NY Jets: Analyzing quarterback situation heading into 2016

Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) warmup for their game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) warmup for their game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) warmup for their game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets will still have some questions at quarterback heading into the off season. Analyzing their situation at the most important position on the team proves Gang Green has some tough decisions to make.

This season was a roller coaster ride for Jet fans at the quarterback position. The summer saw an improved performance from the incumbent starter Geno Smith. He seemed to have a good grasp of Chan Gailey’s system and appeared to be set to start the 2015 season for the Jets. We all know what happened next, Smith had his jaw broken in a locker room brawl and wound up sitting the bench for the season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in and led the Jets to a 10-6 record, but then imploded in the final game of the season, dashing the hope for a Jets’ playoff run. Fitzpatrick had a career year for himself and Jet quarterbacks. He ended the season with 355 completions for 3,905 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

His yardage this year was a personal best for the veteran signal caller and all the touchdowns he threw in total set the all-time franchise record in a single season. It wasn’t all brilliance on Fitzpatrick’s part however, he proved to be a slow starter and there was little to his deep ball. Fitzpatrick finished the season throwing at a 59.6 completion rate, but was erratic at times through the season.

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Bryce Petty, a fourth-round pick last year, sat the bench this year, watching and learning behind Fitzpatrick. Petty impressed the coaching staff with his development last summer, but Todd Bowles came out early and told Jet fans that they would not see Petty on the field this year.

Reports during the course of the year were positive in the Petty arena, with news that he was handling himself well in his role as a third string quarterback. Petty is a smart young man and has reportedly picked up the offensive system with ease. Petty has the skill set to succeed, but it’s likely going to take time to get him NFL ready.

Fitzpatrick is a free agent, Smith is despised by the fan base and Petty is likely not ready. So the question on most Jet fans minds today, is where do the Jets go from here at the position?

Let’s take a look.

Next: Ryan Fitzpatrick

Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Fitzpatrick

As we already discussed, Fitzpatrick had a career year for himself this year. He broke the record for touchdowns in a season and in the process electrified many sectors of the Jet fan base along the way. He did have his critics during the season however, his 15 interceptions were costly ones and some fans were calling for a return to Smith when Fitzpatrick slumped mid-season.

Fitzpatrick showed grit and determination for the Jets this season. Never known as a runner, Fitzpatrick refused to slide and took the hits while he posted 270 yards rushing, 21 first downs and a pair of touchdowns. He stood in the pocket and took on the hits when the Jets’ offensive line failed to protect him. The guy showed determination and never missed a beat when he required surgery on his hand during the season.

Jet fans labeled him “Fitzmagic” for his late game heroics and many fell in love with the veteran quarterback. He knows the Gailey system from his days in Buffalo under the same system, and executed it quite well for most of the season. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick had a horrendous game when everything was on the line in the season finale. Fitzpatrick went from magic to tragic right in front of Jet fans eyes.

The day after Fitzpatrick self destructed in Buffalo, the Jet fan base turned on him and hung the disappointing loss squarely on his shoulders. Many fans now believe the Jets need to move on from Fitzpatrick and find another quarterback. The Jets will certainly look for options in the off season, but I think it’s a bit premature to think Fitzpatrick is done in New York.

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94) dives to sack New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets have two young quarterbacks on the roster behind Fitzpatrick. Smith and Petty are both cheap options for the Jets and are likely going to be here next season. General manager Mike Maccagnan is building from youth and just may see another year for Fitzpatrick as a mentor. If the Jets can bring Fitzpatrick back at a reasonable price, they have little to lose.

In my eyes Fitzpatrick has earned a return engagement with the Jets. He may be a mediocre type talent, but let’s face it, he gave us one of the most exciting seasons Jet fans have seen at the position in many years. He knows the system well and can pass that knowledge onto the guys coming up behind him. He may not start next season, the Jets would have to do an open competition, but at the right price, he would make a valuable asset to whoever starts. Fitzpatrick holds value as a backup as well and the Jets know he can get it done off the bench.

Price will be the determining factor in the decision for the Jets. If Fitzpatrick wants to cash in on his successful season, then I can see the Jets walking away. If he’s going to be reasonable in his demands and can be had for five or six million per year, I believe the Jets would be wise to sign him for two years, setting up the contract where they can simply walk away. His experience would be great to have if the younger guys prove unable to go.

Next: Geno Smith

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Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to throw a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Jets 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Geno Smith

The Smith saga continues into the off season. Last year’s incumbent, he lost his job to Fitzpatrick after getting into a locker room brawl before the season started. It was an ugly ordeal for Jet fans and many would like nothing more then to see the last of him under center for the Jets. Despite many fans dislike of the youngster, Smith had an impressive summer last season under Chan Gailey.

Prior to the brawl, Jet fans were excited to see him start this year. Smith showed significant development last summer, his accuracy was much better and he appeared to have solved his turnover problem. Then the fight happened and Fitzpatrick was the guy the rest of the way. Some called for his return when Fitzpatrick was injured, but that was not meant to be. Smith sat on the bench and was the perfect back up, accepting his role without complaint.

Smith will be in the final year of his rookie contract next year and the Jets will need to decide what his future with the team is. Smith accounts for only $1.6 million of cap space in 2016, making him an extremely cheap starter or backup for the Jets. Fans would like to see him gone, but at that kind of money, the Jets will likely keep him around.

Smith should be part of the competition in 2016, the unfortunate injury to his jaw kept him from starting this year. He clearly outplayed Fitzpatrick in camp last season and Smith is still only 25 years old. It may be an unpopular idea for many Jet fans, but thankfully, Maccagnan isn’t running a popularity contest when it comes to finding a starting quarterback.

If the Jets are done with him, they can’t simply walk away from the youngster as many fans are proclaiming. Whether you believe it or not, Smith holds value. He has NFL experience, he’s young and there a bunch of quarterback hungry teams in the NFL. If they are done with Smith in New York, the Jets would be wise to shop him before parting ways.

Next: Free Agency/Trade

Jan 3, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford (7) throws the ball during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Free Agency/Trade

Likely the biggest name in free agency at quarterback this year is Sam Bradford. The Eagles traded for Bradford last season and the results were mixed in Philadelphia. The Eagles have a new head coach taking over after they fired Chip Kelly, so Bradford could possibly hit the market as a free agent. Bradford made almost $13 million last season and after proving he can stay healthy, will be looking for a pay raise in the off season. Bradford has said publicly that he would like to return to Philadelphia, but the asking price might be too high for ownership.

Beyond Bradford there is little to get excited about in free agency. Chase Daniels (29), Drew Stanton (31), Chad Henney (30), Matt Hasselbeck (40), Matt Moore (31), Matt Schaub (31), Kellen Clemens (32), Bruce Gradkowski (32), Matt Cassel (33), Scott Tolzien (28), Brock Osweiler (25), Charlie Whitehurst (33), Case Keenum (27), Brandon Weeden (32), Jimmy Clausen (28), Josh Freeman (27), and Ryan Lindley (26) are all free agents this season.

As in most seasons, the top talents in this group will likely be re-signed with their respective teams, leaving little to pick through that actually hit the market. Bradford may make the open market and rumors have it Drew Stanton might as well. If that is the case, competition will be at a premium for both and the Jets would likely have to pay up big to bring either into the big apple.

The other option would be for the Jets to go shopping and hope to land a trade. It’s always a possibility that somebody breaks loose from a team, but again, the asking prices are likely to be very high. Rumors have it that RGIII might be available this winter in the trade market, but rumors swirl every year about such things and I’m not certain he would fit here in New York regardless.

The Jets will be combing through the candidates but would be wise not to give away the future in a trade. The NFL has a bunch of quarterback hungry teams so finding a replacement for Fitzpatrick may not be easy or cheap.

Next: My Solution

Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) stands behind center against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Jets 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

My Solution

My plan is a simple one, but likely an unpopular one as well. I believe it is a reasonable one however, that could pay some nice dividends down the line for the team. It is not a “win now” type proposal, but I’m a firm believer that the Jets need to develop a young quarterback for a change. They’ve failed to do it for decades now and I think the time is right for them to get it done.

Attempt to re-sign Fitzpatrick short term, no guarantees and a contract in the $12 million range for two years. Short of that, attempt to find a veteran free agent to sign to a one-year deal. This signing provides competition for camp this year and a possible starter if he can win the job.

Allow Smith to compete with whomever the Jets decide to bring in. Many fans are done with Smith, but for my dollar, he’s cheap enough to retain and good enough to compete. It is Smith’s final season under contract and he’s young, so let him compete. He likely would have been the Jets’ starter this year had it not been for the injury and I think the team owes him an opportunity. It may not be popular, but I’m not done with Smith quite yet. If he wins the competition, the Jets have a one-year starter and can go from there.

Next I’d like to see the Jets draft another developmental quarterback. There are ample candidates with upside that will likely be available into the middle rounds. I’m a bit biased as I am a Penn State alumni, but I would love to see the Jets grab Christian Hackenberg.

Once projected to be a first-round pick, Hackenberg’s draft stock has fallen due to a mediocre performance by Penn State’s offensive line. The 6’4″/236 pound quarterback has ideal size and a strong arm to go with it, he’ll need to work on his accuracy and decision making at the pro level, but he’d make an ideal developmental guy for the Jets.

Petty gets another year on the bench, competing with Hackenberg or whomever the Jets decide to bring in. The Jets would then have four quarterbacks coming into camp next year. A veteran to compete with Smith, two developmental guys behind them and they will have spent marginally at the position.

Aug 21, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) throws a pass during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Falcons 30-22. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Ideally, Smith steps up and wins this competition out right. If Smith shows the development he did in camp last year, the Jets could actually have a starter next season. Smith looked good in preseason this year and my hope is a year behind Fitzpatrick will have him ready to finally start for the Jets. If that turns out to be the scenario, then the Jets can simply cut the veteran and allow Petty to assume the backup role and keep their developmental quarterback as the third stringer.

With any luck Smith plays adequately and the Jets develop two young arms for the future. We haven’t developed a quarterback in quite some time, and I believe it’s time. While the Jets plug the holes elsewhere, the coaching staff can work on doing just that and spend marginally in the process.

The plan, if all goes well, would leave the Jets with three quarterbacks that would be under the age of 26 years old. If all of them would develop, the Jets would have some trading chips for future additions and we might actually develop the “franchise guy” the team have been desperately seeking for years.

More jets: Much work lies ahead in 2016 for the Jets

It’s not likely this is the way things will go, but its just one idea of how the Jets might look to solve the problem. Of course there are many other scenarios that the management staff will need to work through before making a decision, only time will tell. I trust Maccagnan to make the right moves for the Jets, he did nicely in his first year and my hope is that he’ll do even better this year. He’s developing youth in other areas of the football team and I think it’s time to take that approach with the quarterback position as well.

So there’s my attempt to be the decision maker at the quarterback position for the Jets. Now I’d like to hear yours. Please leave us a comment below as this discussion is likely to carry through the off season, so let’s get it started! As always, I ask you to join us and Let’s Talk Jet Football!!