Patriots Potential QBs: Would Ryan Fitzpatrick Make Sense In New England?

The bearded veteran is coming off one of the best seasons of his career


March 10, 2021

Leading up to the start of NFL free agency, will break down the New England Patriots’ top potential veteran quarterback options. Next up: Miami Dolphins free agent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.


2021 status: Unrestricted free agent

2020 stats: 183-for-267 (68.5 percent), 2,091 yards, 7.8 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 95.6 passer rating, 76.9 QBR; seven carries, 30 yards, two touchdowns (nine games)

Pros: If the Patriots are looking for a short-term starter who can keep them competitive while a young QB — preferably one selected early in this year’s draft — develops, Fitzpatrick perfectly fits that mold. He?s an ultra-experienced veteran who?s proven he can start and win (at least a few) games while also helping mentor an up-and-coming youngster, which he did last season in Miami with Tua Tagovailoa.

In fact, the 38-year-old was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career in 2020 before head coach Brian Flores controversially handed the reins to Tagovailoa in late October. Fitzpatrick’s completion rate and QBR were his best marks as a pro, and his yards-per-attempt average and passer rating were second-best, trailing only his explosive half-season stint at Tampa Bay’s starter in 2018.

Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth overall pick, showed flashes but struggled overall, leading to speculation that Miami could trade him this offseason. Fitzpatrick piloted the Dolphins to a dramatic overtime victory after Tagovailoa was benched in Week 16.

Fitzpatrick also was at the helm when a Dolphins team made up largely of castoffs and practice squad players won five of its final nine games in 2019, including a stunning Week 17 upset of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. He posted a passer rating above 90 in six of those nine games and was highly effective in the Foxboro finale, throwing for 320 yards and a touchdown with one rushing score and no turnovers.

The Harvard product has started games for eight different teams since entering the NFL in 2005 — including three of the four AFC East franchises — so he’s accustomed to learning new offenses and acclimating to different locker rooms. He’s made seven or more starts in 12 of the last 13 seasons — a remarkable achievement given how frequently he changes cities.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Fitzpatrick’s intelligence and veteran savvy before New England hosted Miami last September.

“Ryan’s a smart player,” Belichick said. “A very experienced player and a very instinctive player. He does things on the field that are done through instinct and experience and confidence. … You’ve got to be careful kind of overplaying him because he’ll take advantage of those situations where you overplay him one way or another.

“He’s a tough competitor. He’s a tough guy to tackle. He’s got good quickness and can stay in the pocket. Hard to take down. Also, he is an excellent game manager and passer. We certainly saw plenty of that last year from him. We have a lot of respect for what he can do and how well he has done it and can still do it.”

Fitzpatrick also would be an affordable option. His last contract was a two-year deal worth $11 million.

Though it was rumored over the weekend that Fitzpatrick might retire, he does plan to play in 2021, according to a report Monday from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Rapoport indicated Fitzpatrick “should have a solid (free agent) market for his role.”

Cons: We used the term “legendarily volatile” to describe Fitzpatrick when we first examined him as a potential Patriots target back in December. He’s notorious for stringing together runs of impressive performances before morphing into a turnover-prone pumpkin.

Among QBs with 20-plus starts over the last three seasons, only Jameis Winston has thrown interceptions at a higher rate than Fitzpatrick (3.25 percent). His 2020 interception rate (3.0 percent) was sixth-highest behind Nick Mullens, Drew Lock, Carson Wentz, Alex Smith and Sam Darnold.

Want an example of the Fitzmagic/Fitztragic dichotomy? We mentioned his stellar performance at Gillette in December 2019. Here’s how he fared in his other two most recent meetings with the Patriots:

Week 2, 2019 (Patriots win 43-0): 11-for-21, 89 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, 23.8 passer rating
Week 1, 2020 (Patriots win 21-11): 20-for-30, 191 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, 44.6 rating

Fitzpatrick has thrown 25 interceptions in 14 career games against the Patriots.

Belichick, who values ball security and reliability, might not be willing to ride that roller coaster, especially after he watched Patriots quarterbacks post the NFL’s third-worst collective interception rate in Year 1 of the post-Tom Brady era.

Verdict: Fitzpatrick’s extensive experience in multiple systems, strong play in 2020 and relative affordability would make him a solid short-term option — if the Patriots can stomach his penchant for picks.

Other potential Patriots QBs: Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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