Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why the Buccaneers hope new backup Ryan Fitzpatrick never has to throw a pass

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Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't dead, but his arm is.

And if Jameis Winston suffers a severe injury, the Buccaneers' season might be, too.

On Friday, Tampa Bay, in need of an experienced backup quarterback, signed Fitzpatrick anyway. The deal is for one year and $3 million.

RELATED STORY: Bucs opt for experience behind Winston

That's a bit rich for a quarterback you hope never has to throw a pass for you. Case Keenum, who played about as poorly as Fitzpatrick last season, signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Vikings in April.

The reason Fitzpatrick, 34, is here as the backup to Winston has less to do with his arm than it does his intangibles. A 12-year veteran, he knows a thing or two about perseverance. He has, after all, survived stints in the NFL quarterback wastelands of St. Louis, Buffalo and New York.

Often in these kinds of situations — aging, ineffective quarterback assumes the role of clipboard carrier — we nod and apply the "mentor" label. Perhaps Fitzpatrick can be that to not only Winston but also Ryan Griffin, the Bucs' third-string quarterback the past two seasons. But before we bequeath a Mr. Miyagi-like mystique to Fitzpatrick, let's not forget that he had a league-high interception rate of 4.2 percent last season while on the Jets.

RELATED STORY: Five things to know about the new Bucs backup quarterback

Fitzpatrick is not a precision passer — he never has been. Only 65.9 percent of his passes were on target last season, according to research by Cian Fahey of Pre-Snap Reads. That accuracy percentage ranked 32nd of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Winston ranked 31st, with a 66.2 accuracy percentage.

Yes, Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdowns and passed for almost 4,000 yards in 2015, but that season was a mirage. His 72.0 accuracy percentage ranked 34th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks. Winston was No. 35.

Fitzpatrick can still throw screens to running backs but can't be trusted on passes down the field, a legitimate problem if, by chance, he is pressed into action in one of the league's most aggressive offenses. He completed 19-of-51 deep passes (throws targeted at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage) for 556 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions last season, according to Pro Football Focus. His 73.7 quarterback rating on such throws ranked 23rd.

Fitzpatrick's flaws are serious, but he might have been the best of what's available this late in the offseason. Especially if you're not interested in better options like Colin Kaepernick.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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