FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up at the New York Jets’ practice facility with just a few minutes to spare.
The quarterback had just agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal Wednesday night, ending a contract stalemate that dragged on for months.
Finally getting the OK from his agent, Fitzpatrick wanted to rejoin his teammates in time for their 7 p.m. team meeting with coach Todd Bowles to kick off training camp.
One problem: His security code to the building no longer worked.
He had to text wide receiver Brandon Marshall to borrow his code to get inside the building. Fitzpatrick hurried into the auditorium to the surprise of some Jets players and coaches.
“I might have been 3 seconds late, which is a minute late, I guess,” Fitzpatrick said after the Jets’ first camp practice Thursday, “but I wasn’t technically under contract, so I don’t think they can fine me.”
Fitzpatrick quickly apologized to Bowles for his ever-so slightly tardy arrival.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry I’m late, Coach,’ ” Bowles said. “I told him, ‘That’s a $12 million fine.’ ”
Fitzpatrick officially signed his new contract about 10 minutes before practice began. He headed out to the field and was greeted by the theme song to the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” blaring through the speakers lining the sideline.
Smiles and laughs. Fitz is back, and the Jets have their starting quarterback under center again.
“I always thought this day would come,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just had no idea it would take this long and then when it took so long, I wasn’t sure how long it would exactly take. But I’m glad we got it done for that first team meeting.”
It was just like old times when Fitzpatrick hit Marshall down the left sideline for a long “touchdown” pass that drew some loud cheers from a small group of fans. The quarterback’s bushy beard was nothing new, but his over-coiffed hairdo drew some razzing from his teammates.
“Full beard, mini ’fro,” wide receiver Eric Decker joked. “It looked like he just got off the golf course.”
“He didn’t look the best right now,” Marshall joked. “Actually, I thought he looked pretty good out there today, but I don’t know what’s going on with the hair and beard. I thought we got past that last year.”
The Jets certainly wouldn’t mind a repeat of Fitzpatrick’s statistical performance from last season, when he set the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and helped lead New York within a victory of the playoffs.
It appeared Fitzpatrick would be a shoo-in to re-sign with the Jets, who made it clear that he would be the starter if and when he came back.
But the team made an offer that included three years, but little in guarantees beyond the first year. He wasn’t pleased about it and made that clear to the Jets, and the weeks turned into months with Fitzpatrick still unsigned.
“How could I look myself in the mirror every morning and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll try to play good this year and then next year I’ll just collect some checks and teach the young guys?’ ” Fitzpatrick asked. “That’s not who I am. That’s not in my nature. But I’m doing OK financially, so it was just a risk I was willing to take.”
New York set a deadline of Wednesday night to get a deal done or it would move in another direction. The two sides worked throughout the day and finally ended the contract stare down.
Fitzpatrick essentially bet on himself to have another good year, and could potentially become a free agent after the season.
“I mean, I have something to prove every year. I wasn’t the first pick overall in the draft,” said Fitzpatrick, a seventh-rounder by the Rams in 2005. “Nothing’s ever really been handed to me, so I just go out and try to prove it every year.”
While Geno Smith has had a solid offseason, Bowles made it clear that there is no quarterback competition. Fitzpatrick will be the starter against Cincinnati in Week 1 “unless something drastic happens.”
“It’s his job,” Bowles said of Fitzpatrick. “Based off what he did last year, he’s earned it.”
Fitzpatrick stepped into the starting job last August when Smith was punched by a teammate and left with a broken jaw. The veteran quickly established himself as a leader on and off the field.
Throughout the offseason, Marshall and Decker proclaimed their desire to see Fitzpatrick return. That touched Fitzpatrick, who feels indebted to those teammates who supported him while his contract situation played out.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, but the pressure that I feel is, I have guys like Brandon and Deck who stuck their necks out and they were in my corner all offseason,” Fitzpatrick said.
“So, for me, I’ve got to go out and perform for those guys. I’ve got to go out and perform for all of those guys in that locker room.”
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