The Ryan Fitzpatrick era is over.
Next up for the Buffalo Bills? It’s anybody’s guess, but the options do not look wonderful.
It’s a terrible year for quarterbacks in free agency. It’s not a great year for quarterbacks in the NFL draft.
Nevertheless, the Bills decided they had invested enough money in Fitzpatrick over the past four years and released him on Tuesday afternoon.
Fitzpatrick was due to receive a $3 million bonus today. Talks to get Fitzpatrick to agree to terms on a lesser deal were unsuccessful.
The move leaves the Bills with last year’s third-stringer, Tarvaris Jackson, as their only quarterback with noteworthy NFL experience. It’s expected the Bills will try hard to take a QB in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Fitzpatrick ends his four-year Buffalo tenure with a 20-33 record.
He received $21 million of the six-year, $62 million contract he signed in October 2011. That was the apex of Fitzpatrick’s time in Buffalo. His deal was signed with the Bills at 5-2. They slumped to a 6-10 finish and then posted another 6-10 mark last season.
Bills General Manager Buddy Nix acknowledged in a statement released by the team that a reworked deal was sought.
“We kept every possible option open right down to the wire when we had to make a decision on whether to keep Ryan,” Nix said. “In the end, we had to do what we feel is best for our football team and it was a very difficult decision. Ryan did some great things as our starting quarterback. He is a class act, a terrific guy with a great family and has been involved in many charitable endeavors in our community. But difficult decisions often have to be made and so we are moving forward. ”
“Our focus remains on adding another quarterback to our roster, and we will continue to explore every option available to us,” added Nix.
“It’s a tough situation, because I felt I had my best chance as a starter in Buffalo,” said Fitzpatrick. “I wanted to finish what had started, in stepping in and helping turn things around.”
For now, the favorite to start at quarterback in September is Jackson, a seven-year veteran who has a 17-17 record as an NFL starter. Jackson was acquired by the Bills from Seattle in a minor trade last August, but he never was able to rise above lightly regarded Tyler Thigpen and get the No. 2 job behind Fitzpatrick last season. Former coach Chan Gailey maintained Jackson arrived too late to learn enough of the offensive scheme.
Releasing Fitzpatrick left the Bills in excellent salary cap shape. They had about $23 million in room under their cap limit of $133 million for 2013.
A renegotiation of the deal was a priority because Fitzpatrick was due to count $10.4 million against the Bills’ salary cap this season if he had received this week’s bonus.
The Bills offered Fitzpatrick a new, four-year deal that averaged $3 million a year, with an opportunity to make $4 million a year more each year in incentives, according to a source close to the talks. It was not clear what Fitzpatrick would have had to do to reach those incentives.
Fitzpatrick, who is represented by high-profile agent Jimmy Sexton, did not find the terms agreeable.
Fitzpatrick said the news Tuesday of Nix’s comments to Tampa General Manager Mark Dominik, reported on the website Deadspin, was not a factor. Nix told Dominik Fitzpatrick probably was going to be a backup this season.
“No. It was unfortunate that conversation came out; it was private,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I thought it was unfortunate for Buddy, having it come out. But Buddy and I have talked through the whole process a lot on the phone.
“I talked with Buddy a lot, with Russ” Brandon, Fitzpatrick said, referring to the Bills’ president. “It’s been a real straightforward process.”
In releasing him, the Bills deferred some of the cap hit they will take by giving him a “post-June 1” designation. He will count $3 million against this year’s salary cap and $7 million against the Bills’ salary cap in 2014. Those numbers account for amortized bonus money Fitzpatrick has received.
Normally if a player is released before June 1, all of his bonus money counts against the current year’s cap. If a player is released after June 1, only the current year’s portion of his bonus money counts against the cap and the amortized bonus for future years counts the following year. The Bills were able to take advantage of a rule that allows a team to designate up to two players a year as post-June 1 cuts, even though they get released before June 1.
The 6-foot-2 Fitzpatrick is not blessed with classic height or a big arm. Gailey’s quick-passing, spread offense, which allowed Fitzpatrick to scan the field out of a shotgun formation, was best suited to him. In his first 16 starts with Gailey, Fitzpatrick threw 32 TD passes with 18 interceptions.
He was not been able to maintain that standard. Last season, he threw critical interceptions near the end of losses to Tennessee and New England. He was unable to make much happen in the second half of games against Houston, Indianapolis and St. Louis. Fitzpatrick was 4-22 in fourth-quarter comeback situations.