Just wait until you don’t see Fitzpatrick

by Gary Shelton on May 20, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Saturday, 2 a.m.

You should know this about the Bucs' new backup quarterback.

The less you see of him, the better you will like him.

From a distance, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a fine looking quarterback. On the sideline, you'll agree, his passes look sharp. Just keep him away from the huddle, maybe in the back row of the team picture, and he'll look like a player. Just don't let him get close to the field.

Fitzpatrick, off of a perfectly awful 2016 season, a season so bad he lost his job to Geno Smith, is the new insurance policy of the Tampa Bay Bucs. It's either a great move (if Jameis Winston remains perfectly healthy once more) or a dreadful one (if Winston gets hurt, and Fitzpatrick has to take meaningful snaps.).

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Let's be honest. No one in Tampa Bay wants to see Fitzpatrick play 16 games, or 15, or 14, etc. If Winston is injured that badly, the season is already lost. Agreed?

But if he plays in only mop-up duty, well, it's a perfectly fine addition. You get a veteran who has been around for Winston to bounce some ideas off. You get a guy who has seen different coverages and different rushes. You get a great clipboard holder.

On the other hand, if he has to play in four games, yeah, he gives you a chance to win two of them. For a backup quarterback, that isn't bad. Over the course of an NFL season, a great many quarterbacks get hurt for a brief period. And you have to feel better about Fitzpatrick than you would about has-never-taken-a-snap Ryan Griffin.

The Bucs aren't bringing in Fitzpatrick to compete for the job. He might hit 100 of 100 passes for 19 touchdowns in the preseason, and Winston might throw 12 interceptions, and it won't matter. Fitzpatrick is here to be the back-up, and the first hint that he doesn't grasp that will earn a trip to the waiver wire. This is Winston's team. Period.

I say this because, every now and then, Tampa Bay goes crazy over backup quarterbacks. They wonder why the backup isn't getting his turn, as if backups deserve turns. It happened when Casey Weldon backed up Trent Dilfer. It happened when a nice guy named Scott Milanovich threw a couple of touchdowns in a preseason game, and suddenly, Tony Dungy had a grudge against Milanovich.

It has always that way. When the Bucs were terrible, the fans never loved Chris Chandler more than when they were watching Vinny Testaverde. When Josh Freeman was throwing five picks against the Panthers, Josh Johnson's profile never looked as handsome. Bad teams love backup quarterbacks.

This team should know better. At different points of its history, Randy Hedburg, Eric Zeier and Rob Johnson sounded like answers. Fans couldn't wait to see Bruce Gradkowski, Tim Rattay and Luke McCown. The franchise is proof that hope doesn't usually come from the bench.

Still, Fitzpatrick has some skills. He's started double-digit games in seven seasons. He's thrown for 166 touchdowns. He should have a general idea of which way it is to the end zone.

Here, his job will be simple. He's here to keep the boat afloat. He's here for short-term relief. He's not a savior. He's not a alternate option. He's here, basically, to keep Griffin off of the field.

There is a great old story in football. When Paul Brown coached Cleveland, Otto Graham was having a rare bad day, and the fans started to chant for backup George Ratterman. "George," Brown said. "Your fans are calling for you."

"Yes, coach?" Ratterman said, hopeful.

"Well, George, I think you ought to go up there and sit with them for awhile."

This backup stuff isn't unique to the Bucs. A lot of people who follow bad teams often cheer for the backup quarterback, but no one really wants to see him. Heck, he'll usually show you why he's the backup. What a team is investing in is a chance while the franchise heals.

Two wins. That's all.

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