The Price Is Right

The NFL is currently experiencing an era in which most quarterbacks are receiving an annual salary upwards of $20 million. Does Ryan Fitzpatrick, an aging but above average quarterback, deserve to get paid more than $12 million annually?

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From the beginning of free agency (early March) until late July, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets were involved in an ugly dispute regarding Fitzpatrick’s contract for the upcoming season. Fitzpatrick was asking for a contract worth approximately $18 million annually, which would make him the 16th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. However, the Jets had a much smaller number in mind when they offered him a contract only worth $8 million annually.

Fitzpatrick, who will turn 34 this November, recorded career highs in yards, touchdowns, and QBR last season, and led the Jets to a 10-6 record, just shy of making the playoffs. Due to his stellar performance last season, Fitzpatrick believed that he deserved a massive pay raise from his $3.25 million salary in the 2015 season. However, due to his old age and thin market outside of New York, the Jets believed otherwise.

Finally, on July 27th, this dispute ended in a compromise when Fitzpatrick and the Jets agreed to a one-year contract worth $12 million with an additional $3 million in possible bonuses.

Who exactly got the better end of this deal? Or did both sides profit? Let’s analyze!

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Last year, among starting quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick finished 12th in QBR, 10th in touchdowns, and 13th in DYAR (Defense-adjusted yards above replacement), all suggesting that Fitzpatrick’s age hasn’t quite caught up with him yet. In fact, these numbers would suggest that he is a top tier quarterback. On the other hand, Fitzpatrick finished the year with 15 interceptions and a meager 59.6% completion percentage, suggesting the opposite.

Over the past 5 years, most of Fitzpatrick’s numbers have held relatively constant, suggesting that this past year’s performance likely was not a fluke. However, Fitzpatrick’s 31 touchdown passes last year was a huge anomaly, which suggests that he might experience some regression this next season.

Solely based off of last year’s numbers, Fitzpatrick should be considered about the 12th best quarterback in the NFL right now. However, due to regression to the mean (because of his inferior performances in the past), he’s likely closer to the 18th best quarterback in the NFL (based off of yearly averages for QBR, DYAR, and touchdowns).

If Fitzpatrick is the 18th best quarterback in the NFL, he should be getting paid around $18 million annually (value of the 18th largest contract for a quarterback), which is exactly what Fitzpatrick was demanding in earlier negotiations.

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So it appears Fitzpatrick got ripped off? Right? Not so fast. What if I told you that Fitzpatrick’s amazing season last year didn’t happen because he is a spectacular player, but because the players around him are? Let’s take a look!

In terms of wide receivers, the Jets’ dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall (12th in DYAR) and Eric Decker (13th in DYAR) were by far the best receiving corps Fitzpatrick has ever had. In fact, New York’s elite receivers ranked third in the league, just behind those of the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

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In 2014, Houston’s combo of DeAndre Hopkins (15th in DYAR) and Andre Johnson (86th in DYAR) proved to be much less effective than New York’s. In 2013, Tennessee’s duo of Nate Washington (28th in DYAR) and Kendall Wright (47th in DYAR) proved to be the least effective of the 3.

What’s really interesting about this is that the upwards trend in receiver quality corresponds exactly to Fitzpatrick’s upwards trends in QBR, touchdown passes, and DYAR. In 2013, Fitzpatrick recorded his lowest in those 3 categories when his receiver quality was the lowest. In 2015, Fitzpatrick recorded his highest in those 3 categories when his receiver quality was the highest. And in 2014, Fitzpatrick recorded his second highest totals in those 3 categories when his receiver quality was the second highest.

What’s even more interesting is that Fitzpatrick’s upwards trends in QBR, touchdown passes, and DYAR directly corresponds to the upwards trend in his offensive line’s pass protection as well. Tennessee’s offensive line ranked 12th in pass protection in 2013, Houston’s offensive line ranked 8th in pass protection in 2014, and New York’s offensive line ranked 3rd in pass protection in 2015.

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In conclusion, Fitzpatrick benefitted greatly from the elite pass protection and receiving corps he had last year. Almost any quarterback in the NFL could have stepped into that position and done a satisfactory job. So, the only way Fitzpatrick’s performance can accurately be measured is during the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons when he had an average receiving corps and an average offensive line.

In those 3 seasons, Fitzpatrick finished with an average QBR rank of 22nd (27th, 18th, and 22nd) and DYAR rank of 20th (23rd, 21st, 17th). Touchdowns could not be calculated as Fitzpatrick only played 11 games in 2013 and 12 games in 2014.

Based on the 3 seasons when Fitzpatrick had average receivers and lineman, he was the 21st ranked quarterback in the NFL. The 21st highest quarterback salary in the NFL is $16.5 million annually, which is $4.5 million more than Fitzpatrick will make this season. However, due to increased risk because of his old age and decreased role due to the acquisition of all-star running back Matt Forte, I estimate his salary should be at least $4 million to $5 million lower.

In conclusion, Fitzpatrick’s contract with the Jets was a fair deal. While Fitzpatrick would be making $16.5 million annually if he were younger, it is only fair that his contract is worth less due to increased risk because of his old age.

Data courtesy of ESPN, Football Reference, Football Outsiders, and overthecap.com. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Photo Credits: http://www.sportingnews.com/, Danny Wild / USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images / Tom Szczerbowski, AP Photo / Seth Wenig, William Hauser / USA TODAY Sports

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