Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Don't Overlook Ryan Fitzpatrick on the QB Free-Agent Market

Gary Davenport

On March 13, free agency will officially open in the National Football League. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on contracts. And as is the case with everything else NFL (including the upcoming draft), the quarterback position garners more attention than any other.

The conversation has been dominated by two names so far: Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles and 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater. Guys like Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum should get plenty of run as well.

However, there's another signal-caller who can offer a short-term fix: Don't sleep on Fitzmagic, folks.

When Jameis Winston started off the 2018 season serving a three-game suspension, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed the reins to then-35-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick.

He opened it, all right—along with the eyes of just about every football fan in the country.

There was no bigger story over the first two weeks of the season. After torching the eventual NFC South champion New Orleans Saints for 417 yards and four scores on just 28 attempts in a 48-40 win, Fitzpatrick followed that up with 402 passing yards and four more touchdowns in a stunning 27-21 upset of the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Fitzpatrick was doing postgame press conferences in outfits borrowed from teammate DeSean Jackson, the Buccaneers were 2-0 for the first time since 2010, and everyone was having fun.

Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

"He's playing his tail off," Jackson told reporters. "I'm very excited. He said he's [almost] 36, but he's playing like he's 28 ... and I'm playing like I'm 24 [laughs]."

Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback ever to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games to start a season, but the good times didn't last.

In a Week 3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fitzpatrick again topped 400 yards passing—becoming the first QB to ever throw for 400 yards in three straight games—but he also threw three interceptions. After throwing another the following week in a blowout loss at Chicago, he was benched.

After Winston had his own struggles, Fitzpatrick was inserted back into the starting lineup in Week 9. In that game, he threw four more touchdown passes (with two INTs) in a loss to the Carolina Panthers. But after failing to throw a touchdown pass with five interceptions over the two games that followed, he got the hook—for good.

Jason Behnken/Associated Press

It was an inglorious end to a season that started with such promise. It was also Fitzpatrick's career in a nutshell: flashes of excellent play eventually overshadowed by mistakes and turnovers.

Still, if you look at his numbers for the season, they aren't bad. His completion rate of 66.7 was a career high. So were his 295.8 passing yards per game. And his passer rating of 100.4.

That passer rating was higher than Tom Brady's. And Andrew Luck's. And Ben Roethlisberger's. And Aaron Rodgers'. Fitzpatrick's 9.6 yards per attempt and 14.4 yards per completion both led the NFL.

Now, no one's comparing Fitzpatrick to Luck, Brady, Roethlisberger or Rodgers. There's a reason why he is on the verge of signing with what could be his eighth team.

Fitzpatrick isn't a franchise savior by any stretch. Or a long-term solution. If you look up "journeyman," you'll see a picture of Fitzpatrick and his glorious beard. He's prone to inconsistency and turning the ball over.

But there's also a reason why he has made 126 starts over 14 seasons. He's relatively accurate, has a strong arm and doesn't take a lot of sacks. And for all those interceptions he's thrown, he still has 42 more touchdown passes than picks.

No one's going to be fitting Fitzpatrick for a beige jacket, but he's thrown for over 29,000 yards with 190 touchdowns. There are plenty of quarterbacks who would give their right arm to have had Fitzpatrick's career. And while he's well below .500 as a starter (largely on bad teams), he has won 50 games.

Not bad for a seventh-round pick from an Ivy League school.

It wasn't that long ago (2015) that Fitz started all 16 games for the New York Jets, threw for over 3,900 yards with more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and won 10 times.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

No, Fitzpatrick isn't an All-Pro. Never was. Never will be. But he isn't cat food, either. And there are places where he would make sense.

Such as...

Washington, as a one-year stopgap while the Redskins figure out if Alex Smith is ever going to play again after November's gruesome leg injury.

Miami, as a bridge to a young draft pick.

Jacksonville, but it looks like the Jags are hitching their wagon to Foles.

Cleveland, as a backup to Baker Mayfield. He'd be a veteran presence who just had one of the better seasons of his career playing in new Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken's scheme.

In fact, Fitzpatrick makes sense just about everywhere as a backup, especially for teams that view themselves as contenders. He can be highly effective in spurts—the perfect Plan B to keep a season on the rails if a starter goes down with a minor injury.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Signing Fitzpatrick won't send a surge of enthusiasm through a fanbase. It's more likely to generate groans than cheers from people who believe his best days are both behind him and were never that good to begin with.

But it's been that way for most of Fitzpatrick's career. He's been underestimated. Ignored. Yet here we are, heading into his 15th season.

Don't sleep on Fitzpatrick when free agency opens next month.

There just might be a little Fitzmagic left in his right arm yet.

Fear the beard.

      

   
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