New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick takes the field before the game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on December 27, 2015. The Jets defeated the Patriots 26-20. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
The New York Jets are being downright stupid in negotiations with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It might not matter, because as long as Bill Belichick can take a breath, the New England Patriots will continue to dominate the AFC East. But if the Jets ever hope to catch up, they need to get a lot smarter in the way they handle their business.
And it is just business.
Look, no one is saying Ryan Fitzpatrick is the next coming of Joe Montana or Joe Namath or even Chad Pennington. But he did start every game last season, led the Jets to a 10-6 record and tied for 10th place in the NFL in touchdown passes.
Perhaps he is not a long-term solution for the team because he's 33 years old. Probably not. But long term in the NFL is a relative term, and although the Jets might already have his successor in second-round pick Christian Hackenberg, they don't have a handy alternative for this season unless you want to retreat to Geno Smith, the starter in 2013-14.
It was interesting to hear coach Todd Bowles talk up Smith this week as "light years ahead" from a year ago and then seem to backtrack a day later by saying the team was holding the starting job open for Fitzpatrick but keeping its options open. Gee, you don't suppose those comments were part of a negotiating tactic, do you?
The Jets could learn a lesson from the history of the team with which they share a stadium in New Jersey. In the 1990s, the Giants were floundering for several seasons after the retirement of Phil Simms. They had Jeff Hostetler, who filled in admirably for an injured Simms in the 1990 Super Bowl season, and also tried Dave Brown, Kent Graham and Danny Kanell.
In eight seasons following that Super Bowl victory, the Giants reached the playoffs just twice. That was not good enough for Ernie Accorsi, who became the general manager before the 1998 season. Accorsi had ties at Penn State, where he once worked, and people there suggested he take a flyer on quarterback Kerry Collins, who already had washed out with Carolina and New Orleans amid drinking problems and issues with teammates over using a racial epithet during training camp.
Flyer? Accorsi gave Collins a $5 million signing bonus, a generous deal for which he was criticized. His response made sense then and it fits the Fitzpatrick situation, too.
It's only money, Accorsi said. You can work around money issues. Problems accrue when you have to give up draft choices that can't easily be replaced. But Collins did not cost the Giants a draft choice, so Accorsi was comfortable with the signing -- just as the Jets ought to be comfortable getting Fitzpatrick signed and into training camp.
What they ought to pay him is subject to negotiations but they need not draw such a line in the sand when all that's at play is cash, not draft choices that would impact the team in the future.
And just how did that Collins signing work out for Accorsi?
Well, Collins became the Giants' starting quarterback late in the 1999 season and was the season-opening starter in 2000. He led the Giants to a 12-4 record and threw five touchdown passes in a 41-0 wipeout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game. That the Giants were beaten by the great Baltimore Ravens defense in the Super Bowl did little to lessen the impact Collins' signing had on the franchise.
As it turned out, Collins would remain the Giants' starter for three more seasons, until Accorsi could swing the deal that brought Eli Manning to New York.
The point of all this, of course, is that Accorsi understood the value of a quarterback and the difference between paying cash for a player and giving up draft choices. Whether he would have made a trade for Collins, if he had to, never will be known, but the point is he did not have to, just as the Jets do not have to give up anything in trade to get Fitzpatrick into camp.
Maybe Fitzpatrick will prove that last year was a fluke and lose the job outright to Smith or Hackenberg. But if you were the Jets, wouldn't you want to find out?
It's a reminder that NFL teams sometimes need. There are plenty of other examples through the years of teams confusing draft choices, the franchise building blocks, with money, with is highly fungible. Don't tell me about salary cap limitations; the smart teams have known how to deal with the cap since it started, and they are not seriously hampered by it.
I'll give you one more example of the difference between money and picks. After the 2005 season, Drew Brees was coming off back-to-back outstanding years as the San Diego Chargers quarterback, but he was injured at the end of that second year, and the Chargers' general manager at the time, A.J. Smith, was in love with Philip Rivers, whom he drafted in the first round in 2004 and hadn't been able to get on the field.
Smith saw Brees' injury as an opportunity to cut the cord, and he did. Despite Brees' success, Smith let him walk away as a free agent, claiming, of course, the salary cap made him do it. It never occurred to the Chargers that a little salary cap ingenuity would have solved the problem.
Well, how'd that work out?
Yes, Rivers has had a nice career as a starting quarterback in San Diego, but the Chargers have won just four playoff games in the decade he has been their starter, and have not reached the Super Bowl. Brees, of course, led the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl title in the 2009 season, when he was the Super Bowl MVP, and he twice has been the league's offensive player of the year.
None of this history for Collins or Brees serves as a predictor of how the Jets would fare by settling the Fitzpatrick issue in a hurry but it merely points out that what's important in the NFL is keeping your players, not your money. At least if you are trying to win, that is.
Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.