With free agency set to begin March 9, we'll examine the New York Jets' top free agents over the next few days:
Player: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Previous contract: He signed a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Houston Texans in 2014. The Jets inherited the final year ($3.25 million) when they traded for him last March.
2015 stats: Fitzpatrick set career highs for wins as a starter (10), passing yards (3,905), touchdown passes (31) and Total QBR (63.6). His touchdown-pass total was a franchise record, eclipsing Vinny Testaverde's previous mark (29). He finished 12th in QBR, but only 24th in passer rating (88.0). Why so low? He threw 15 interceptions, more than all but four quarterbacks.
The case to keep him: Fitzpatrick is a popular team leader and an ideal fit in Chan Gailey's offense. After years of mediocrity, he showed what he can do with a talented receiving corps and a top-10 defense, something he never had in his many previous stops. Despite limited reps -- he was idle most of the offseason due to a surgically repaired broken leg -- he made a seamless transition to the starting role after the Geno Smith/IK Enemkpali mess. Fitzpatrick's chemistry with his supporting cast should be even better in 2016 after a full offseason of preparation. His surgically repaired left thumb, which didn't stop him from playing, is a distant memory. He's not a franchise quarterback, but he's good enough to be a bridge until That Guy comes along ... if he ever comes along.
The case to let him go: It usually raises eyebrows when a player enjoys a career year at age 33. Is he a late bloomer or was it just an aberration? In Fitzpatrick's case, he provided cynics with fodder by throwing three fourth-quarter interceptions in the final game of the season, costing the Jets a playoff spot. His Buffalo implosion shouldn't overshadow all the good moments from his breakout year, but it served as a reminder that he has no big-game resume -- no playoff appearances in 11 seasons.
Crystal ball: The Jets must -- and will -- re-sign Fitzpatrick, who is smart enough to recognize his best chance for success is in New York. Where else could he go? There aren't many starting vacancies. The Texans have the biggest need, but they've been there, done that with Fitzpatrick. He deserves a nice raise, but the Jets have to be careful not to overpay for someone who may not be starting beyond 2016. He's had an unusual career, so it's hard to quantify his true value compared with the market. The key will be the amount of guaranteed money. Prediction: Three years, $24 million, including $12 million guaranteed. The $8 million average per year would put him 21st in the league, according ESPN salary information. The $12 million guarantee would put him 26th.