Against all odds, Jets got QB situation right

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
8:58
PM ET

 
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' quarterback competition was as muddied as a Florida election, with several well-documented missteps along the way, but they somehow managed to get one thing right:

A partial commitment to Geno Smith was absolutely the right call.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Jets' partial commitment to Geno Smith is the right call.
They're week-to-week with the rookie quarterback, and it's the best way to go because, quite obviously, Smith didn't earn the job coming out of the preseason. He won it by default because of the Mark Sanchez Shoulder Fiasco, and he has done nothing to claim the position. So far, his biggest contribution has been getting a late shove from Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, setting up a gift victory. Sorry, that's not enough to win a job.

The Jets' approach with Smith is, no doubt, rooted in general manager John Idzik's "competition" mantra, but they also learned a lesson from the Sanchez situation in 2009. As a rookie, Sanchez was declared the winner of the not-so-open competition, and the Jets treated it like a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

Coach Rex Ryan locked on to Sanchez, and he stayed locked on until last December, when he finally benched him for Greg McElroy. Now, yes, there's a big difference between the fifth overall pick (Sanchez) and the 39th pick (Smith), but the Jets put Sanchez on such a pedestal that it was deemed an act of heresy when, a year later, he was pulled from a few plays in practice because he was mired in a slump.

Talk to some players on those teams, and they will tell you Ryan's kid-glove treatment of Sanchez gave the young quarterback a sense of entitlement that, ultimately, may have contributed to his decline. The organization eventually came under heavy criticism for coddling Sanchez, and it was fair criticism.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Julio CortezGeno won the starting job due to Mark Sanchez's injury, not his preseason play.
Now the Jets are taking an anti-coddling approach with Smith, forcing him to earn the most important position on the team. There's nothing wrong with that. What's the downside?

The Jets don't want to give a long-term commitment to Smith because, frankly, they don't know if he's the answer. He's not Andrew Luck, picked No. 1 overall last year. He's not Robert Griffin III, picked No. 2. There is no significant financial commitment to Smith. If he stinks it up, they can push him to the side and target a replacement in next spring's quarterback-rich draft.

Idzik came from Seattle, where the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson No. 75 overall and made him the starter (no strings attached) before the opener. One difference between Wilson and Smith: Wilson played a lot in the preseason, and he played well.

"He earned it," coach Pete Carroll said at the time.

The Jets' opponent this week, the Buffalo Bills, committed to EJ Manuel before the season opener.

Like Smith, Manuel was limited in the preseason because of an injury, but he played exceptionally well. Let's not be naive -- his draft position (16th overall) was a factor, too; he was selected as Buffalo's franchise quarterback. But it wasn't like the Bills were rushing him into the lineup after a three-interception stinker in the preseason.

"He earned that job," coach Doug Marrone said. "That's why he's our starting quarterback."

The Jets never said Smith earned anything, because he didn't. All he got on the day of his quasi-coronation was a disclaimer from his bosses: "The competition isn't finished."

There's nothing wrong with competition. If Smith is unnerved by the week-to-week nature of it, he's not mentally tough enough to be a franchise quarterback.

A lot of this is semantics because, let's be honest, Smith isn't being threatened by Matt Simms or Brady Quinn, and Sanchez is out of the picture for two months. There has been some speculation about Simms closing the gap, but Ryan doused that Thursday.

"I think there are a lot of guys [in the organization] that like Simms, I don't think there's any doubt, but to say as our starting quarterback? I don’t see that," Ryan said.

In other words, the Jets are committed to Smith without having committed to him. Some might perceive that as indecision, the Jets being the Jets, but that's not the case. They're willing to play a quarterback in Pampers, as Bill Parcells might say, but they don't want a pampered quarterback.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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