FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the New York Jets' starting quarterback next season - if he returns.
The quarterback can become a free agent this offseason after setting a franchise record with 31 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick took over as the starter when Geno Smith's jaw was broken by a punch from Ikemefuna Enemkpali in August, and coach Todd Bowles announced Monday that Fitzpatrick would be remain the starter if he re-signs.
''Obviously, it's pretty high,'' Bowles said of the level of priority bringing back Fitzpatrick will be. ''He's the quarterback and he had a great year for us.''
Fitzpatrick was acquired in a trade with Houston for a sixth-round draft pick last March and was expected to be a backup. He was thrust into the starting role when Smith was injured, and never relinquished the job while having the best season of his 11-year career.
He made $3.25 million in the final year of a deal he signed with the Texans and is expected to fetch possibly around $10 million or more annually in free agency.
''I try to let my agent handle a lot of that stuff, but this is obviously a place that I want to be, a place that I'm comfortable with,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''But, we'll kind of see how everything goes and a lot of that is out of my hands.''
Fitzpatrick set career bests with his 31 TDs - the first Jets player to reach 30 or more in a season - and 3,905 yards passing. But with the Jets needing a win to make the playoffs, Fitzpatrick was intercepted in each of New York's final three possessions against Buffalo in a 22-17 loss Sunday.
Bowles said that performance did nothing to tarnish what Fitzpatrick accomplished throughout the season, saying the quarterback won several games for the Jets. During New York's five-game winning streak leading into Sunday, Fitzpatrick threw for 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
Fitzpatrick did most of it while wearing a brace over his surgically repaired left thumb, which was injured on Nov. 1 at Oakland. He never missed a start.
''He earned everything that's he's going to get, as far as from respect to a contract or whatever it is,'' said wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who set a franchise mark with 109 catches. ''He earned every single bit of it. I mean, he just fought all year and I'm just honored to be his teammate and I look forward to a couple more years.''
When asked of his gut feeling on whether he'll return, Fitzpatrick replied: ''I hope so.''
The 33-year-old quarterback also said he enjoyed this season with New York, his sixth team in the NFL.
''This is the most fun I've ever had in a season with the guys in this locker room, the run we kind of had in December,'' he said. ''Hopefully, I can be back and continue to build on that.''
Fitzpatrick thrived in Chan Gailey's offense after being reunited with his former coach in Buffalo, where the quarterback had three solid seasons as the regular starter from 2010-12.
The Jets using a balanced offensive approach with Chris Ivory powering the running game and Marshall and Eric Decker leading the passing attack with each surpassing 1,000 yards receiving. New York also finished with a franchise record for total net yards in a season with 5,925, surpassing the 5,896 set in 1985.
''I just think I'm such a different quarterback now than I was even three or four years ago, just what I've been through, the lessons I've learned along the way, whether it's about the game or myself,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I feel like I'm a better football player now than I've been at any point in my career.''
As for his immediate future, Fitzpatrick wants to take a mental break from football before addressing his impending contract situation.
''I want to be able to drop my kids off at school and pick them up,'' he said, ''and just kind of take a deep breath and relax a little bit before I even start thinking about any of that stuff.''
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