Johnson to Fitzpatrick: ‘Come back to the Jets’

The 33-year-old Fitzpatrick is a free agent coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes. (Seth Wenig/AP)

BOCA RATON, Fla. — New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has a message for his free agent quarterback.

"Come back to the Jets," Johnson said Monday when asked about the team’s negotiations with Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick comes off the best season of his 11-year career, one in which he led the Jets to a 10-6 record even though he was brought in last off-season to back up Geno Smith. Fitzpatrick got the starting job in training camp when Smith’s jaw was broken by a teammate’s punch, and he performed so well that he nearly got New York back into the playoffs.

His timing was exquisite: Fitzpatrick is in line for a huge payday.

The problem for the Jets is they haven't found the number of dollar signs to satisfy the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick. And while there's no longer a big market for him after all the QB movement this month, he is, after all, a veteran passer coming off a strong performance.

"These things take time," Johnson conceded in a break from the NFL owners' meetings. "He's a priority. ... I've been in this 17 years now, so I am not disappointed in a tactical sense.

"In football, you've got to be able to deal with it. The reality is the NFL reality, and you've got to make the decisions. Some are pleasant, some not."

The prospect of allowing Fitzpatrick to leave is not a pleasant one to Jets fans who saw him throw for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. With the enigmatic Smith and unproven second-year player Bryce Petty the other current quarterbacks on the roster, Fitzpatrick certainly seems like the best option.

But he also has never led a team to the playoffs, and the Jets haven't made the post-season since 2010.

Johnson remains "optimistic" about re-signing Fitzpatrick, though when asked about a timeframe, Johnson said "before the season."

More likely, coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan want it done before off-season workouts begin next month.

"I kind of hope so," Johnson said when asked if Fitzpatrick will remain with the Jets. "He did have such a good year. I like him a lot as a person; he's very engaging. He's the Harvard guy, and then he's the normal guy."

The Jets also are in negotiations with Mo Wilkerson, their outstanding defensive end on whom they slapped the franchise tag earlier in March. That tag is worth $12.734 million for 2016.

"Mo is on our team right now," Johnson said. "He's a great player and we love to have him.

"With any of these players, there has to be a moment where their side and our side is happy, getting what is wanted in terms acceptable to him and to us. Fair is a subjective thing."

Johnson added it was "amazing" that no long-term deal has been reached considering the sides have been negotiating for nearly two years.

The owner praised the Broncos' defence and said he believes the Jets could have that type of shutdown unit under Bowles, who was the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year as defensive co-ordinator in Arizona in 2014 before getting the Jets job.

"You want that kind of defence," he said, noting in particular the work of Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. "I think our defence is very good."

Johnson also expressed "serious" interest in co-hosting another Super Bowl along with the Giants.

"There's nothing like New York," he said, looking back at the successful February 2014 Super Bowl -- the first in an outdoor stadium in a cold-water city.

Johnson believes other owners would look favourably on a repeat.

"We start out with two votes," he added with a chuckle.