Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington’s temporary QB fix, has mastered the art of being an NFL nomad

In football this is called a “bridge” or “placeholder” and it must have been a sobering fate to accept it.

“You always want to be the guy,” said friend Gus Frerotte, the former Washington quarterback who had a similar career and played for seven teams. “Then you go somewhere else and find that you are only one of 32 guys.”

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Over the past 16 seasons, 38-year-old Fitzpatrick has turned his reality into something of a football fable: the Bunyon-like quarterback from Harvard with a gray-speckled beard that pours down his chin like a furry waterfall and jumps from team to team delights each season with a series of long, beautiful passes and a high-risk, high-reward style known as Fitzmagic. Only then, to disappear to the next town, because in an NFL obsessed with the shiny new thing, Fitzmagic can never be permanent, and the fable demands that he go ahead again.

It’s a role that he was well paid for and that grossed him over $ 80 million over the course of his career. Another $ 13 million is possible this season if the incentives for his one-year deal with Washington are met. But as much as it was never the dream to become this nomadic one-percenter, he does something that few other quarterbacks can do: Every year or every other year, coldly joining new teams and playing well enough to start a high-profile offensive and to direct.

On Monday, Fitzpatrick will work with another team as Washington begins its off-season training program. As with all of the places he’s been to, he has to gobble it up quickly and be so good at it that he can be the team’s # 1 quarterback at the start of training camp this summer.

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“It’s not easy,” said Frerotte, who now runs the Huddle Up With Gus podcast. “You have five months to get to know the guys and try to be in sync with them. You have to learn new places and new trainers and learn that [offensive] System. And even if it’s a similar system to what you were in before, the pronunciation is different. You have to learn what everything means.

“But Fitzy is a smart, intelligent guy,” Frerotte continued. “He can handle it.”

Aside from all the jokes about a Harvard quarterback and his 48 of 50 on the Wonderlic Test at the 2005 NFL Draft Combine, Fitzpatrick’s coaches were amazed at how quickly he takes on crime and quickly learns games and concepts that sometimes take other quarterbacks for weeks or longer to master. For example, Washington quarterback coach Ken Zampese, who was Cincinnati’s quarterback coach when Fitzpatrick was traded there in 2008, put two years of offensive study into one so that Fitzpatrick could become the Bengals’ starter when Carson Palmer went down with injuries in 2009.

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“He’s a guy who can be given a lot and who doesn’t slow him down,” said Zampese.

Given the ephemeral nature of his career, few likely know that only 29 NFL players have thrown more yards than Fitzpatricks 34,977 or that he is 35th all-time with 223 touchdown passes. His reputation is one of those gunslingers who has almost as many chances of being intercepted as there are points to be scored. But a lot of this was built when he was in his twenties and still learning to be an NFL quarterback. In recent years, despite his willingness to test defense in the field, he has become more efficient, with better completion rates and some of the lowest interception rates in his career.

It’s almost like he’s so used to the fact that everyone is temporarily okay, that he’s really good at falling into teams and fitting in perfectly.

Over the past few years, Fitzpatrick has said several times that he is playing better than ever, even though he is almost 40 years old. At his introductory video conference in Washington last month, he said he has never been more sought after by teams than this off-season.

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Fitzpatrick said the turning point in his career came in 2014 when he joined the Houston Texans and worked with then coach Bill O’Brien and quarterback coach George Godsey.

“You helped me see the game differently,” he said. “Since then, I’ve felt like I’ve become a much better player,” adding, “I feel like I’ve gotten better every year.”

Fitzpatrick came to Houston after a particularly unrewarding season in Tennessee, where he started nine games, lost six of them and was cut the following spring. O’Brien was with the Texans in his first season and installed a system that placed high demands on the quarterback to read opposing defenses and quickly find the best matchup, regardless of what the game was called.

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It was the freedom Fitzpatrick had not been given in his previous offense, and it appealed to his quick wits. He found receivers who weren’t the first options to play and made sure they got the ball when they were in the best of situations.

“He was able to understand the system and use it to his advantage,” said Godsey, who has also coached Fitzpatrick for the past two years as Miami co-offensive coordinator.

Godsey added that DeAndre Hopkins had his first 1000 yard reception season the year Fitzpatrick was with the Texans, noting that other Houston players had success with Fitzpatrick throwing them the ball.

“Sometimes you just get together with a coach who opens your eyes to different things,” said Frerotte.

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It seems that Fitzpatrick has taken things off almost every coach he has had, taking nuances into account until his approach is filled with pieces from all of his previous systems. The additions, he said at his press conference, are things he “liked” because of the other offenses.

Although Fitzpatrick was sold to the New York Jets after that season in Houston, it soon became clear that he wasn’t the same quarterback he had been before. When Zampese looked at the tape, he immediately noticed that Fitzpatrick was much more accurate than in the past. Two years later, when Fitzpatrick arrived in Tampa Bay, it was also felt by Buccaneer’s special teams coordinator, Nate Kaczor, who was in Tennessee when Fitzpatrick was there and is now Washington’s special teams coordinator.

“He was the same guy but you could definitely feel the improvement,” said Kaczor.

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Rarely does Fitzpatrick seem to leave a place angry. A big part of Fitzmagic is how he seems so happy wherever he is, throwing 300- and 400-yard passing games and then knowing when it’s time to finish gracefully. He is utterly upset after his second season with the Jets in 2016, a dismal year in which he had more interceptions than touchdowns, was benched twice, and recorded a 3-8 record as a starter.

But many players leave the Jets miserable. Most of the time, he’s understood the circumstances under which teams replace him with younger, fresher players. Except maybe last year in Miami. After leading the Dolphins to a 4-3 start, he was cast in favor of the team’s first choice, Tua Tagovailoa, largely because Tagovailoa was the future, which Fitzpatrick could never achieve at 37.

He later told reporters he was “heartbroken” mainly because it was the first time he “felt fully committed, invested and felt like my team”. Although he later came back to lead Miami to two late-season wins, his chance to lead the team into the postseason was lost.

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“I think Ryan was hit hard because he played pretty well and the team did well and then they just pulled it out from under him,” said Frerotte. “I think he wants to prove that he can help a team.”

Perhaps because Fitzpatrick mainly played for teams in transition, he has never been on a playoff team. He’s got close a couple of times, like last year, but Washington, with its strong defense and off-season additions of receivers Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries, could be his best chance yet.

When presented in Washington, Fitzpatrick described the turmoil in his career as he switched from team to team as “a new adventure, a new opportunity, a new journey” to “reinvent” himself. It’s a romantic notion, if not the fact that he does this every few years, forcing him to uproot his wife and seven children. For Fitzpatrick, however, it’s almost part of the Fitzmagic fable.

Another place, a new beginning, another chance to build something lasting, no matter how temporary.

“How you do that? One of the most important things is that you need to get to know your teammates, ”said Godsey. “At some point he’ll make it work [with Washington’s receivers]. ”

He suspects Fitzpatrick will be a good fit in Washington. Nothing is thrown at him that he has not yet seen.

“Remember how grizzled his eyes are,” he said.