FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The New York Jets have been saying for months that free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick will return to his old job as starting quarterback if he re-signs.
But that gig comes with an expiration date, according to Jets coach Todd Bowles, who indicated Wednesday he'll turn to Geno Smith if Fitzpatrick's contract impasse isn't resolved by a certain time.
Bowles didn't say when, but he hinted it wouldn't be until the preseason.
"There comes a point, but we're not at that point yet," he said at the team's mandatory minicamp. "If it's Week 4 in training camp and he's not here, you know who your starter is going to be Week 1."
"It's to the extreme, but there's a ticking clock," he added. "You have time until you don't have time."
Bowles' comments came one day after he said there's "no drop-dead deadline" to sign Fitzpatrick, but there apparently is a soft deadline with regard to his potential role. As with any negotiation, there's probably posturing involved, as well.
The Jets have been praising Smith for his performance in the offseason, yet it's telling that they've kept the job open for Fitzpatrick, to whom they offered a three-year, $24 million contract.
"I've said all along Ryan is the starter," Bowles said. "Obviously, if Geno plays well and Ryan plays well, Ryan is going to be the starter. If Ryan gets hurt or Ryan doesn't show and Geno gets in like Ryan did last year and goes 4-1, things happen."
Smith went into training camp last year as the presumptive starter, with Fitzpatrick backing him up. But Smith got punched in the face by a teammate and suffered a broken jaw, creating an opportunity for Fitzpatrick, who led the team to a 4-1 start and never relinquished the job.
If the Jets don't re-sign Fitzpatrick, they will consider adding a veteran backup, Bowles said. Right now, the backups are Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg. Petty is getting second-team reps in practice, but he has no regular-season experience.
Former Jets great Joe Namath offered his take on the quarterback controversy, predicting that Smith would be the Week 1 starter.
"I think Geno is going to be the starting quarterback, no matter if Fitzpatrick comes back or not," Namath told a crowded luncheon on Tuesday in Manhattan.
Bowles laughed when told of Namath's bold prediction.
"Joe Namath has earned the right to say whatever he wants," the coach said. "He's a Super Bowl quarterback."
Asked if Namath will be proved right, Bowles said, "You have to ask Joe that."