Sam Bradford would certainly be a good insurance policy for most NFL and a more than capable starter for some. But if the Jets are to pick between Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick, there shouldn’t be any question. Bring Fitzpatrick back.
A refresher: in his first season with Gang Green, Fitzpatrick set the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 31. His 3,905 passing yards were second only to Joe Namath’s 1967 total of 4,007. Whereas Namath threw 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions that year, Fitzpatrick was only picked off 15 times.
The Jets were 4-12 the year before Fitzpatrick came to town and then went 10-6. The Jets were 5-5 and then rolled off five wins in a row, including overtime wins against the Giants and Patriots. A week 17 loss in Buffalo may have ended the Jets playoff hopes but shouldn’t take away from the campaign that Fitzpatrick had.
Some have wondered if Fitzpatrick’s season was just a fluke, or if it was about the system, but that might be missing the point. Fitzpatrick worked with Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey from 2010-12 when Gailey was the Bills head coach and Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback. Why bring in Sam Bradford and make him learn a new system? Why make Gailey go back to square one? There’s a reason Brandon Marshall has been vocal about wanting Fitzpatrick to return.
There are no surefire ways to predict if someone can stay healthy. But Bradford has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. After playing all 16 games in 2010, and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, the former Heisman Trophy winner was limited to 10 games in 2011 because of a high ankle sprain. Then after playing all 16 games in 2012 there was a torn ACL which ended his 2013 season after seven games. He missed the entire 2014 season after tearing his left ACL again. He did play 14 games with the Eagles last season although a shoulder injury and concussion caused him to miss two games.
Again, nobody could have imagined Vinny Testaverde rupturing his Achilles tendon in week 1 of the 1999 season to end his season and the Jets hopes of making Super Bowl XXXIII. Injuries can’t be projected, but why not go with the safer bet?
Bradford is unhappy in Philadelphia and one would hope that he wouldn’t be flustered by New York fans and media if he struggled with the Jets. Shouldn’t it also worry teams that the Eagles signed Bradford to a two-year, $35 million deal and that they’re still looking to go their separate ways? Bradford liked playing for Chip Kelly, but Kelly is in San Francisco and the Eagles are looking to get a new QB in the draft, even trading up to the number two slot.
With Tom Brady out for a quarter of the season, the Patriots are still favorites but the gap doesn’t seem as wide. It’s a rare chance for the Jets to win the division, something they haven’t done since 2002 when the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots all finished 9-7 and New York had the tiebreaker.
The Jets won their share of close games in 2015, stealing the Kardiac Kids label from the 1980 Browns. (It seems like that since 2009, the Jets have won more close games in the last seven seasons than they did in the previous 45.) Do they win those games against the Giants and Patriots with Geno Smith or Sam Bradford? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know, but why not bring back the guy who won them.
In a way, Fitzpatrick is a victim of his own success. He did so well that many believe he can’t do it again. If Smith or Bradford did the same thing, the team would talk about what a big step forward it was. Why punish Fitzpatrick for being a late bloomer? Vinny Testaverde had a so-so decade before making Pro Bowls in 1996 and 1998. Jim Plunkett was a bust in New England and became a borderline Hall of Famer with the Raiders.
Marshall and Eric Decker made nice, reliable targets for Fitzpatrick, combining to catch 26 of his 31 touchdown passes. Decker caught 12, up from the five he caught in 2014 when he arrived as a much hyped free agent. Unfortunately, the Jets learned a lesson that many other teams knew. The receivers don’t look as good without someone good throwing the ball to them.
Bradford is far from a bust and if he can stay healthy, will have a nice career. But if the Jets can bring back Fitzpatrick, then they have to do it.