Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won two out of three starts as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-string quarterback last year, is due to become an unrestricted free agent again in about two weeks. The Buccaneers may not want Fitzpatrick's time in Tampa to end just yet.
On Wednesday, General Manager Jason Licht said he had some discussions with the 14th-year veteran about potentially reprising his role as the backup to Jameis Winston in 2018.
"We like Ryan a lot," said Licht. "We thought Ryan did a great job, obviously, when he had to play. He did a nice job for us, but just overall in the locker room, in that quarterback room, he and Jameis formed a really good bond. We would love to have Ryan back."
Fitzpatrick started three midseason games while Winston was sidelined with an injured shoulder and finished off two other games in which Winston was hurt. He completed 58.9% of his passes, threw for roughly 250 yards per game in his three starts and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7-3. The Buccaneers put value in Fitzpatrick's deep NFL experience when they signed him last spring, citing his 116 career starts, and saw it pay off when he stepped right and led the team to victories in his first two starts.
Now Fitzpatrick is entering free agency again at the age of 35 and he has expressed interest in staying in Tampa, understanding that there may not be a starting opportunity for him out there. It just happens to be a very intriguing year for quarterback movement, with Alex Smith already traded to Washington, Kirk Cousins likely departing from the same place and a surprisingly large number of veteran passers potentially hitting the market.
As such, the Buccaneers will check out all the options, but they clearly have interest in Fitzpatrick and know the importance of having a backup quarterback in which they are confident if his services are needed. That's true whether or not there are any consequences from an NFL investigation involving Winston.
"There will be options for other quarterbacks as well, and I'm not saying that we're going to be signing Ryan today to a contract," said Licht. "But any quarterback that we bring in … we want a quarterback, or quarterbacks, that we feel can step up and start. Every team, that's what their goal is, to get a [backup] quarterback if he has to play [he can], just like the Eagles did last year. Investigation or not, we want a guy that can play, and start."
The Buccaneers had Mike Glennon backing up Winston in 2016 but Glennon departed via free agency for a chance to start in Chicago. The Bucs still had Ryan Griffin, whom they had been developing as a third quarterback for two years with the understanding that Glennon would likely leave. Griffin went into training camp last summer with a chance to win the number-two job, but he had to compete with Fitzpatrick, who had the obvious edge in experience. As it has turned out, the Buccaneers have always had a man with starting experience behind Winston, and that's obviously still appealing.
"You could lose your starting quarterback at any time, so the backup quarterback is pretty important," said Koetter. "We've been fortunate in the time that I've been in Tampa that we've had good backup quarterbacks. We went 2-1 with our backup quarterback last year. I think there are a lot of good options out there for this year and it's something that we're concerned with, not because of the investigation so much but because you're concerned in general [with the position].
"At the same time, we have Ryan Griffin under contract. We felt like Ryan was playing pretty well up until the time he got hurt in the preseason. I like Ryan's skillset, he just doesn't have experience. It's that old Catch-22: 'Coach, how do I get experience if I don't get experience?' That's the thing, but skillset-wise and knowing our system, we feel good about Ryan."