Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:
1. Merry Fitz-mas: For two years, the Jets haven't had to worry about a big quarterback contract on their books, providing salary-cap flexibility at other positions. That will change in the coming months. Ryan Fitzpatrick's career year will result in a bigger contract than anyone could've imagined in July, when he began training camp as Geno Smith's backup. IK Enemkpali changed that.
If he stays with the Jets, Fitzpatrick, 33, could land a deal that will pay him as much as $12 million annually, according to a prominent agent. He's making $3.25 million this season, the final year of the two-year deal he signed with the Houston Texans.
"He's probably in the $10 million-to-$12 million range," said the agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's proven he can be effective if the team has enough cap room to spend on key players, keeping the right people around him. Let's call him a B-plus player. If he has A-minus talent around him, it can work.
"The Jets have 14 games of data and they're 9-5. They're probably thinking, 'Let's continue down this course.' If his reps ask $15 million or more, then [the Jets] have to go in a different direction because I wouldn't say he's in that top group [of quarterbacks]. They don't want to saddle the rest of the roster with a bloated quarterback contract."
A $12 million-a-year contract would put Fitzpatrick approximately 20th among quarterbacks. Obviously, the important number is the size of the guarantee. You have to figure he'll be looking for something north of $20 million. Consider: He had a $24 million guarantee on the last big deal he signed. That was October 2011, when he received a six-year, $59 million contact from the Buffalo Bills. It turned out to be a bad decision by the Bills.
The 2016 quarterback market is thin and there are no viable alternatives on the roster, so it behooves the Jets to keep Fitzpatrick around.
2. Saying goodbye: Sunday could be the final home game for several prominent veterans, including a handful of potential free agents: Running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, nose tackle Damon Harrison and linebackers Demario Davis and Calvin Pace. Potential cap casualties are cornerback Antonio Cromartie ($8 million cap charge), punt returner Jeremy Kerley ($3.1 million) and tight end Jeff Cumberland ($1.9 million). I'd say the team is most interested in retaining Ivory and Harrison, but it's hard to predict how things will shake out. There are so many variables.
3. The coaching market: As always, there will be a lot of movement in the coaching ranks as soon as the season is over. There could be anywhere from six to 10 new head coaches. One name on the radar of the NFL's head-coaching search committee, which recommends candidates to teams, is Jets receivers coach Karl Dorrell. With the Rooney Rule in place, Dorrell could be requested for interviews.
Not only has he done a nice job with the Jets' receivers -- Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have more receptions (165) than any tandem in the league -- but Dorrell is the only current African-American NFL assistant to have a winning record as an NFL or Power 5 college coach, having compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons as UCLA head coach (2003-2007). He has worked under several big-name coaches, including Bill Parcells.
Obviously, the Jets' success under Todd Bowles will create more exposure for his assistants. Kacy Rodgers, who has only one year of experience as a defensive coordinator, is a name to watch in the future.
4. No one is saying they cheat, but ...: It wouldn't be a Jets-Patriots game if we didn't have at least one item about a New England tactic that has raised eyebrows. Special-teams coach Bobby April said he spoke Monday to Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officiating, about a rule interpretation. While defending field goals, the Patriots like to stem their line, meaning their linemen move laterally before the snap in an attempt to get the opponents' blockers to flinch. It worked in the first meeting, as James Carpenter was called for a false start.
The Dallas Cowboys used it last week against the Jets, so April, knowing he could see it again from the Patriots, reached out to the league office. Yes, it's legal, he was told.
But there are some who believe it's a cheap trick, capitalizing on a loophole in the rules, which are designed to prevent the defense from inducing a false start. As long as the defensive player isn't moving vertically toward the ball, the shifting is allowed. When I asked April if the Patriots' shifting violates the spirit of the rule, he referenced his conversation with Blandino, saying, "That's what we talked about. What's the difference if it's intentional?"
Something to think about when the Jets are lining up for a field goal.
5. The Butler is doing it: Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey played a small role in Malcolm Butler's Cinderella story. Gailey, out of football in January 2014, coached Butler in the Medal of Honor Bowl, a postseason all-star game in Charleston, South Carolina. Gailey was so impressed with Butler, out of Division II West Alabama, that he reportedly recommended him to Patriots coach Bill Belichick. New England signed him as an undrafted free agent and ... well, you know the rest.
6. Homegrown: Muhammad Wilkerson became the first player from the Jets' past eight drafts to be selected to the Pro Bowl. Fellow defensive end Sheldon Richardson played in the Pro Bowl last year, but he went as an alternate. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum is long gone, but two of the team's three Pro Bowl selections -- Wilkerson and cornerback Darrelle Revis -- were his picks in 2011 and 2007, respectively.
7. Follow the leader: Linebacker Pace offered some insight on how the players slowly broke away from the Rex Ryan way and committed themselves to Bowles. It wasn't an overnight transition, according to Pace, who said it didn't happen until the midseason swoon.
"Guys looked at themselves in the mirror and said, 'Just follow him. Just listen to what he's saying,'" Pace said. "It's just clicking. Guys bought all the way in and said, 'Hey, listen, follow Todd.' It has worked out for us."
8. Mr. Red Zone: Decker has 25 red-zone targets, four more than any other player in the league. He has received 37 percent of the Jets' red-zone targets; the only player in the league above one-third is Miami's Jarvis Landry (33.3 percent).