2015 seemed to be the year that always dependable quarterback option Ryan Fitzpatrick finally earned the respect and success that he had deserved after years of being capable on mostly mediocre teams. Fitzpatrick going from plying his trade on struggling Bills, Titans, and Texans teams to finding his first taste of success with the New York Jets in a season where he guided them to a 10-6 season.
Unfortunately, for both Fitzpatrick and the Jets that 10-6 record was not good enough for a Wild Card spot in the AFC as they missed out narrowly on a playoff berth. What Fitzpatrick did show in his one season with the Jets however was the ability to lead a talented team to success. Something that he wasn’t always given the opportunity to over his first 10 NFL seasons.
Fitzpatrick’s career season also couldn’t have come at a better time for the veteran quarterback as he is currently a free agent who can cash in on his solid play with the Jets. Capable play as the quarterback on an offense with weapons to use and with a strong defense on the other side of the ball putting Fitzpatrick near the top of the list of free agent quarterbacks who have the experience to guide a winner.
Because of Fitzpatrick’s success last season, it would be assumed that teams in the need of a veteran quarterback would be interested in signing a player who threw career highs in both passing yards as well as touchdowns while also winning games along the way. However, that hasn’t yet been the case as his current team in the Jets as well as the rest of the QB needy teams in the league are playing the cautious approach with the veteran gunslinger.
Flashier young names like Colin Kaepernick (who in fairness, has had more success and better numbers than Fitzpatrick save for 2015) and Robert Griffin III have been the focus of trade buzz more than Fitzpatrick has been the focus of rumors for some of the coveted quarterback jobs in the league this March. Particularly the Denver Broncos situation, in which the Super Bowl champs lost both Peyton Manning and their heir apparent to Manning in Brock Osweiler.
It appears that Fitzpatrick is slowly receiving the attention he deserves, Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reporting that seven NFL GM’s view him as the top quarterback available and Jets owner Woody Johnson also coming out to campaign for Fitzpatrick to stay in New York on Tuesday. But it still is strange that it has taken this long for a player who should be perceived as one of the most important free agents available to get the offseason spotlight.
For the Broncos and the Jets, signing Fitzpatrick would be the perfect stopgap for two teams who feel they have the pieces in place for a run at a title in 2016 if they can just have a dependable passer under center who won’t get in the way of their talented rosters. At 33, Fitzpatrick could still string together a few more dependable seasons and after the best season of his career, could be seeing a late prime of his career much like Rich Gannon did in the early 00’s with the Oakland Raiders.
On the right team with the right weapons, Fitzpatrick could be a modern Gannon as evidenced last season with his work with wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker along with the AFC’s leading rusher in Chris Ivory. Especially when you consider that Fitzpatrick outperformed Gannon’s best season save for his 2002 MVP season and that Fitzpatrick also had a better body of work than Manning, Osweiler or any of the available quarterbacks over the course of last season. Making it even more maddening that Fitzpatrick isn’t being given the attention that he deserves after his contract year with the Jets.
Perhaps it is because of Fitzpatrick’s early career struggles, or the fact that he is far from the NFL’s flashiest players as a quarterback who peaks at dependable and floors out as a maddening gunslinger that he is being overlooked as a viable quarterback for a Super Bowl contender. Whatever the case may be, Fitzpatrick deserves more attention this offseason as he could be the tipping point for the Super Bowl aspirations for at least two teams in the AFC when he does decide to make his decision on where he will play in 2016. Hopefully the team that misses out on Fitzpatrick doesn’t regret the decision to play the waiting game come January.