Assuming Josh McCown starts in Cleveland and Brian Hoyer in Houston, Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets entered training camp, according to Spotrac, as the third highest-paid backup quarterback in the NFL.
There's a good reason the Jets gave Fitzpatrick a two-year, $7.25 million deal this offseason, reuniting the veteran with his former coach in Buffalo, Chan Gailey. And while it isn't because they anticipated the presumed starter, Geno Smith, would miss time due to a broken jaw after being sucker-punched by a teammate, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith, the reality is the organization has always realized there was a chance Smith would need relief in 2015.
Can't blame 'em. Among the 29 quarterbacks who have started at least 16 games since Smith entered the league as a second-round pick in 2013, the West Virginia product ranks dead last with a passer rating of 71.5. He's thrown 34 interceptions in just 30 career games and was benched for a short time midway through last season.
|NFL's lowest-rated passers since the start of 2013|
|Min. 16 starts (Pro-Football-Reference.com)|
Despite the fact Smith was having a strong training camp prior to breaking his jaw—he went eight consecutive practices without an interception to kick off training camp, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini—few would have confidently bet that the unreliable pivot would have held that starting job for 16 games this season.
Outside of the quarterback position, the Jets are built to win now. They've got a defense that ranked sixth in football last season, and they've added weapons on both sides of the ball. Plus, there's a new energy at Florham Park with a fresh regime calling the shots.
The Jets needed insurance under center. They needed somebody who could push Smith and potentially even serve as an upgrade in the event of poor play, injuries or unexpected haymakers to the jaw.
Fitzpatrick is practically the face of the quarterback insurance industry. He's quietly provided it over the last 10 years to the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.
He started at least a few games for all five of those teams, amassing 89 total starts since 2005.
The 32-year-old has started more games than Matthew Stafford (77) and nearly as many as Aaron Rodgers (103). He has a higher career completion percentage than Stafford, Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and a higher yards-per-attempt average than Alex Smith and Sam Bradford.
He's not a Hall of Famer, an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowler, but he's one of those borderline starting-caliber quarterbacks who at his age has mastered being a stopgap.
In 12 starts with Houston last season, the Harvard product posted the best passer rating, completion percentage, yards-per-attempt average and touchdown-to-interception ratio of his 10-year career.
And what's most encouraging is that he finished extremely strong. Before a leg injury ended his season abruptly in Week 15, Fitzpatrick had thrown nine touchdown passes and just one interception in his last four starts, three of them victories.
Between Week 6 and Week 14, just prior to that season-ending injury, only three quarterbacks posted higher ratings than Fitzpatrick.
|NFL's top-rated passers, Weeks 6-14, 2014|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||121.3|
|2. Tony Romo||117.3|
|3. Tom Brady||108.0|
|4. Ryan Fitzpatrick||107.0|
|5. Ben Roethlisberger||104.6|
|Min. 80 attempts (Pro-Football-Reference.com)|
"According to our data, Fitzpatrick is the better QB," wrote Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus, "and not only did he show he had something left in the tank, but he had a good run with Gailey in Buffalo and will have a top-level target to throw to in Brandon Marshall."
No wonder Jets head coach Todd Bowles has said Fitzpatrick could in fact keep the starting job.
“I’m confident in Ryan,” Bowles said Tuesday, per Michael David Smith. “Ryan’s had a good camp. Geno was having a good camp, too, so it’s hard to replace a guy when both guys are doing well. But Ryan’s been a pro, he’s been here before, he has a lot of games under his belt, he knows the system, he knows how to throw the ball, he understands the game.”
Nobody wants to lose a job because of injury, but the Jets can't afford to play favorites with Smith merely because he possesses more upside than his senior peer. This team not only can survive the loss of Smith, but it might capable of thriving with Fitzpatrick.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.