Open competition to be Jets QB? Not really

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
11:30
PM ET

From Day 1, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan called it a "fair and open" quarterback competition. Sounded good, right? It also echoed the philosophy of his new boss, general manager John Idzik, so Ryan decided to roll with that all summer.

Except the "fair and open" concept rarely exists in the NFL's job wars. Mark Sanchez, of all people, should know this, because he benefited from a rigged competition as a rookie in 2009.

That year, Ryan anointed Sanchez the starter after only two preseason games, 33 snaps and six completions. That last completion was a touchdown, and that's all Ryan felt he needed to validate his pre-conceived selection.

The same thing is happening now with Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith, who has yet to provide a "that's our guy" moment. Why do you think Ryan has extended this so-called competition into the regular season? It's because they're waiting for something -- anything -- to substantiate their misguided belief that Smith can step in from Day 1 and be a productive starter.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsHave the Jets run out of patience with Mark Sanchez? Sure -- but that doesn't mean a healthy Sanchez shouldn't start ahead of a rookie.
Ryan would lose credibility in his own locker room if he gave the job to Smith after his nightmarish performance against the New York Giants last Saturday. On a night in which he could've locked up the starting job by being average, Smith was brutal, to use a Rex word. He threw three interceptions and took a safety, giving no indication he's ready to take over an NFL offense.

Because of Sanchez's shoulder injury, the Jets are planning to start Smith in the Sept. 8 season opener, according to sources, hoping he can do something positive so they can publicly end the charade and make him the permanent starter.

Now there's a report that says the Jets are all in with Smith, and how they're so done with Sanchez. News flash: They were done with him last season; his $8.25 million guarantee is the only reason he's still here. The past few weeks have been all about the exit strategy. To spread the notion now, with Sanchez injured, is transparent and self-serving.

If Sanchez hadn't been hurt against the Giants, it's highly likely he'd be starting the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sources said. But it wouldn't have been a no-brainer, and that alone should tell us how badly the Jets want to replace Sanchez.

That was evident against the Giants. If Ryan truly considered Sanchez the presumptive starter, he wouldn't have put him in harm's way in the fourth quarter.

Isn't it interesting how the Jets hide behind injuries when they make major decisions? Instead of coming clean, they said Darrelle Revis' knee injury was a factor in the decision to trade him. But it was all about the money.

Now they get their wish with Smith, but the Jets should ask themselves this question: Are we motivated by our desire for change or do we really believe Smith gives us the best chance to win?

Smith outplayed Sanchez in the first two weeks of training camp, but it was practice. He isn't ready. He has no background in an NFL-style offense and he played only 69 snaps in the preseason. Look, we all know about Sanchez's shortcomings, but his experience would've helped them through the inevitable growing pains in Marty Mornhinweg's offense. You know what they say about the devil you know.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesThe season opener looms large, yet Rex Ryan still hasn't publicly named a starting quarterback.
Because they've mismanaged the quarterback situation, it's hard to believe the Jets will successfully navigate a rebuilding year. Ryan provided a rare moment of candor late Thursday night after the preseason finale. He was asked about the prospects this season, and the man who once guaranteed Super Bowls responded this way:

"You want your whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, and I think that our team is. We're going to need to be. We recognize that."

Translation: My new general manager stripped down my roster, and I'm gonna have to coach my butt off to compensate for the lack of talent.

My, how times have changed. Ryan was asked the same question a year ago and he created a headline, saying it had the potential to be his best team. It was a fairly bold statement, considering he coached the AFC runners-up in 2009 and 2010.

Ryan probably should stay out of the predictions business, although he was dead-on with his assessment of the current situation. It will take collective overachievement for the Jets to matter this season. Historically, they do better when expectations are low -- but how can you trust a team that sabotaged itself at quarterback?

The tumult and uncertainty have created a bad vibe about this team, although guard Willie Colon insisted there's no concern.

"We have everything we need to get it done, whoever the quarterback is," said Colon, already emerging as a team leader in his first summer with the Jets. "He's just going to join the wave and, hopefully, lead us. But we have enough experience and firepower that we can win games."

But there are other issues as well.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes is a question mark because of his foot. Running back Chris Ivory, lagging behind because of a hamstring injury, got only 14 carries in the preseason. Linebacker Quinton Coples, one of the keys to a revamped defense, will be sidelined a few weeks with a fractured ankle. Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, projected as a starter, hasn't played in two weeks.

Expectations haven't been this low since 2006, when Eric Mangini inherited a 4-12 team from Herm Edwards. Led by a revitalized Chad Pennington, the Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs. That team truly was greater than the sum of its parts, sneaking past some quality opponents.

"The worst thing a team can do is use that expression, 'sneak up on people,'" Colon said. "We have to believe. One fight, one mission. If we're able to do that, the naysayers will shut up."

Doubtful.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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