The Ryan Fitzpatrick Era was never supposed to happen for the Jets, and it certainly never was expected to last two roller-coaster seasons. In the end, though, it was a wild ride that rescued a franchise in one of its darkest moments before leading it back into the darkness again.
For better or for worse, the Fitzpatrick Era officially ended on Friday when the contract that the 34-year-old quarterback signed last summer automatically voided. All that's left is a $5 million cap hit the Jets must endure during the 2017 season. And memories - more than a few good ones, and plenty of bad.
So was it worth it? That all depends on your perspective, how much your sights are set on the Jets' long-term future, and how much you value all the fun that was had in 2015 during the Jets' near-playoff-miss.
But first, remember this: When the Jets traded with the Houston Texans for Fitzpatrick in May, 2015, the idea was that he'd compete with young Geno Smith for the starting job. No one envisioned him as the long-term solution, and the Jets probably didn't even want him as a starter. They felt the immature, turnover-prone Smith needed a veteran to push him to get his career on track.
But then came the punch heard 'round the NFL, when Smith and I.K. Enemkapali got into an argument and the latter broke Smith's jaw. That was mid-August of 2015, and the Jets were fortunate at that point to have a veteran like Fitzpatrick ready to step in.
And not only did he step in, but he thrived. He had his finest season in the NFL - 3,905 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He wasn't perfect or even good enough to be considered among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, but with two receivers having fantastic seasons by his side (Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker) and backed by a fantastic defense, Fitpatrick created "FitzMagic" and the Jets went 10-6.
It didn't end until his meltdown in Buffalo on the final day of the regular season when he completed just 43.2 percent of his passes for 181 yards and threw three interceptions against ex-Jet coach Rex Ryan's defense and the Jets lost 22-17 and missed the playoffs.
And from that moment on, really, the Jets were stuck. The prudent move for the franchise was to realize the fluky nature of 2015, to push ahead with their rebuild and to turn their team over to a younger quarterback of the future. But the fans were teased by 10-6. The players were energized by it. Maybe even ownership bought into it. There was a feeling that maybe the Jets could keep it together for one more season and make a little bit of a run.
So they had to bring Fitzpatrick back.
They just handled that all wrong.
The Jets understandably played hardball with Fitzpatrick, refusing to commit long-term money to a quarterback they knew wasn't part of their future. But instead of moving on when he declined, they stood pat and left themselves in a no-win position as training camp approached. The Jets had no other options at quarterback. They weren't going to turn back to Smith, and they obviously had no intention of riding with second-round rookie Christian Hackenberg. They needed Fitzpatrick as much as he needed them.
But by then they had let the entire offseason go to waste.
Was that the reason Fitzpatrick regressed and the Jets got off to such a slow start? He certainly seemed to think so. Whatever the reason, it all fell apart in 2016 and Fitzpatrick landed back on the bench. And once he did, the Jets still didn't have their quarterback of the future. They went back to Smith, who got injured, and then Bryce Petty, who struggled, while inevitably returning to Fitzpatrick twice while Hackenberg stayed off the field.
The Jets ended up enduring a miserable 5-11 season with their trajectory pointing down, not up.
And now, the rebuilding begins, perhaps one year too late. The lessons from the Fitzpatrick Era aren't clear-cut either. From the moment he arrived through the first 16 weeks of the 2015 regular season, it was an unqualified success that exceeded expectations. They needed him desperately that first season. But in Year 2, the first year ended up looking like a big tease.
Maybe that was unavoidable. The Jets were right to trade for him to push Smith. They were right to play him when Smith got hurt, and they were right to keep playing him once he got hot. They were even right to bring him back for 2016, even though they made critical mistakes along the way.
In the end, though, Fitzpatrick's second season was a huge setback for the franchise. Their fall from the sugar-high of 2015 was steep and the hole they're in now is a deep one. Only now are they even beginning the process of climbing their way back out