Fitz or Geno? Jets head to camp with uncertainty at QB
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2015 file photo, New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) walks the sidelines during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. The Pro Bowl defensive end, still recovering from a broken leg, had been seeking a long-term extension for the last two years. He acknowledged last month he was frustrated and disappointed he still didn't have a deal. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) The New York Jets are heading to training camp with their expected starting quarterback still unsigned.
Locked in a contract stalemate that many assumed would have been resolved months ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick is still waiting for a new deal. That also leaves the Jets wondering just who'll be under center when the regular season kicks off.
''Until I get to training camp and see what happens,'' a mildly annoyed coach Todd Bowles said during minicamp last month, ''I'm pretty much done talking about it.''
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Well, get ready, coach.
Fitzpatrick set a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes and led the Jets to a 10-6 mark and within a win of the playoffs. He also galvanized a locker room shocked by Ikemefuna Enemkpali's punch during camp last summer that broke the jaw of Geno Smith, sending the incumbent starter to the sideline.
Fitzpatrick enjoyed a career year while being reunited with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker catching just about everything thrown their way. So it seemed only a formality the veteran quarterback would re-sign with the Jets as a free agent.
Almost seven months later … still nothing.
If Fitzpatrick comes back, he'll have the starting role. If not, it's Smith's turn again.
''I don't think I need to necessarily re-establish myself,'' Smith said, ''rather than to prove it every single day in practice, prove it to my coaches, teammates, whoever's watching.''
Smith looked good during offseason workouts and minicamp, appearing to smoothly operate Gailey's offense. But his career totals of 27 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and a 57.9 completion percentage when the games count have created plenty of skepticism whether he can truly lead a franchise.
If Fitzpatrick doesn't come back and Smith struggles early during a tough first half of the schedule, a frustrated fan base could be calling for second-year QB Bryce Petty or even rookie Christian Hackenberg to take over.
Here are some other story lines to watch for when the Jets report for training camp on July 27:
MO MONEY: The Jets addressed their other major offseason issue by signing Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year contract extension.
The Pro Bowl defensive end, still recovering from a broken leg, had been seeking a long-term extension for the last two years. He acknowledged last month he was frustrated and disappointed he still didn't have a deal. Wilkerson received the franchise tag and it appeared he would play this season under the tender of $15.7 million, but the Jets stunningly beat the deadline last week to negotiate a new contract and prevent a camp headache.
PLAYMAKING'S HIS FORTE: The Jets lost Chris Ivory to Jacksonville in free agency and replaced him with the aging but still-productive Matt Forte. The former Bears running back is coming off the lowest rushing total of his career with 898 yards, but believes he can still be a force out of the backfield with his ball-carrying and pass-catching skills.
Forte is just two years removed from setting an NFL mark for running backs with 102 receptions. He could be a huge presence for whoever ends up under center for the Jets.
REPLACING BRICK: D'Brickashaw Ferguson surprisingly announced his retirement in April after 10 seasons during which he never missed a practice or play in a game due to injury. The Jets acquired Ryan Clady from Denver the day after Ferguson's retirement was made official.
While Ferguson was never injured, Clady has missed 30 of 48 games during the last three regular seasons. The four-time Pro Bowl selection is coming off a torn knee ligament that sidelined him all of last year, but should be ready when the season starts.
SPEEDIER D: Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan wanted to improve the speed of the team, and they did just that on defense, in particular, by drafting linebackers Darron Lee in the first round and Jordan Jenkins in the third. Both could have significant roles right away, especially with the departures of Demario Davis and Calvin Pace.
UP FOR GRABS: The Jets got just eight catches from their tight ends last season, and five were from Jeff Cumberland, who's now in San Diego. Jace Amaro, a second-round pick in 2014, missed last season with a shoulder injury and could compete for the starting spot with Kellen Davis and Zach Sudfeld. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa had 22 catches as a hybrid tight end and figures to be the No. 3 WR behind Marshall and Decker. The next two or three spots will come from a mix of veterans and youngsters that includes Devin Smith, a second-rounder last year whose rookie season was stymied by injuries.
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