FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't been around the New York Jets' facility in a few months, but he talks to his old teammates (and perhaps future teammates) on a fairly regular basis. On Tuesday, he and Brandon Marshall spoke by phone.
"He's doing good," Marshall told reporters Wednesday after practice. "Yesterday, one of his kids was stuck in a tree. We were FaceTiming and he said, "OK, I have to go get my kid, he's stuck in a tree.' He's funny. His beard is back, like literally all the way back."
It's a weird dynamic.
Fitzpatrick is the phantom quarterback, a free agent locked in a four-month contract stalemate with the Jets, but he's still a popular fellow at One Jets Drive. The Jets are basically keeping the light on for him, saying he will be the starter if/when he returns. They haven't given away his locker room stall, which is unusual. It's unoccupied real estate, a vacant stall sans nameplate.
It's almost as if the Jets are getting ready to sit down for dinner, and the chair at the head of the table is empty, waiting for the VIP to arrive. As Marshall spoke to a group of reporters, he glanced to Fitzpatrick's locker, perhaps subconsciously. It's tough to break old habits.
Eventually, the staring contest will end. Despite their differences at the bargaining table, I still believe Fitzpatrick will re-sign with the Jets. They need him and he needs them. Put it this way: He can buy a pretty awesome tree house for his kids with $15 million in guarantees.
Jets coach Todd Bowles, who has said on multiple occasions that he can live without a resolution until training camp, was asked if there's a point when he will be concerned by Fitzpatrick's absence.
"I don't think you do," he said. "You worry about the team and the team chemistry and, like I said last week, it's like an injury.
"If he gets injured and he's out for the year, you don't grow concerned. You get the next guy ready to play and you go out and play football."
The next guy is Geno Smith, who finds himself in a difficult situation.
Relegated to an afterthought last season in the wake of the IK Enemkpali fiasco, Smith is trying to establish himself as a team leader, but it's hard to do that when you're a place holder. He's leading the first-team offense every day, but the gig will end as soon as Fitzpatrick walks through the door. No matter how they spin it, Smith is in an awkward position.
"I don't think it clips his wings or anybody else's," Bowles said. "You play football and you have the opportunity to play. You take advantage of opportunities. Whether you're first team, second team or third team, you have to do your job -- and he's been doing his job. He's been great mentally, and I'm happy with what he's doing."
"I always say quarterbacks are CEOs," Marshall said. "When I was in Chicago, Josh McCown was great at that. He really was our leader."
Marshall stopped abruptly, realizing his comment could be perceived as a veiled shot at Cutler, whom he has criticized in the past. Frankly, it didn't sound like a slip of the tongue, but he made his point.
"Josh McCown did a great job of galvanizing the group, but he was the No. 2 guy and guys respected that," Marshall said. "No matter where you are on the depth chart, you still want to get those reps and approach it the same."
Barring a stunning change in the Fitzpatrick talks, Smith will be the No. 1 when minicamp ends next week. Whether he opens training camp as the No. 1 is another story.