Smith was lost during the post-lockout mayhem. A mad two week scramble for free agents that the Jets fumbled, due mainly to their over-pursuit of the highly coveted CB Nnamdi Asomugha. A chase that would have never materialized had the knowledge of Antonio Cromartie’s “lock-down” emergence, been available at the time. Nonetheless, the obsession with Asomugha distracted Gang Green from focusing in on key clutch players like Smith, who was poached by the Bills while the Jets went all or nothing with their cap space. In the hopes of landing Asomugha.
The 2011 regular season then began with the Jets asking Mark Sanchez to grow as a passer and field general. Few members of the Jets brass however, realized how low the third year QB’s ceiling would end up being over the next two years. Or rather, how much Smith had covered things up, by grabbing so many key third down conversions for the offense in 2009 and 2010.
With Sanchez’s limitation’s exposed, Tannenbaum then decided upon making the “football decision” of acquiring Tim Tebow. This to compensate for the loss of Smith. Instead the result added stress and drama to the club, mainly to Sanchez and playcaller Tony Sparano. The club’s first year offensive coordinator, who ironically oversaw the Dolphins “Wildcat” when it ruled the NFL back in 2008. The Jets 2.0 version of the run-heavy formation, was much less effective with Tebow than it ever was when Smith received the direct snap in New York.
Smith’s absence in green and white not only hurt Sanchez and forced Tannenbaum to consider adding the polarizing Tebow, it depleted the team in two other places as well. The special teams unit for one, fell apart for the Jets in 2012. Joe McKnight was an All-Pro return man in 2011 but Smith did it all for Mike Westhoff’s crew. He ran back kicks like McKnight did, but had a unique knack for doing so when the Jets needed it the most. Smith returned punts, made tackles on coverage, and was always healthy.
The lack of depth at WR was another area that Tannenbaum admitted yesterday, hurt the club tremendously during their disappointing 6-10 campaign. Perhaps more of the cracks could been filled in on the outside with Smith, who is still waiting for the chance to expand his role as more than a gadget-like weapon in Buffalo.
Big long term contracts of course dried up the Jets financial flexibility and potential heading into 2012, and threaten the club going forward, However, Smith’s exit eliminated a major security blanket for Sanchez and ushered in Tebow, while leaving two units lacking quality depth. All of which affected results on the field. Causing the sudden growth of the bullseye on Tannenbaum’s back.
The lesson that new GM John Idzik should learn from this, is that the core guys, the proven playmakers, have to be tended to. Guys who may not provide “star power” or giant stat lines, but perform consistently when it counts. Tannenbaum just found out the hard way, what can happen if this essential detail gets overlooked.