Four days before an NFL game is not the time for a quarterback to get too introspective in public.
Asked this week if he thought Sunday’s game might be his last chance to start an NFL game, Ryan Fitzpatrick was terse:
Fitzpatrick may indeed have more quarterback starts in his future, but he is expected to make his last one for the Buffalo Bills in the season finale against the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Keeping Fitzpatrick makes little sense from an economic or production standpoint.
The Bills are eager to find a young quarterback for next season, and Fitzpatrick is due to make $7.45 million in 2013. That includes a $3 million bonus he would get in March. It’s not an exorbitant salary for a starting quarterback, but it is exorbitant for a quarterback who is 22-41-1 for his career and who would be keeping the starter’s seat warm for whichever young QB the Bills draft.
Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine the Bills trying to sell the product in 2013 after 3½ unsuccessful seasons with Fitzpatrick at the helm. This season’s repeated statements by Bills General Manager Buddy Nix — including “the time is now” to try to trade up to draft a quarterback — provide further indication the Bills are ready to turn the page on Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick’s 18-31 record as a Bills starter is hardly all his fault. But the 30-year-old Fitzpatrick realizes accountability falls at the feet of the head coach and quarterback.
“I am not going to sit up here and say we performed the way we wanted to on offense this year because we have not,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I think as a quarterback, I have to point the finger at myself. As an offense we point the finger at ourselves in terms of the lack of success we have had this year as a team. You hope the defensive guys do that as well, but for me there is not a whole lot of blame to be passed around. You have to look at yourself first.”
Fitzpatrick’s average salary of $9.8 million per season ranks 19th in the NFL, according to News figures, and that’s right where he stands statistically this season.
He’s 19th in passer rating (82.9) and 19th in yards (3,175). He’s tied for 11th in touchdowns (23) but tied for fifth in interceptions (16).
It’s not Fitzpatrick’s fault that the Bills are lacking in quality receiving weapons beyond No. 1 wideout Stevie Johnson. That’s a major hindrance to coach Chan Gailey’s attack.
But Fitzpatrick has come up short with games on the line. He threw a bad interception late against Tennessee to allow the Titans to come back to win. He threw an interception in the end zone at the end of the loss to New England. (Receiver T.J. Graham ran the wrong route, but Gailey called it a gray-area decision.) Fitzpatrick couldn’t make much happen in the second half of competitive games against Houston, Indianapolis and St. Louis.
Fitzpatrick is 5-22 in fourth-quarter comeback situations (in games within eight points).
“The good teams find a way to make those plays on offense, defense or whatever it is,” Fitzpatrick said of the close losses. “The good teams are the ones that constantly find themselves making those plays and those have not been the plays that we have made this year. That is why we sit where we are.”
Fitzpatrick has cut down his interceptions from last season. He had 23. But he acknowledges that while there are detailed explanations for every interception, his total is too high.
“I think that is a great way to put it, that every interception has its own little story,” Fitzpatrick said. “You remember them all vividly and I think last year they were way too high. Cut down a little bit this year, but still there has been some stuff and circumstances and things that I have not made good decisions or good throws.”
At his very best, Fitzpatrick has been considerably above average. In his first 16 starts with Gailey, he threw 32 TD passes with 18 interceptions. But he has not been able to maintain that standard.
Johnson said he feels for Fitzpatrick, given the amount of blame that inevitably goes to the QB.
“Definitely, that’s my friend, before my quarterback,” Johnson said. “So the sympathy thing is there because there’s a lot on that position. That’s around the league. You win and you’re The Man. You lose and everybody’s looking at you like it’s your fault. I can sympathize with him but I can sympathize with every other quarterback in the league also. It’s just the nature of the business.”
Fitzpatrick has received $21 million from the six-year, $62 million contract he signed in October 2011.
It will not cost the Bills any more to cut him than to keep him on the team. Actually, they will save almost $500,000, according to figures obtained by The News. If Fitzpatrick gets cut before his March bonus is paid, then he will count $10 million against the Bills’ salary cap in 2013. That’s a lot, but not so much that he will have to be retained. If Fitzpatrick is on the roster, his cap number for 2013 will be $10.45 million.