The preliminary strategy for the New York Jets quarterback position in 2015 was to start Geno Smith. He received all of the first team reps throughout the spring and summer en route to being under center week 1. The new staff, particularly Chan Gailey, knew what they had in Ryan Fitzpatrick and were content to bring him off the bench at some point early in the season if Smith struggled like he did in 2014. Bryce Petty was drafted in the 4th round as a long term developmental prospect, while Jake Heaps was signed to be a camp arm. Things seemed simple and straightforward right up until the first week of August…
It is senseless to rehash the nonsensical locker room fight at this point. If you disliked Geno Smith prior to the altercation, the fight is vindication for that dislike regardless of what information comes out around it or who publicly supports him. If you liked his potential or are more generally a fan of the team, you are frustrated by the shake up it causes on offense and likely to place more blame on the guy who threw the punch. There is also annoyance that Smith would let a debt linger long enough for this to turn into any type of issue. The story has reached a satire stage with people’s faux outrage over Smith having a catch with his Dad on his private property, so let’s just move past it.The Jets quarterback situation has now basically flipped. Instead of Geno Smith starting the first four games and probably being re-evaluated at the bye week, Ryan Fitzpatrick will now start those games with Smith likely being medically cleared around week 3 or 4. What does Fitzpatrick need to do to keep his job past the bye week?
Gregg Rosenthal perfectly described Fitzpatrick’s game in this column. For you Bill Simmons fans, Fitzpatrick is the irrational confidence, heat-check guy. Instead of comparing him to Jamal Crawford, let’s go with JR Smith since this is New York and we all kind of miss JR. Fitzpatrick is who he is at this point of his career and your opinion of him shouldn’t change just because he is now the Jets starter. Despite being a veteran who went to Harvard, Fitzpatrick is not a cautious, conservative quarterback who protects the football thanks to his heady style of play. He is a quarterback who improvises, can create plays with his feet but is prone to turnovers.
Yes, he has had success in Chan Gailey’s offense and yes he has shown he can be an effective starter for a short period time. Unfortunately, he has been on four teams in four years for a reason and was benched after nine games last season for going 4-5 with a supporting cast that had comparable talent to what the Jets have this year.
Making a decision after four games will be a challenge for Todd Bowles and company. I’m not a big proponent of #QBWinz but record is likely going to be a major factor here. If the Jets are 4-0 or 0-4, it is an easy call either way. If they are 3-1, it is hard to see them making a change unless every win has been in spite of an awful offensive performance, same goes with 1-3 unless Fitzpatrick has been above average in every start. If they are 2-2, which is the record many were hoping for with Geno under center (and expectations should be the same with Fitzpatrick), that’s where the challenge comes in.
In this situation, recency bias could come into play. If the Jets are 2-2 but Fitzpatrick is coming off a strong performance against Miami in week 4, it is harder to see a change made. On the other hand, if they are 2-2 but Fitzpatrick stunk it up in London, it opens the door more for Geno. Overall, Fitzpatrick probably needs to be average to above average in 3 of his 4 starts to maintain the job unless Gailey feels his lack of arm strength is truly limiting what he wants to do on offense.
It is foolish to make binding proclamations in August. For example, “Geno Smith can never play another snap here” or the “team will never accept Geno as their leader.” This team has played Greg McElroy and Matt Simms in recent years, anything can happen at quarterback.If the current quarterback is playing poorly, he will be removed at some point and the rest of the team will continue to do their job to the best of their abilities with Geno under center. This isn’t “Any Given Sunday,” veterans are not going to stop trying or care less about playing well if the coaching staff puts Smith in. If you think that, you are incredibly naive about how the sport of football works.
The hope is obviously that Fitzpatrick plays well and the Jets start the season strongly. Smith has more long term potential but rooting for a rough start so he gets an opportunity does not make much sense. With that said, it would be surprising if Smith does not get a chance at some point in the season based on Fitzpatrick’s history.
The rest of the quarterback situation is just window dressing. Matt Flynn will be here until Smith is healthy and then be released. Please leave your #WinWithFlynn hashtags at home. Jake Heaps is going to be cut or put on the practice squad sooner rather than later. Bryce Petty was a 4th round pick for a reason. A pragmatic Jets fan should hope he is ready to compete for the backup job in 2016. If he is playing at some point this season, the Jets are in major trouble.
Overall, this isn’t the most inspiring situation in the NFL. Fitzpatrick should allow the Jets to be competitive early in the season and can hopefully keep them around .500. If Smith does get the call off the bench, hopefully he demonstrates why the staff had faith in him to initially be made the starter.