When the New York Jets begin their offseason planning at the quarterback position, they will ask themselves some of the same questions they considered after Ryan Fitzpatrick's career year in 2015. This time, the player is Josh McCown, who is enjoying his best season at 38.
The situations are eerily similar, which may cause fans to groan because they remember the ugly Fitz fallout. Could McCown be another one-hit wonder who scores a payday from the Jets?
Mainly, the organization must determine if McCown can maintain this level of play next season or whether this is just a crazy, out-of-the-blue aberration. If the Jets feel comfortable about his prospects for 2018, they must assign a value to that and make him a contract offer. He will be a free agent.
This, of course, is based on the premise that he'll be an option in their internal discussions. The Jets haven't stated anything publicly. In theory, they could try to land a bigger fish than McCown (perhaps Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith), although my sense is he will be a consideration. It's all part of a bigger equation, which could include drafting a quarterback in the first round.
Fitzpatrick was a well-traveled signal-caller when he arrived in the final year of his contract, known for his hot-and-cold play and bloated interception totals. He delivered a fantastic year, setting the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and leading the Jets to a 10-6 record.
He galvanized the team and electrified the fan base (well, until the Buffalo clunker), but general manager Mike Maccagnan wasn't hypnotized by FitzMagic. To his credit, Maccagnan recognized there was a luck element to Fitzpatrick's season. Not only did he throw a lot of interceptions (15), but he also had eight potential interceptions that were dropped, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- the second-highest number in the league.
While the Jets repeatedly expressed a desire to have him continue as their starter, they were reluctant to make a big investment. Their offer (three years, $24 million) spoke loudly. It screamed "Band-Aid," which infuriated Fitzpatrick and resulted in a six-month contract dispute. Eventually, they signed him to a one-year deal for $12 million.
As it turned out, Fitzpatrick came unglued in 2016. Maccagnan might have bungled the negotiations by letting them drag out so long, but at least he didn't screw up the salary cap in future years.
Now, what to make of McCown?
Sunday's start against the Denver Broncos will be his 13th, tying a career high -- set in 2004! His performance (18 touchdown passes, eight interceptions) is an outlier compared with his previous 14 seasons, although it's not as fluky as the Fitzpatrick year in this sense: Only two potential interceptions were dropped. McCown has been more consistent than Fitzpatrick on a week-to-week basis, and he was operating with a supporting cast that wasn't established at the start of the season.
"When he’s on the field, he’s very effective," said coach Todd Bowles, alluding to McCown's injury history. "I think he’s got to the point where he’s smart enough to know and realize his talents of what he can and can’t do."
That McCown has played every snap is a minor miracle, considering his injury issues in recent years. That has to be a consideration. Age, too. He'll be 39 next season. Can he pull a Tom Brady by defying Father Time?
One thing that won't change with McCown is his leadership. The Jets believe it's exceptional. They see him as a more team-oriented player than Fitzpatrick, willing to slide into a backup role, if necessary. Bowles doesn't gush about too many players, but he gushes about McCown.
McCown could wind up maxing out at $8 million in compensation this season, and you have to believe he'd be looking for a raise after this kind of year. Could there be a Fitz-like contract dispute? Unlikely, according to people close to the situation. They say McCown isn't that kind of player.
Even though he's nearly four years older than his predecessor, McCown probably is a safer investment than the 2015/2016 Fitzpatrick. Now the Jets have to decide if they want to make it.