Geno Can’t Catch a Break

It is no secret that I am Jets fan. In that position, I’ve watched Geno Smith in the Jets organization since his first day. I didn’t like the pick when he was selected in the second round. Smith was part of one of the worst quarterback drafts of all-time. To name a few, E.J. Manuel, Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones and Mike Glennon were the more notable players selected.

Geno Smith
Smith has thrown 28 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. (Wikimedia Commons)

Smith got off to a solid start in 2013, he got the starting job after Mark Sanchez went down with a major shoulder injury in the preseason. New York alternated wins and losses through their first nine games. Losing three in a row knocked them out of the playoff conversation, but winning three of their final four got the Jets to 8-8 under Smith as a rookie. It was not a great statistical year from him, but it was a starting point.

2014 ended up being a nightmare. The Jets ended up 4-12, Smith only played in 14 games. He cut down on interceptions and improved his completion percentage, but he only threw 13 touchdowns in 14 games played. Rex Ryan was fired at the end of the year, as was general manager John Idzik. There were concerns over Smith’s development and a new coach would mean some possible shake ups.

During the 2015 offseason, the Jets traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick. What many forget is that Fitz was supposed to be the backup for the 2015 season. New head coach Todd Bowles and new general manager Mike McCagnan backed Smith to be the starter for the season. They wanted to give Smith a chance to develop even more and see what they had in him before they started looking elsewhere.

That August though, IK Enempali punched Smith in the face in the locker room following a practice. Smith broke his jaw and would miss 6-10 weeks of the season. That opened the door for Fitzpatrick to take the starting job, and Fitz ended up throwing a franchise record 31 touchdowns. Heading into 2016, there was no way that Smith had a shot at the starting job.

Until he did. Fitzpatrick leads the league in interceptions and the Jets brass decided to give Smith a shot. He lasted about two quarters before he suffered an odd knee injury on a sack. It turns out that he tore his ACL, which ended his season. Smith is set to be a free agent at the end this season.

Geno Smith
Smith is 12-18 as a starter for the Jets. (Wikimedia Commons)

He had a shot finally to show everyone what he had learned in his year plus on the bench, only to have it all vanish just as quick as it came. The likelihood is that Smith will never get a chance to start anywhere now. He seems destined to be a career backup, holding the clipboard as the emergency fill in if someone is injured.

I was never a big fan of Geno Smith, but you have to wonder if the league never saw the best version of him. He was thrust into the starting role before he was ready and forced to learn NFL defenses on the job. He showed some signs of improvement from his first season to his second. We never got a chance to see what might have been with Smith if he was given just a little more time to develop on the bench, or if a team had stayed with him as their starter for a few seasons.

Honestly, he probably never would have turned into a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but he might have been an average quarterback. Being remembered as alright is a whole lot more fun than being thought of as a bust. If Smith never starts another NFL game in his life, then he will undoubtedly go down as one.

Smith probably doesn’t deserve another chance based on his previous body of work, but based on how the last two seasons have gone for him, you can’t help but wish he didn’t have to go out this way.

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Blessing in disguise

As a fan, you never hope to see a player injured. Well at least you shouldn’t. However, Jets fans probably feel a slight sigh of relief knowing that they do not have to watch Geno Smith under center again for the next 6-10 weeks. On the surface, this seems like a real issue for the Jets. But when you dig a little deeper, things start to look pretty good actually.

Geno Smith
Smith’s injury require surgery and he will miss the rest of the preseason, along with anywhere from 2-6 weeks of the regular season.

Smith is out those 6-10 weeks due to a broken jaw he sustained when he was “sucker-punched” in the locker room by a teammate. That sounds like a discipline problem that would be rampant under Rex Ryan. However, Todd Bowles already took care of the issue by swiftly cutting IK Enemkpali, a 2014 sixth round draft pick, who wasn’t expected to make the team anyway. So the guy who caused the problem is already gone. It wasn’t a starter on either side of the ball or someone who the Jets had high hopes for. That certainly makes the problem a lot more manageable.

As for replacing Geno, the Jets already have a contingency plan in place. Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in the offseason to offer some competition for Smith and will now step into the starting role. Many feel that Fitzpatrick is more suited for the starting job anyway. He showed flashes of brilliance last year, including a six-touchdown performance against Tennessee, while playing for the Texans. He also knows the offense that Smith was attempting to learn for the first time. Fitzpatrick played under now Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey when he was the head coach in Buffalo. He ran the system for a few years and is very familiar with both the terminology and mindset. Fitzpatrick made his only Pro Bowl playing in that offense. Now, it is a bit much to start expecting a Pro Bowl year out of Fitzpatrick but he should be an immediate upgrade over the incumbent Smith given his prior experience.

Ryan_Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick playing last season in Houston. The Texans were 6-6 in games he started.

For management, this opens a previously unforeseen door. This situation should pan out a lot like the Mark Sanchez situation when Smith joined the team as a rookie. Sanchez injured his shoulder late in the preseason and subsequently missed the entire year. That allowed Geno to take over the starting job and the Jets to cut Sanchez when they thought they had a better option in Smith. Additionally, the Jets are able to see what Fitzpatrick can do in this offense. If he excels, the Jets can release Smith and roll with Fitzpatrick under center until rookie Bryce Petty is ready to take over the gig. If Fitzpatrick struggles, then the Jets can turn the offense back over to Geno when he is healthy. This allow New York to see what they have in Fitzpatrick without having to pull the rug out from underneath Smith. It won’t be awkward either to put Smith in either now if Fitzpatrick struggles because he never started previously. Overall, this situation definitely works out in the Jets’ favor.

I’m sure the coaching staff will maintain that they really saw a lot in Smith and were eager to see him start this season but he has two years of mediocre play in his past already that doesn’t promise much. Smith ranked 25th in Total QBR a season ago, tied with Kyle Orton. In 30 career games played, he has thrown for only 5,571 yards with a 6.88 yard per attempt rate. His completion percentage is a lowly 57.5 and he has thrown nine more interceptions than touchdowns. Smith had his few bright spots in his play, namely against Atlanta in 2013 and Miami at the end of last season, but on the whole he has been one of the five worst starting quarterbacks in the league. He would have to make massive strides to get himself on par with even an average NFL quarterback.

Now with Smith out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jets target another quarterback, like Matt Flynn, in case Fitzpatrick gets hurt. The latter did miss the final four games of the season with a torn pectoral muscle last year. The Jets want to avoid putting Petty into game action at all costs so finding another suitable backup will be a priority.

Smith’s career is all but over in New York. This injury is a blessing in disguise. It allows the new regime to find a quarterback they selected to start. It may also be a blessing for Geno. All of the reports this offseason have indicated that this was a great camp for him. With no evidence so far to prove otherwise, that means Smith might draw some interest from other clubs if he is released from New York. He would be a project player but because Smith never had a chance to play, he will be an unknown commodity. That usually isn’t a good thing but it certainly beats out being a proven failure, which Smith would have been had he blown yet another chance in New York. When all is said in done, I think this will settle well for everyone. Now, to go send IK Enempalki a thank you card….