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Palladino: Maccagnan Better Move Fast To Bring Fitzpatrick Back To Jets

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

If Wednesday's 4 p.m. start of the NFL free agent signing period brings one quick-strike signing to this area, it should involve Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan would do well to lock up his quarterback by 4:01 p.m. Get it done. Put the quarterback who used Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to 10-win efficiency under contract for the next two years. And do it quickly, because once the clock hits 4:02 and beyond, any weird thing can happen.

Like Fitzpatrick flitting off to some other quarterback-poor team.

Just as the Giants reportedly agreed Tuesday to commit about $10.5 million of their $55.7 million of cap space on their own nine-fingered pass rusher, Jason Pierre Paul, Maccagnan should have no second thoughts about throwing some major dough at a 10-fingered Fitzpatrick.

If playing in the $9 million-per-year neighborhood is what it takes to lock him down, so be it. Unless Maccagnan is just dying to make Peyton Manning caddy Brock Osweiler, Chiefs backup Chase Daniels or, heaven forbid, read-option flameout Robert Griffin III his starter as he waits for Bryce Petty to develop, he needs to pay up for Fitzpatrick.

All this is said with the understanding that the only abundance of green in Jetsland is found on their uniforms. They don't have a lot of salary cap room. Just under $6.5 million, in fact. The current budget got awfully slim since they slapped the $15.7 million franchise tag on Muhammad Wilkerson. They will probably lose defensive tackle Damon Harrison, simply because they can't afford to dump a pile of money into two spots on the defensive front.

But if Maccagnan is wise, he'll do all the contract restructuring he needs to bring Fitzpatrick back. Without him, the offense will revert to its rudderless past of the Geno Smith era, a time nobody in Florham Park wants to relive.

Now comes the question of timing. Strange things tend to happen in free agency. A player who looks all but locked up to sign with one team winds up in another city with an offer he can't refuse. With the Browns, Texans, Broncos, and Rams hunting for quarterbacks in an extremely thin market, Fitzpatrick should have options. After getting the full Johnny Manziel experience, can anyone not see Cleveland welcoming a level-headed, competitive, serious, 33-year-old leader like Fitzpatrick? The savings on headache medicine alone would make up for the outlay.

If Osweiler leaves Denver for Houston, they could well make a play for Fitzpatrick. A better passer now than the just-retired Manning was last year, imagine how intriguing Fitzpatrick might find it to lead a Super Bowl winner.

It make sense on every level that Fitzpatrick should re-up with the Jets. He is comfortable with Chan Gailey's offense. He'll have the best receiving duo in the game to throw to. The coaches love him.

But strange things happen in free agency. The longer Maccagnan negotiates, the more tenuous his quarterback situation becomes.

The GM who did such a good job last year, needs to make this one move. Quickly. Like at 4:01 p.m., before things get hairy.

After that, whatever other moves he deems affordable in free agency are gravy.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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