Just two months shy of his 38th birthday, Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t say if season No. 16 will be his last.
But either way, it’s his last best chance.
Eight teams and nearly two decades after sneaking into the league as a fresh-faced and clean-shaven project, Fitzpatrick knows the end is in sight.
It might be in five months or five years, but at some point in the 2020s, Fitzpatrick’s long, ridiculous run will be over.
But to channel Marc Antony, we come here, on the eve of yet another NFL season, not to bury Fitzpatrick, but to praise him.
And to raise the possibility that at long last — late in a career that has seen him traded, cut, demoted and at times even forgotten — the football gods will reward his perseverance, ability and good nature with a playoff appearance.
Fitzpatrick has appeared in 156 NFL games — playing either for or against every NFL team but the Green Bay Packers — yet none in the postseason.
“I’m sure there’s some sort of record at this point that’s been set,” Fitzpatrick said with a chuckle. “That would be awesome.”
Awesome — and attainable. Just days before the season’s start, the William Hill online sports book listed the Dolphins at 7 1/2-to-1 to win the AFC East. Those odds might seem long, but not when you consider this: A year ago at this time, those same odds were more like 75-to-1.
The Dolphins spent tens of millions of dollars and 11 draft picks this offseason to restock their barren roster, and in doing so brought in Tua Tagovailoa to eventually replace Fitzpatrick. The franchise’s transfer of power will come no later than next year.
Even Fitzpatrick acknowledges that he’s the “placeholder” for Tagovailoa. But while he’s still holding that place, he intends to do more than mark time.
He wants to play. He wants to play well. And he wants to win.
And he believes that with the talent surrounding him, the opportunity exists to do just that.
“I just think there’s a good vibe in the building right now,” Fitzpatrick told the Miami Herald recently. “There’s some energy, some guys from last year’s team that kind of know what we went through and were able to experience and grow together last year, and there’s a lot of new faces that are in the building that are hungry, that are excited, some youthful energy.
“I just feel like the vibe, whether it’s walking down the hallway or out at practice or in the meal room or when we’re socially distancing six feet apart, I think the vibe is just a good one to be around and to be a part of right now. Guys are hungry and they want to win, and we’re starting to come together as a team and develop some confidence.”
And Fitzpatrick, the NFL’s unlikeliest folk hero, is their pied piper.
But instead of leading with a woodwind, he inspires with moxie. People don’t call him FitzMagic for nothing. He’s outlasted countless quarterbacks with more natural ability and has found ways to win games he shouldn’t.
“From a leadership standpoint, from an experience standpoint, I think he brings a lot to the team,” coach Brian Flores said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. I would say from a toughness standpoint, he brings a lot to this team, as well. It’s important to him. He’s competitive. And for Tua … they kind of talk through end-of-game situations, end-of-half situations, third-down, two-minute, red-zone, Mike points in the run game, defensive structures. All of those things, they’ve been very helpful to the young players.”
Added Flores: “What you hear about him as a person, that was all true. We’re seeing that. He’s all the things that I’m looking for in a player. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s competitive. He loves to play. He’s a great teammate. He’s coachable. I probably have a lot of similarities from that standpoint about the way we approach the game, and I think it’s been a good fit. … I like the guy a lot.”
Flores isn’t alone. It’s hard not to be drawn to Fitzpatrick.
He’s Forrest Gump — if the fictitious character had a Harvard degree and nearly aced the SAT.
In 2005, Fitzpatrick’s first NFL season, Shaun Alexander was the league MVP and Brett Favre led the league in completions. Both have been out of the league for a decade.
Remember when Jets defensive end IK Enemkpali broke Geno Smith’s jaw over an outstanding $600 debt?
But what you might not recall: Todd Bowles tapped Fitzpatrick to take Smith’s place that season, and he responded with a career-high 31 touchdown passes, leading New York to a 10-6 record.
“He’s not changed as a person in any way, shape or form,” said Dolphins quarterbacks coach Robby Brown, who was an entry-level assistant on that Jets team. “He loves to play the game. He likes the mental aspect of the game. I haven’t noticed anything different, but we haven’t been back together but really for a month here. Really and truthfully, he seems the exact same to me. He loves to play, he loves the game, loves the mental part of the game and loves to compete.”
That mix keeps him employed. Fitzpatrick has played for one-fourth of the league in his 16 NFL seasons. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass for eight different teams (Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Buccaneers and Dolphins).
Fitzpatrick has had six touchdowns passes in a game (for the Texans on Nov. 30, 2014). He’s thrown six interceptions in a game (as a member of the Jets two years later).
His first career touchdown pass was to Torry Holt. His second touchdown pass was to Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce. He has since thrown 208 more, including a bunch to some of the best receivers of our time: Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. He helped turn DeVante Parker into a force last fall.
His favorite of that absurd collection of pass-catchers? Fitzpatrick couldn’t pick just one, but tellingly singled out a seventh-round pick who never made a Pro Bowl as his “first love.” Like Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson arrived in Buffalo in the late-2000s to little fanfare.
“He was the no-name, I was the no-name,” Fitzpatrick said. “We played on the scout team together. Then he was able to go for 1,000 [yards] three years in a row. We both came out of nowhere.”
Johnson entered the league three years after Fitzpatrick did. His last NFL game was in 2015.
And yet, Fitzpatrick keeps trucking.
He’s the oldest Miami player — by more than 3,000 days. Fitzpatrick is the only Dolphin in his 30s. Late in training camp, there were just 13 players on NFL rosters older than him — including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
“He’s like a big brother — a lot older brother — to me,” joked Dolphins defensive end Christian Wilkins, who was just 9 years old when Fitzpatrick made his NFL debut.
Even Fitzpatrick’s family is larger than life. He met wife Liza in college. He was an all-conference quarterback. She was an All-American defender for the Crimson’s soccer team. They later married — he proposed at McDonald’s! — and went on to have seven children.
And yet, we still haven’t gotten to Fitzpatrick’s most recognizable characteristic: his majestic, flowing, Game of Thrones beard.
After a bare-faced start to his career, the first hints of stubble show up in Fitzpatrick pictures dating back to his time in Cincinnati in 2008.
He went with the 5 o’clock shadow look for a while, but then by 2014, when he was a 12-game starter for the Texans, fully committed.
He’s now in his fourth season with a Florida team, and yet he hasn’t sacrificed his trademark look for comfort.
“There is really only two people in the country that I trust to touch this thing,” Fitzpatrick said in May, stroking his mane of facial hair. “One is in Tampa, one is in New Jersey. It’s been going ever since everything got shutdown.”
Put it all together, and it’s no wonder NFL Network recently named Fitzpatrick the fourth-most fascinating player in the league. In a league of canned answers and paranoid coaches, Fitzpatrick is a breath of fresh air.
Fitzpatrick’s response to the unique space he occupies in pro sports?
“I think if you go back and ask [former Rams] Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace, I don’t know if they’d remember my name, let alone my personality. Part of that is I probably played for most of the teams so most of the people who probably voted on that are former teammates and friends. It’s been a pretty awesome ride and one that I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.”
But again, let’s go easy on the eulogizing.
While retirement for any player is always just one snap away, he doesn’t sound like the guy whose passion for the game is waning.
“For me, it’s a decision I make every year,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I’ve got the seven kids in tow, that’s some stuff as they get older that at least becomes a little bit of a factor. I’ve got a very wonderful and understanding wife that knows how important this game is to me and how much I love playing. It’s fun for my family to be a part of it and be old enough to get it and understand it. Go through the ups and the downs with me. It’s something I revisit every year, but physically there are no limitations right now that are holding me back.”