Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets hope to reach new deal

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets want Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick wants the Jets. Now they have to work together to reach a contract.

One day after throwing three fourth-quarter interceptions in a season-ending loss to Buffalo that wrecked the Jets' playoff chances, Fitzpatrick received an endorsement Monday from coach Todd Bowles, who said he wants the 11-year veteran as his starting quarterback in 2016.

"Obviously, it's a pretty high priority," Bowles said of Fitzpatrick's pending free agency. "He's the quarterback. He had a great year for us. We want him back.

"If he comes back, he'll be the starter," he added, saying the poor finish "can't tarnish" what Fitzpatrick accomplished.

Fitzpatrick said he loved his first season with the team and wants to return.

"I hope so," Fitzpatrick said Monday in a somber locker room. "I don't want to live with hypotheticals, but I had a lot of fun this year. It's the most fun I've ever had in a season, with the guys in this locker room and the run we had in December. Hopefully, I can be back and can continue to build on that."

Fitzpatrick set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and led the Jets to a 10-6 record, but he imploded in a 22-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's season finale. He threw more interceptions in the final 10 minutes than he did in the previous five games (all victories). It was a devastating defeat for the Jets, who were guaranteed a playoff spot had they won.

Despite the nightmarish ending, Fitzpatrick, 33, believes he's "a better football player now than I've been at any point in my career." In New York, he clicked with his teammates and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, his former coach with the Bills.

"This is obviously a place I want to be, a place I'm comfortable with, but we'll see how everything goes," said Fitzpatrick, who made $3.25 million in the final year of his contract.

The Jets inherited the contract after acquiring Fitzpatrick for a sixth-round pick in a trade with the Houston Texans last March.

Previously, team officials had said they'd like to re-sign Fitzpatrick, who received a strong endorsement from wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Marshall said "it's really important" to keep Fitzpatrick, and he's convinced it will happen.

"Oh, no doubt," Marshall said. "I mean, he's definitely coming back. He'll be back.

"He's a smart businessman, and our guys upstairs are smart. They'll figure it out. I feel like they want him here. I feel like he wants to be here. I know he wants to be here. We want him here.

"I don't think it'll be a distraction or a problem for the team because Fitz understands the business. Whatever it is -- the minimum salary or $100 million -- he'll deserve every bit of it."

The Jets have only two quarterbacks under contract -- Geno Smith and rookie Bryce Petty. Smith was the projected starter until he was punched in the face by former teammate IK Enemkpali in August, resulting in a broken jaw.

A defiant Smith, saying he will have "10 times more motivation" this offseason, refused to concede anything for 2016. He made it clear he believes he's a starting-caliber quarterback.

"If you're saying I don't have an opportunity here, I don't believe that," Smith said. "We don't know what's going to happen, what's going to transpire. We have to wait and see."

Smith addressed his tumultuous season, saying the adversity made him a better person and player.

"I'm extremely competitive," he said. "I was put in a tough situation this year. I did my best to handle it in the best way possible. It's probably the first time I didn't play since I was 8 years old. I want to be out there, we all do.

"I use things as motivation, as fuel to my fire. Everything I went through, everything that's been said, I listen to. I hear it."