FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The first rule of Jets training camp: No talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With players reporting Wednesday to the team’s facility for physicals a day before the start of practices, this biggest topic of conversation was the guy who wasn’t even there.
No one knows if or when Fitzpatrick will re-sign with New York. But one thing was clear: Discussing the quarterback’s monthslong contract stalemate with the Jets was off limits.
“All questions about Ryan are for coach (Todd) Bowles,” running back Matt Forte said. “They told me to tell you all that. Everybody knows who `they’ are.”
The team has been locked in a staredown with Fitzpatrick and his representatives all winter, spring and, now, summer. Fitzpatrick set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes last year while leading the Jets within a victory of a playoff spot. But he and the Jets have failed to come to an agreement on a deal that would satisfy both sides.
So, for now, Geno Smith is the starter again – just as he was a year ago, before a punch from a teammate broke his jaw during camp and pushed Fitzpatrick into the role he never relinquished even when Smith got healthy.
Forte was one of five Jets players who spoke to the media on report day, along with center Nick Mangold, safety Marcus Gilchrist and linebackers David Harris and Erin Henderson. Each of them sidestepped questions about Fitzpatrick, deferring to Bowles.
The Jets coach was scheduled to speak to the media for the first time Thursday after the first training camp practice.
“I have talked to Fitz,” said Mangold, one of the quarterback’s best friends on the team. “Do I talk football or business? No, because I ask him how his kids are doing, how’s your golf game, those type of things. As far as his mindset, I have no idea.”
When pressed about whether he’s curious about what’s going on, Mangold came up with an unusual comparison: those who go to smell the stench of the corpse flower at the New York Botanical Garden.
“Curiosity is going to get you over to that plant in the Bronx and smell that terrible smell,” Mangold said. “Yeah, the corpse flower. Curiosity is going to get you to smell something. Some people want to smell something bad. Some people want to find out different mindsets. I don’t particularly care.”
Mangold reiterated that he has no control over the contract situation with Fitzpatrick and is focused now only on who is actually in camp.
“Hopefully, things get worked out,” he said. “If they don’t, they don’t. If they do, that’s great. I have no control over it, so I don’t particularly worry about it.”
If Fitzpatrick doesn’t come back, then the job is all Smith’s. Forte, who signed with New York in March as a free agent, was impressed by what he saw during the offseason.
“You could see his arm strength, his accuracy and his decision-making were pretty good,” Forte said. “There weren’t too many drills we were doing where there was pressure, but his timing and calling timeouts, he made good decisions on that. Going against our defense, which is no slack of a defense, it was good to see him do that and I was impressed by him.”
Several players, such as wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, made it clear early in the offseason that they would like to see Fitzpatrick return. That might have created a bit of an awkward situation for Smith, who has tried to approach the offseason as though he’ll be the starter in Week 1 against Cincinnati.
“Nobody knows except him,” Harris said of Smith. “But he’s not going around throwing a pity party for himself. I know that.”
Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only player not in attendance when the rest of the team arrived. Linebacker Darron Lee, the team’s first-round draft pick, reached an agreement on a four-year deal worth $10.2 million with the Jets later Wednesday.
Lee, who was with the team for offseason workouts and minicamp, is expected to have a big role immediately in Bowles’ defense as a hybrid linebacker who can play in different spots on the field because of his speed and athleticism.
“He’ll be here in time,” Harris said a few hours before Lee signed. “I don’t know when, but it happens all around the league. It’s the business side of it and I respect it. I’m pretty sure he’ll come here ready to go when he does get here. I know what type of player he is and I know he’s going to be in his playbook the days he’s not here, so I’m not worried about that.”
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