erratic Geno Smith or the below average Bryan Hoyer leading the group. After a 10-6 season that saw the Jets on the verge of making the playoffs, that would be one hell of a gamble.
The answer as to which direction the Jets will be going at arguably the team’s most vital position will be upon us before we know it, so let us hope that Maccagnan passes this important test. Although I am confident that Mike Macc and his staff know what they are doing, I am not going to lie and say that I am without anxiety when it comes to this crucial decision.
I may be in the minority at this point in time, but I would prefer that the Jets bring back FitzMagic to lead the way while they figure out what direction they want to go beyond the upcoming season. Whether they eventually plan on handing the keys over to Bryce Petty or they bring in another quarterback to develop in the draft, the team will be much better off in the time being with Fitzpatrick at the helm. Fingers crossed.