FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The most scrutinized New York Jets player during the opening of "voluntary" OTAs this week remained the player who wasn't even in attendance.
The Ryan Fitzpatrick saga hit its 143rd day Wednesday, when the Jets' erstwhile starting quarterback was nowhere to be found during the team's first OTA practice viewed by the media. With Fitzpatrick still unsigned, Geno Smith took the first-team reps ahead of second-year signal-caller Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg.
It's a depth chart to which the Jets may have to become accustomed as a break in the stalemate between Fitzpatrick and the Jets appears to be nowhere on the horizon. The Jets are offering Fitzpatrick about $8 million per year to return while Fitzpatrick, who had the best year of his career last season and led the Jets to within an eyelash of the playoffs, wants about double that.
Fitzpatrick's bargaining position has weakened in recent weeks. He once appeared to be the best quarterback on the free-agent market as well as the Jets' best option at the position for years to come, but every other team has filled its quarterback vacancy while the Jets may have found their long-term starter when they selected Hackenberg in the second round of last month's draft.
Nor did Fitzpatrick do himself any favors this week, when he appeared at fellow free agent Willie Colon's charity golf tournament, where he told reporters he will play this season - ESPN reported in late April that he would rather retire than accept the Jets' offer - and that he'd prefer to do so with the Jets.
"I would like to be back," Fitzpatrick said.
Those were the extent of the public comments by Fitzpatrick, who said he wanted to keep a low profile. But he hasn't exactly been invisible the last four months: The Arizona resident has been seen at New York Rangers hockey games and at a reunion of New York sports-talk show hosts Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
In other words, he has long acted like he wants to be back - and the Jets, outside of stone-faced general manager Mike Maccagnan, have made it clear they're holding the door wide open for Fitzpatrick.
"You're hopeful, I don't know about confident (about Fitzpatrick's return)," head coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday. "A lot of things can happen in football. Nothing surprises you, but they're working on it and hopefully things work out."
Even Smith seemed to be speaking wistfully of Fitzpatrick Wednesday.
"He's not a ghost," Smith said. "We're still in communication with him."
But nothing will change until he's in communication with Maccagnan.
--No fewer than three of the Jets' most valuable veteran players weren't present for the start of "voluntary" OTAs this week. Coincidence, or a statement in support of unsigned quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick?
Probably a little bit of both. Center Nick Mangold, the longest-tenured member of the roster, was not in Florham Park because his wife just gave birth. But wide receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, both of whom had career seasons last year with Fitzpatrick behind center, raised eyebrows with their absences.
Marshall specialized in acrimonious relationships with his quarterbacks in Denver, Chicago and Miami before hitting it off with Fitzpatrick.
"The way we communicate, the way we practice together, the way we bring other guys together, I've never seen that anywhere else - and I've been a lot of places and I've had a lot of quarterbacks," Marshall told The Rich Eisen Show in March.
Yet Decker has been even more outspoken in his support of Fitzpatrick, noting after the draft that he was surprised the Jets used a second-round pick on quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Earlier this month, Decker told NFL Total Access he believed Fitzpatrick would return to the Jets, but perhaps not until late in the summer.
"Right now it's a business and they're so far off in dollar amount," Decker said. "But Ryan wants to be back. They want Ryan back. Something is going to happen. It might be before training camp, the day or two before, but I believe that he'll be back on the team come this fall."
As for Decker and Marshall not being with the Jets this week? No big deal, per head coach Todd Bowles.
"It's voluntary," Bowles said. "When they finish doing what they have to do, they'll be here."
--Some other familiar faces were either not working out or nowhere to be seen this week.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson remains away from the facility in protest of the lack of a long-term contract offer from the Jets. Wilkerson was slapped with the franchise tag in February and appears likely to sit out until at least July 15, the deadline for a long-term deal to be reached. ESPNNewYork.com reported earlier in the spring Wilkerson could hold out into training camp or beyond.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is no stranger to holdouts, but his lack of activity this week has everything to do with his recovery from wrist surgery. Revis watched from the sidelines during Wednesday's workout. Head coach Todd Bowles said he hoped Revis, who had surgery in March, would be ready for training camp, but that he couldn't guarantee it.
A trio of players returning from injury - left tackle Ryan Clady, running back Khiry Robinson and wide receiver Devin Smith - didn't practice this week and probably won't suit up until training camp. Clady missed all of last season with a torn ACL while Robinson (broken leg) and Smith (torn ACL) suffered season-ending injuries in November and December, respectively.