We've never heard the New York Jets use the term "bridge quarterback" to describe Ryan Fitzpatrick -- the media use it a lot -- but that's exactly how the team feels about him. Money talks louder than everything else in professional sports, and the Jets' contract offer to Fitzpatrick has "BQB" written all over it.
The three-year, $24 million proposal includes $12 million in the first year but only $6 million in each of the last two seasons. Translation: Be our starter for a year, then prepare to yield to Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty.
This isn't a revelation. Despite his feel-good story the previous season, Fitzpatrick is 33 years old and playing for his sixth team -- a team that has drafted two quarterbacks since his arrival last year. It's the classic "bridge" situation, and now we have the evidence to prove it. The Jets' offer, sitting on the table for at least two months, amounts to a position paper on Fitzpatrick and the future of the team's quarterback position.
Fitzpatrick has an entirely different view of himself, and that's why the two sides are locked into a stalemate. Fitzpatrick is here ... and the Jets are here.
On the surface, it seems rather silly. The music is playing at the school dance, and there are only two who haven't paired up. They're staring at each other from opposite sides of the dance floor, waiting for the other to make the first move.
Who's right? Who's wrong? Let's examine.
The case for the Jets: Based on the first-year payout and yearly average, the Jets' offer isn't egregiously unfair. With $12 million in compensation for 2016, Fitzpatrick would rank 21st in the league among quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He'd fall between Russell Wilson ($12.3 million) and Andy Dalton ($10.7 million). With an APY of $8 million, he'd rank 21st, well behind Nick Foles ($12.3 million) and slightly ahead of Robert Griffin III ($7.5 million).
If NFL starting quarterbacks are divided into three tiers, Fitzpatrick is at the top of the third tier, based on the Jets' offer. That's not outrageous, considering his statistics. His passer rating last season (88.0) was 24th. The past two seasons (90.5), it was 18th.
The case for Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick's issue is with the second- and third-year compensation, not the first-year money. If he plays well this season and retains the starting job into 2017, his salary would be only $6 million -- a pittance for a veteran starting quarterback. The contract offers no protection if his role remains the same. Fitzpatrick could make an additional $12 million in incentives over the life of the contract, but many of the incentives would be difficult to attain.
For Fitzpatrick, as for most players, it's all about the guaranteed money. There's at least $3 million in guaranteed money after year one, bringing the total to more than $15 million, the NFL Network reported. At $15 million, he'd rank 27th among quarterbacks, the lowest among current starters that aren't on their rookie contract. This is the main hang up for Fitzpatrick, who sees the guarantee as several million below market.
Potential solutions: A one-year, $12 million contract could be the way to go, but the Jets might not want to pay that much while taking the risk of not having an experienced quarterback in 2017. They'd be leaving themselves short if neither Hackenberg nor Petty is ready to assume the starting role. They know Geno Smith, entering the final year of his contract, will probably move on in '17.
A compromise would be a two-year contract for Fitzpatrick, one that includes a team option for 2017. If they want to stay with him, they'd have to trigger an option bonus by early March. If they're ready for the kids to compete for the job, they decline the option and set him free. The two sides would have to work out the numbers, but that would provide flexibility for the Jets and allow Fitzpatrick to receive a starter's salary.
There is just one problem: The Jets don't appear willing to budge. With no other teams clamoring for Fitzpatrick, they would be bidding against themselves if they sweeten the offer.
In other words, this could take a while.