It’s finally nice outside (maybe it’s been nice where you are for a while—I live in the Northeast), so why not check the temperature around the league? In New York, the forecast is cloudy with a chance of holdout.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract stalemate with the Jets has been one of the offseason’s biggest nonstories. Both sides have drawn a firm line in the sand and neither one has dared to cross it. If Seinfeld is the show about nothing, then the Fitzpatrick/Jets standoff has been the sports story about nothing.
So of course the logical next step was a plot twist about nothing. Eric Decker decided not to attend last week’s OTAs in protest of Fitzpatrick’s ongoing contract dispute. Some may interpret Decker’s no-show as a hollow gesture. Decker and Fitzpatrick are represented by the same agency, so Decker was somewhat obligated to side with him. And while skipping May OTAs is frowned upon, attendance isn’t mandatory so Decker didn’t risk anything financially by sitting out. Still, it’s the largest and most public display so far by a Jets player in support of Fitzpatrick. It will be interesting to see if Decker continues his protest through mandatory minicamp next month and if others follow suit. Brandon Marshall also skipped OTAs last week, though it doesn’t appear his absence was related to Fitzpatrick’s contract status.
This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed Fitzpatrick’s contract negotiations and it probably won’t be the last. To recap, the Jets have offered Fitzpatrick a three-year deal in the $24 million range with a first-year salary of $12 million. Fitzpatrick has reportedly asked for $16 million annually. That may seem ambitious for a 33-year-old journeyman but that’s right around market value for an NFL starting quarterback. Offering Fitzpatrick only $8 million annually is a little insulting when Rams third-stringer Nick Foles is due $10.75 million in 2016. It goes without saying the Jets are a better team with Fitzpatrick under center. Second-round pick Christian Hackenberg is at least a year away from contributing while Geno Smith has done nothing to warrant a starting job in the NFL.
It’s been an offseason of missed chances for the Jets. Brian Hoyer and Robert Griffin III aren’t the cream of the crop but they would have worked fine as stopgaps during Hackenberg’s development. Both signed elsewhere. The 49ers were ready to move Colin Kaepernick but the Jets never showed much interest. D’Brickashaw Ferguson gave the Jets cap space by retiring but most of that money was spent on Ryan Clady.
It’s still likely Fitzpatrick re-signs—the Jets’ lowball offer is the best he’s gotten so far—but the Jets had plenty of opportunities to improve their predicament and did nothing about it. Now the Jets have put themselves in a position where Geno Smith could realistically be the team’s best option for Week 1. After winning 10 games with Fitzpatrick last year and only four with Geno in 2014, that probably won’t go over well with fans.
Quarterback has also been the focus in Denver where the defending champs are looking to replace Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. The Broncos drafted their quarterback of the future in first-round pick Paxton Lynch but only time will tell if the team trusts him enough to put him under center against Carolina in Week 1. All Lynch has to do is beat out Mark Sanchez, who missed OTAs last week while recovering from thumb surgery. Sanchez has starting experience but spent most of last season backing up Sam Bradford in Philadelphia.
Broncos team reporter Andrew Mason recently described the quarterback competition as “wide open,” though others including ESPN’s Jeff Legwold have tabbed Sanchez as the front-runner. Legwold said earlier this month that he expects 2016 to be a “watch-and-learn season” for Lynch. One year of Sanchez probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for Denver, a team that relied heavily on its defense last season. Sanchez might actually be an improvement over Manning, who was statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in football last year.
Lynch has tremendous athleticism and runs well for his size (6’7/244). He also has a cannon for an arm and threw for a high completion percentage under pressure at Memphis. But all players face an adjustment going from college to the NFL and Lynch’s transition might be more dramatic than most. He didn’t play against top-level competition in the American Athletic Conference and some scouts questioned his maturity leading up to the draft. Obviously if Sanchez outplays Lynch at camp, the decision will be easy for coach Gary Kubiak. But if Lynch steals the show, his “watch-and-learn season” could quickly become a baptism by fire. Of the Broncos’ eight draft picks, Lynch is the only one who hasn’t signed a contract yet.
Philadelphia will be the site of another quarterback showdown this summer. Sam Bradford wasn’t happy when the Eagles brought in Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick and spent a couple weeks pouting about it. The Eagles had previously assured Bradford he would be the starter but that’s no longer a sure thing.
Keep in mind, the Eagles will have a drastically different look this year under new head coach Doug Pederson. Wentz seems to have a better grasp of Peterson’s new offense as Bradford is still playing catch-up after his two-week pity party. The Eagles knew coming in that Wentz would need time to adjust after starting just two seasons at North Dakota State, a non-FBS school. But he seems to have a great understanding of the playbook and could easily unseat Bradford with a strong preseason. After Bradford’s pathetic holdout, I’m sure the Eagles are rooting for Wentz to take the reins sooner than later.
There’s no quarterback controversy in Tampa Bay, just a stronger, more confident version of Jameis Winston. The Rookie of the Year runner-up has reportedly shed 18 pounds this offseason after ballooning to almost 250 during his rookie year. Winston had similar weight issues at Florida State before slimming down to 231 pounds ahead of last year’s Combine. That’s about what he weighs now, though he hopes to get down to around 225.
Winston ran surprisingly well last year (213 rushing yards and six touchdowns) and the weight loss will only improve his mobility. There’s really no down side to being in better shape and it’s encouraging to see how much Winston has grown since his Florida State days. Winston’s immaturity in college was well documented—the sexual assault allegations, the shoplifting incident, the time he jumped on a table and shouted obscenities. But Winston has been a consummate professional since arriving in Tampa Bay and seems fully committed to being the Bucs’ team leader and franchise quarterback.
I’m sure some teams would have avoided Winston in the draft because of his off-field baggage but the Bucs took a chance on him and so far he hasn’t let them down. Besides changing his diet and workout regiment, Winston has also put an emphasis on building chemistry with Mike Evans this offseason. The two have met up for film sessions and spent countless hours perfecting their routes. Evans committed an NFC-worst 15 drops last year but still managed 74 catches for 1,206 yards. Now that he and Winston are finally on the same page, Evans could ascend into the upper echelon of fantasy wide receivers this year.
Quick Hits: Bills RT Seantrel Henderson will travel to Buffalo this week to begin preparing for the 2016 season. Henderson, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease last year, hasn’t been in contact with the team all offseason … Dion Jordan has applied for reinstatement. The former No. 1 pick was suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy … Malcolm Butler is skipping Patriots OTAs. He’s not happy with his contract, which will pay him a $600,000 base salary in 2016 … Reshad Jones is also holding out for a new deal. The Pro Bowl safety won’t be at Dolphins OTAs … The Redskins are reportedly interested in bringing back Pierre Thomas. They’ve also had their eye on Arian Foster, who claims he’s about a month away from returning to full strength. Foster missed the final two months of last season with a torn Achilles … Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler will compete for the No. 3 receiver job in Denver this offseason. Fowler had a much bigger role in the offense in 2015. He was targeted 24 times compared to only 11 targets for Latimer … According to Titans team reporter Jim Wyatt, DeMarco Murray will handle “the bulk” of Tennessee’s carries this year. The Titans selected Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the draft but it looks like he’ll have to settle for Murray’s scraps in year one … Titans rookies might want to think twice before approaching veteran tight end Delanie Walker. “You've got to earn the right,” said Walker. “These rookies come in nowadays, stuff's given to them. I'm not going to be your friend until you make the team” … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Marshawn Lynch has not approached him about playing this year. ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia acknowledged that even if Lynch comes out of retirement, it’s unlikely he’ll return to the Seahawks … Pete Carroll is also expecting Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham to both be ready for Week 1. Rawls is coming off a broken ankle while Graham is recovering from a torn patellar tendon … Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones said the team isn’t looking to trade Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris. Both players are expected to back up Ezekiel Elliott this season … In a podcast with former teammate A.J. Hawk, Aaron Rodgers said Randall Cobb suffered a punctured lung in the playoffs because he was wearing a microphone for TV. “The puncture spot, or the injury spot, was directly adjacent to his mic pack,” said Rodgers. “I don’t feel comfortable mic’d up” … It was another eventful week in the life of Johnny Manziel. The former Browns quarterback was supposed to host a party for friends and family but was a no-show after missing his helicopter ride to the Hamptons. Apparently he was involved in a confrontation Friday night outside the Trump Soho hotel. This comes a week after Manziel was booted from a Vegas nightclub for throwing a punch … RotoPat will henceforth be known as RotoDad. Congratulations, Pat.