Hey, Jets: Replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick? No brainer; Todd Bowles on hot seat? No brains
After watching disaster unfold at QB, Geno Smith becomes the man under center
Having seen enough of Ryan Fitzpatrick , New York Jets coach Todd Bowles wisely changed quarterbacks to Geno Smith . It was time to make the change, period. And Bowles had abundant support within the organization for the move.
Fitzpatrick is who he is, the same limited, turnover-prone passer he's been almost all of his 12-year career. That gun-slinging, play-making, 30-touchdown thrower of last season was not walking back in the building. That was the anomaly, so staying with a 33-year-old free-agent-to-be who leads the NFL in turnovers was begging for more punishment after a 1-5 start.
The fact Fitzpatrick is making $12M is irrelevant, and it sounds to me like pretty much everyone short of top receiver Brandon Marshall , who formed a quick and lasting bond with Fitzpatrick during his breakthrough 2015 season, was ready to move on from the journeyman, who has no future with the Jets.
Is Smith the answer? No. But play him and see what he can do, baggage and all.
And I'll say this about Smith: He wasn't the guy who demanded $18M a year who thought that despite middling-at-best success and no other offers, he could sit out the offseason program and float rumors of retiring to create contract leverage. He wasn't the guy who signed just before camp started (Fitzpatrick's agents did him no favors; he was never getting more than $12M or a multi-year deal from the Jets) and churned through a brutal preseason and has been a turnover machine since.
If you're a guy with a career quarterback rating of 79.8 and 127 career interceptions in 119 games, and you take a prolonged contractual stand that wipes out an entire offseason, then you damn well better be prepared to play winning football when you do sign. You can't be the primary reason the team is at the bottom of the AFC standings. Not when you are Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"The way Fitzpatrick is limiting that entire team," said one NFL scout who has watched the Jets closely. "They have no confidence in the quarterback and his ability to get the ball where it needs to be. Besides Marshall, who is getting the ball? He could barely complete a simple throw Monday night. Even [commentator Jon] Gruden wanted him out of there. If I am advising Todd, it's a no-brainer to me. You can't play him anymore. It's over."
Now, the same evaluator said there is no way Smith would even be on his team, but I can assure you the Jets aren't considering anyone but Smith as the replacement. As I've reported in the past, they have a long-term plan for novice quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that includes them redshirting this season to learn. The Jets seem unwavering to that, believing it is integral to giving those quarterbacks the best chance to help the organization.
And Smith took all the starting reps while Fitzpatrick was showing up at Knicks games and moaning about his contract. He's the next man up. With Fitzpatrick sporting a 63.4 rating (completing only 57 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and 11 picks), which is 31st in the NFL, there was nowhere to go but up. The Jets have an array of intriguing receivers and Smith has a career rating of 71.9, so even playing to prior form constitutes a modest upgrade.
No better time than the present to alter the energy and feel of the huddle and maybe beat a Baltimore Ravens team that has sputtered offensively. An ugly win would keep the Jets on the periphery of the playoff scene, and the schedule finally begins to ease up after a brutal start. Maybe Smith has something within him no one thought was there, but after 3,696 career attempts, it's fair to say Fitzpatrick has established what he was, and he'll be fishing for a $3M/year back-up gig a few months from now, his heady days of prolonged contract fights long over.
Dumping Bowles no answer
All of a sudden there are rumblings about potential changes after the season: Bowles is under fire and perpetually enigmatic owner Woody Johnson is getting antsy. However, it would be silly for the Jets to wade back into the shallow hiring pool this offseason. The worst thing Bowles and rookie GM Mike Maccagnan did in 2015 was somehow win 10 games, because it skewed the outward sense of how barren a franchise they inherited, and it would be ridiculous for Johnson to be back among the 7-10 owners who will be looking for new coaches and/or front offices come January.
Take a step back and remember these guys took on a team sent into salary cap hell by Mike Tannenbaum's tenure, a problem compounded by poor drafting and decisions from the unwise coupling of GM John Idzik and Rex Ryan. Bowles and Maccagnan faced the task of replenishing young talent after all the failed draft picks ( Quinton Coples , Stephen Hill , Geno Smith, Dee Milliner , Calvin Pryor , Jace Amaro ; even the one player they hit on, Sheldon Richardson , has faced repeated suspensions) and stop-gap veteran free-agent signings.
They needed to spend money just to get back to the league-minimum spending threshold in the new CBA -- Johnson wouldn't dip into his wallet during Idzik's tenure. And they walked into a facility fractured by leaks, factions and cronyism in the fallout of the Ryan/Tannenbaum relationship. So they spent big on guys like Davis Harris and Darrelle Revis to hold things together for a few drafts. They can move on from almost all of the 2015 signings in the short term with no future cap issues -- and they gave up next to nothing to land veterans like Marshall and Fitzpatrick, who keyed that surprising 10-win charge when they were playing a losing schedule.
Here's a newsflash: They were never going to be a playoff team last season, and the chore this regime took on probably would take at least three years to get back over that hump. There were always going to be major bumps, they just materialized after that 10-win blip. Rival evaluators say they love the defensive line and the Jets have quietly amassed a bounty of young receiving talent that should hit their prime as Marshall and Eric Decker fade.
Certainly, improvements must be made. The Jets know they need to amass more offensive linemen and it is imperative the team has a quarterback of the future, be it someone already there (like Petty of Hackenberg), someone who is plug-and-play from the 2017 draft or another veteran. That has to happen. And Bowles might be wise to juggle the staff around him some in 2017. But the team has been competitive most weeks despite a brutal schedule, the Jets might be .500 if not for the quarterback throwing 11 picks in six games (five in one half at Kansas City) and if Johnson wants to avoid overhauling his team every two years he'd better have a heck of an ace up his sleeve.
Johnson already has had a difficult time getting qualified candidates to take some of his jobs in recent years, and blowing this thing up after two seasons is not going to help his cause.
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Other candidates include Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles and, of course, the Patriots