A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Temperature rising: When Ryan Fitzpatrick was approached by two reporters last Monday at Willie Colon's charity golf outing, he declined to comment at length about his contract situation, saying he wants to preserve the sanctity of the negotiations. He told us "both sides have done a good job of not airing grievances to the public."
Since then, the tenor has changed. As Ron Burgundy would say, "Boy, that escalated quickly."
The battle has gone public, and the tipping point may have been the Eric Decker-Brandon Marshall no-show at Wednesday's open practice. The New York Post reported Decker stayed away from the voluntary workout to protest the Jets' handling of the Fitzpatrick situation, creating negative publicity for the team. You can bet some folks at One Jets Drive took note of the fact that Decker and Fitzpatrick are represented by the same agency, CAA. Decker is a Fitzpatrick loyalist, but it also struck some as an orchestrated negotiating tactic.
Fitzpatrick's public-relations momentum was short-lived. On Friday, he was cast in some circles as "the greedy athlete" amid reports that he has been sitting for months on a three-year offer that would pay him $12 million in the first year, squashing the perception of the low-balling Jets.
So much for a peaceful negotiation.
I'm sure Fitzpatrick is ticked off that the numbers got out, but the sudden rancor doesn't mean a deal won't get done. Nothing will ever be more contentious than the Darrelle Revis holdout in 2010, and yet the two sides managed to negotiate a so-called Band-Aid contract. Instead of the Roscoe Diner, maybe general manager Mike Maccagnan and agent Jimmy Sexton can agree on a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike to hammer this one out.
2. What's the real offer? At first glance, it's easy to criticize Fitzpatrick for not accepting a contract that would pay him $12 million in the first year, but that would be unfair unless you know the entire proposal. The numbers for the second and third year of the three-year offer have yet to emerge, but my sense is that it's a total of about $12 million, making it a three-year, $24 million deal. Fitzpatrick could earn more with incentives, but that won't be easy, as I'll explain in a bit. The bottom line is, if Fitzpatrick plays well this season and retains his starting job, he'd be significantly underpaid in 2017.
The solution might be a one-year contract or a two-year deal that includes a team option for 2017, a la Sam Bradford. The latter choice would give the Jets the ability to keep Fitzpatrick for next year, using his 2016 performance to determine his pay in 2017.
3. Tough encore: Some people might be wondering why the Jets can't give Fitzpatrick an incentive-laden contract, providing the chance to earn big money if he performs. They could, but Fitzpatrick probably wouldn't want to go that route. He knows he'd have a tough time attaining "Not Likely to be Earned" incentives (NLTBEs), which don't count against the cap, because he posted career numbers last season.
By rule, a player must exceed the previous season's threshold to trigger a NLTBE. For instance: He threw 31 touchdowns last season, which means he'd need 32 to trigger an incentive bonus. It also would be tough to hit markers for passing yards (3,905) and total team offense (10th). A playoff bonus (NLTBE) could yield a nice payout, but he might not want to put too many eggs in that basket. After all, he hasn't made the playoffs in his 11-year career.
My favorite NLTBE story: In 1997, Neil O'Donnell threw five touchdown passes in the season opener to earn a $1 million bonus. How'd that happen? He had only four in an injury-plagued '96.
4. Missteps by Mike? I spoke to a former general manager (a guy with no past affiliation to the Jets) and asked if something like the Decker protest could influence a general manager at the bargaining table. "Absolutely, it can," he said.
The former GM, who dealt with several high-profile negotiations, said it could impact Mike Maccagnan if owner Woody Johnson buckles under public pressure and instructs his GM to give up and make a deal. The former GM said it happened to him once while involved in a contract dispute with a star player.
He commended Maccagnan for maintaining a hardline stance, but the ex-GM believes Maccagnan should've signed Brian Hoyer as insurance/leverage and issued an ultimatum to the Fitzpatrick camp.
"I would've never let it get to this point," the former GM said. "The drums are only getting louder. They played it all wrong, and [Fitzpatrick] is playing on their weakness." By that, he meant how the quarterback's teammates have rallied around him.
5. The other contract situation: Does anybody remember that Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets' best defensive player, still doesn't have a contract?
6. Welcome Matt: Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still is figuring out ways to deploy Matt Forte, the NFL's most prolific pass-catching back since his rookie year, 2008. When asked how Forte fits into his system, Gailey replied, "That's not the question. The question is, how do we adjust the system to fit Matt Forte?"
A good reference point might be C.J. Spiller, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. From 2011 to 2013 under Gailey, Spiller caught 115 passes. Gailey moved him around the formation, sometimes lining him up wide or in the slot. Forte has that kind of versatility.
7. Hunger games: One of the early standouts is cornerback Dee Milliner, who is looking to rebound after yet another injury-plagued year. With Revis (wrist) sidelined, Milliner worked with the first-team nickel package during Wednesday's practice open to the media. This is a contract year for the former first-round pick, whose fifth-year option wasn't exercised. Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said Milliner has made "a couple of great plays," adding, "That guy, in my opinion, is hungry." Considering Milliner's first three seasons, the man deserves an all-you-can-eat buffet.
8. Geno on Hack: Geno Smith on his reaction to the team drafting Christian Hackenberg: "I don't have a reaction on any of the players that are drafted, so I wouldn't have one when another quarterback is drafted." OK then.
9. Dodgeball: Gailey on whether he'd be comfortable with Smith as his starter at QB: "We're comfortable with whoever wins the job." Hmm.
10. Cap update: The Jets have $3.6 million in cap space, according to NFLPA records. When first-round pick Darron Lee signs, they'll be left with about $2.3 million.