TAMPA — Ryan Fitzpatrick is with a new team, playing for a new coach in a new city. But for some young, unsuspecting quarterback, it’s about to be the same old story.
That’s because when opportunity knocks, Fitzpatrick doesn’t open the door as much as try to disengage it from its hinges.
The vagabond veteran looked as out of place with the Miami Dolphins Tuesday as his winter beard in the Florida sunshine.
But as Fitzpatrick took reps with the first team, quarterback Josh Rosen waited and wondered when the 36-year-old, playing for his eighth NFL team in 15 years, might step aside and let him take control.
“I’m just indebted to Fitz for how selfless he’s being but he still is competing his (butt) off,’’ Rosen said. “When, if, and, whatever shakes out this year, he’s going to absolutely play his (tail) off.''
He sure is. Just ask Jameis Winston.
A year ago, Winston gave Fitzpatrick the opportunity he needed when Winston was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Fitzpatrick had spent a year on the bench as the backup to Winston in 2017. The suspension gave him a rare chance to take all the first-team snaps in training camp and the preseason.
From there, Fitz-magic just sort of cast a spell over the entire franchise. Fitzpatrick passed for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first two games, shocking the Saints and Eagles before a furious rally fell short on Monday Night Football against the Steelers.
Fitzpatrick has always been a popular teammate. Despite his Harvard education ― or perhaps because of it — he connects with everyone in the locker room. And he is a bit of a clubhouse lawyer, likable and able to inspire teammates to support him.
That’s really the job of the quarterback, and in some ways, he does it as well as anyone.
But he also is a tremendous opportunist. Who can forget when after when Fitzpatrick, after passing for 402-yards and four touchdowns with one interception to beat the Eagles, he borrowed a jewelry ensemble from DeSean Jackson? With an unbuttoned jacket, he deadpanned through most of his post-game press conference.
Fitzpatrick was asked, is any of that stuff yours?
“The chest hair is mine,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
“Last year at the beginning of the year was so great,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “It was so much fun to be out there and be in rooms like this in this building, but this year it’s more of the same. It’s different faces and different guys but again, building relationships and everybody working toward a common goal. And that’s one of the things I love about football.’’
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“I’m an open book. I’m here to compete and play football and have fun.''
Nothing wrong with that. That’s the job. But where ever Fitzpatrick has landed, mayhem at the position has followed.
When he was with the Rams, Marc Bulger suffered a shoulder injury. The jinx has followed Fitzpatrick to every team he has played for. In 2005, the Bengals’ Carson Palmer (elbow) missed 12 games. In ’09, the Bills’ Trent Edwards (concussion) missed half the season. Jake Locker had a foot injury with the Titans in ’13. The next year, Ryan Mallett had a pectoral muscle injury with the Texans.
Fitzpatrick had one of his best years when the Jets’ Geno Smith got punched in the face by a teammate. Fitzpatrick led his team to a 10-6 record under Todd Bowles, who is now the Buc defensive coordinator.
“Being on eight teams, this has happened more than once,’’ Fitzpatrick said of Tuesday’s reunion. “But this one, having played here the last two years, is just the irony of being here and being able to practice with them this year, I got to see a lot of the guys but still some people I can’t wait to say hi to.
“It’s a great place. It’s a great place to raise a family. This is a great building here, a great organization and a lot of smiles coming back for sure.’’
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Fitzpatrick has a good arm and is athletic enough to still function at a high level at quarterback in the NFL.
When he posted all those 400-yard passing games, Winston felt the pressure to match those passing numbers. He failed miserably, and after a four interception game at Cincinnati, then coach Dirk Koetter tried to save his own bacon and re-inserted Fitzpatrick as the starter.
“I think last year was a difficult situation for a lot of different reasons, but I also look at the way he played down the stretch and he played some really good football,'' Fitzpatrick said. “I know that he grew as a football player last year in the way that he was playing.’’
Ultimately, Fitzpatrick went 2-5 as a starter for the Bucs last season. He had good reason to go to the Dolphins: the chance to start. But the Bucs never considered re-signing him. Why? Because, as coach Bruce Arians stated he didn’t want Winston looking over his shoulder.
After practice, Winston and Fitzpatrick talked for a while. Fitzpatrick introduced him to his seventh child, Jake. His family has remained in Tampa for now.
“I had an opportunity to come to Miami and compete for the job,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “For me, football is a lot more fun when I’m out there playing.’’
Contact Rick Stroud firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud