If it feels like Ryan Fitzpatrick has been playing forever, and for just about every NFL team, well, it's because that's not too far removed from reality. Since entering the league as a seventh-round draft pick of the Rams in 2005, the bearded journeyman has suited up for eight different franchises over the course of 16 seasons, starting multiple games for each of them and arguably turning in some of the best football of his career in his second decade of service. Now, at 38, Fitzpatrick is about to hit free agency as one of the bigger names in a shallow quarterback market, perhaps with his best last chance to secure a potential starting job.
The ageless veteran thrived as the Miami Dolphins' No. 2 over the last two years, posting respectable numbers for an otherwise porous 2019 team and then shining as a "relief pitcher" for rookie Tua Tagovailoa in 2020. But after recently suggesting that his time in Miami "re-lit that fire under me," Fitzpatrick sounds like a guy itching to give a starting gig one more try. That doesn't necessarily mean his market as a potential No. 1 will be robust, but it does mean he's likely to wade deep into free agency before putting pen to paper.
With that in mind, we've sorted through 10 logical suitors, identifying long shots and likely contenders for the grizzled gunslinger:
Bills: Finding a potential reunion for Fitzpatrick isn't hard considering he's played for literally a quarter of the NFL, but this one would be special. For one, Fitz and Bills star Josh Allen have known each other for years. Buffalo's incumbent No. 2, Matt Barkley, is also a free agent. But while Fitzpatrick might be inclined to stay on the bench for a contender, the Bills likely prefer to spend elsewhere.
Cowboys: Dallas' first priority is locking up Dak Prescott, but once that's done, they'll need to ensure they have an insurance plan. With Andy Dalton bound to test the market himself, Fitz would represent a higher-upside backup. His big brand would fit right in with America's Team. The holdup is whether he'd be willing to be a clear No. 2 with better paths to playing time elsewhere.
Dolphins: Some would argue they belong among the front-runners considering how much Fitz enjoyed Miami (and vice-versa), but the Dolphins have already declared Tagovailoa their starter moving forward. Remember, mid-season, when Fitz openly admitted the club broke his heart by yanking the No. 1 job from him? The two-year run was nice, but others offer more inviting environments.
Giants: Like the Dolphins, they've already committed to their young QB in Daniel Jones. But Fitzpatrick could easily convince himself Jones is on a shorter leash entering Year Three. From New York's perspective, why wouldn't you want such a gutsy mentor as Jones' backup? Well, here's the reason why: Colt McCoy, the incumbent No. 2 (but also a free agent), will probably be far cheaper.
Texans: Don't count on this unless Houston actually moves Deshaun Watson, but with each passing day, the inevitability of the Texans granting Watson's wish and fielding offers just increases. If/when he's dealt, Houston will be hunting for just about any QB help it can find. The Texans hosted Fitz for a one-year stint back in 2014 and would likely welcome his short-term spunk.
Bears: Desperate for a QB fix, they'll do everything they can to land a bigger name (Watson, Russell Wilson, Sam Darnold, etc.) before they turn to a free-agent stopgap. But seeing as though most of the bigger names are likely to go elsewhere, if anywhere, Fitzpatrick might be one of their best 2021 bets -- too old to destroy their finances, but good enough to keep them in the hunt.
Broncos: If you're looking for an actual favorite, the Broncos might be it. Former second-rounder Drew Lock is very clearly on thin ice, and unless Denver unloads all kinds of assets to land Watson or a top rookie QB, they'll almost assuredly be adding a vet to compete with Lock in camp. With a bunch of young, underrated weapons, Fitz might actually propel Denver into the wild-card mix, too.
Patriots: Fitzpatrick has already played for every other AFC East team, so why not complete the cycle? On a serious note, New England is more than likely down to three options: 1.) Trade for Jimmy Garoppolo; 2.) Trade up for a rookie QB; or 3.) Re-sign Cam Newton. Even if they pull off the second, Fitz makes sense as a high-upside bridge.
Saints: Their cap situation is downright scary, so it would take some major finagling. But if Jameis Winston ends up elsewhere, Sean Payton could easily talk himself into a one- or two-year deal for a similarly aggressive Fitzpatrick. The latter has more juice in his arm than Drew Brees had for much of 2020, and it's not like he'd stop the Saints from adding a long-term project, either.
Washington: Like the Broncos, Washington feels like a pretty strong bet to pillage the veteran free-agent market -- unless it lands Sam Darnold or drafts, say, Mac Jones in the first round. Ron Rivera is convinced he can win now with a group that led the NFC East despite a QB shuffle in 2020, and Fitzpatrick would be a huge change of pace from the ultra-conservative Alex Smith.