Reader Caleb Finesurry submitted the following article yesterday on the end of Geno Smith’s run in New York. Feel free to submit your own articles to JoeC@TurnOnTheJets.com
The tale of Geno Smith’s Jets tenure is one of many twists and turns. He went from Heisman candidate, to disgruntled media joke, to second round pick, to backup quarterback, to starting quarterback in the span of less than a year. He led a talentless team to an 8-8 record, before regressing in his second year. He never got another true shot at being the Jets quarterback. In a tale of injury, betrayal, sadness and unfairness, one discovers how Geno Smith went from Heisman hopeful, to likely being unemployed.
If you told Geno Smith he was peaking in 2011, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. Smith, a junior at West Virginia, had just led his team to an Orange Bowl victory, dropping 400 yards and 7 touchdowns (1 rushing) in a 70-33 drubbing of a Clemson team stocked with NFL talent. The hype surrounding Smith and West Virginia was palpable heading into the 2012 season, as he and his NFL bound receiving core of Steadman Bailey and Tavon Austin, were ranked 11th heading into the season, and for the first five games of the season they backed up the hype. For his part, Geno threw for nearly 2,000 yards, 24 touchdowns and 0 interceptions with an 81% completion percentage. Morgantown was on fire, Smith was a Heisman candidate, and the Mountaineers rose to #5 in the polls.
Then they went to Lubbock, and mustered only 14 against a porous Texas Tech defense in a 49-14 drubbing. Smith wasn’t horrible, but by his standards, a 54% completion percentage with only 1 touchdown was a bad day. From there it only got worse, with Smith throwing his first (and second) interceptions of the season the next week in a blowout home loss to Kansas St. West Virginia would go on to lose 5 in a row, ending their title aspirations, Smith’s Heisman hopes, and unbeknownst to him a slot in the 1st round. His season culminated ironically in New York City, where the team suffered another embarrassing defeat, 38-14 to Syracuse.
Leading up to the draft, Smith and Florida St.’s E.J. Manuel were seen as the top QB’s in the draft. At the combine most scouts were impressed with Smith’s footwork, and football IQ, and although people worried a bit about ball placement, his sub 4.6 40 time, had Smith back in the first round in the eyes of most. Yet the first round came and went, and Smith did not hear his name called, although both E.J. Manuel, and college teammate Tavon Austin did.
After DeAndre Hopkins came off the board (a part of that Clemson team Smith and Austin had demolished), Smith packed up and left the green room, declining interviews on his way out. The media roared with criticism calling Smith childish, and speculating how the move could hurt his stock. Initially Smith announced he would not return the next night for round two, but he did, hearing his name called 39th by the New York Jets. The New York crowd exploded in mostly cheers, albeit with some boos, when beloved Jet Wayne Chrebet announced the pick, a fan base starved for good quarterback play, finally had another hope.
Smith’s spring leading into OTA’s was not a quiet one, as a few days after the draft he was back in the headlines for firing his agents, a move he claims had nothing to do with his draft plunge. He then entered something familiar to Jets fans, but not to him, a quarterback controversy. The incumbent, Mark Sanchez had taken the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games in his first two years, but two subpar seasons followed, and the locker-room and fan base both seemed ready to move on.
Sanchez started the first two-preseason games and both QBs looked sharp. In the case of a tie coach Rex Ryan, potentially coaching for his job, was going to go with the safer bet, Sanchez. The annual third preseason game against the crosstown rival Giants saw Smith get the start, as Ryan looked to get him action with the first team. He was awful. He finished with 3 interceptions (he had 6 total at WVU) and ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Yet the night ended up a victory for Smith. In a bizarre move, Ryan opted to put in Sanchez for the 4th quarter. Sanchez finished 5-6 on the night, but on his last throw was driven into the ground by a Giant defender. Unbeknownst to Sanchez, it was his last snap as a Jet.
With Sanchez ruled out for the season, with a torn labrum Geno was under center week 1, as the Jets hosted former franchise hero Darrelle Revis and the Bucs. Smith came in with no expectations, but also no weapons. He had an up and down afternoon tossing both a touchdown and an interception, but a gutty late scramble set up Nick Folk for a game winning field goal and Geno had win #1.
The year was a strange one for Geno and the Jets, as they won every other game for the first 10 games of the season. This included wins over the Patriots, and the then vaunted Saints, but an ugly loss to Tennessee. After the New England game, a thrilling overtime win, where Smith threw for 233 yards and a touchdown, performance fell off for both quarterback and team. Geno did not reach 220 yards in a game the rest of the season, and threw for just 4 more touchdowns to 10 interceptions (in 9 games).
The season ended on a high note though, a win in Miami, and an announcement that Rex would be back the next year. Geno was back as well, and with Sanchez off the roster, it was truly his team. Expectations were raised, and and Geno got a new mentor by the name of Michael Vick, and a new weapon by the name of Eric Decker. After a win on opening day, Smith struggled mightily, and the Jets fell to 1-6 leading to calls for Smith’s head, as well of that of Ryan’s and General Manager John Idzik. The next week, at home against Buffalo, Smith started off 2-8 with 3 interceptions, and Rex had seen enough, pulling the lefty Vick out of the bullpen. Smith took the move gracefully, although he knew his days as a Jet could be numbered. He got another opportunity, in relief of Vick in the rematch with Buffalo a month later, and was an efficient 10-12, albeit in garbage time. Smith got the start the next week against Miami, and would go through week 16 in mediocrity.
The feeling around the team, as they took their talents, or lack their of, to South Beach for a week 17 matchup with the Dolphins was a weird one. They were 3-12 and beloved coach Rex Ryan, and less beloved GM John Idzik were gone after the game, and everyone knew it. There was only one future to be decided, and it was Geno Smith’s. How did Smith respond? 20-25, 358 yards 3 TDs 0 picks and a perfect QB rating, making his case for the job in 2015.
The 2015 offseason will go down as one of the most tumultuous in Jets history. Ryan and Idzik were axed to make room for new head coach Todd Bowles with his cool relaxed demeanor, the complete opposite of Ryan’s. The anti-Idzik was brought in as well, as Mike Maccagnnan asserted himself with electric moves as the offseason progressed. They started with a bang, bringing in star Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, and returning franchise cornerstone Darrelle Revis. A quieter acquisition was that of Ryan Fitzpatrick a journeyman quarterback brought in to mentor, and perhaps challenge Smith. Throughout the offseason, players, coaches and front office staff maintained it was Smith’s job, but in a blink, it was gone.
Smith had a locker room dispute with linebacker IK Enempkali over an unsettled debt. IK alleges he bought Smith a plane ticket to come to his football camp, something Smith says he never promised. When Smith refused IK’s request to pay, IK swung, and unlike most things thrown at the Jets facility, this connected. Smith’s jaw was broken, his character destroyed, and his starting job thieved by the Amish Rifle Fitzpatrick. By the time Geno was healthy again, Fitz had the Jets at 4-1 and there was no looking back. Smith made a brief appearance in relief of an injured Fitzpatrick at Oakland, and with the best weapons of his career, he started with a pick. He rallied, and the team nearly did as well. Still Fitz was back the next week, and by years end, had the Jets on the brink of their first playoff birth in 6 years. To do so, all he had to do was go into his old stomping grounds of Buffalo and win. Buffalo had hired a new coach by the name of Rex Ryan, and Rex was having none of it. Fitzpatrick had a 3-interception meltdown in the 4th quarter, ending the Jets season, and Fitzpatrick’s contract.
The Jets and Fitzpatrick’s negotiations for a new deal were strange. The Jets had the leverage in that that no other team seemed interested in him, but Fitz’s leverage was Geno. The Jets seemed mortified at the option of turning back to Geno, but still no deal got done. Over the summer Geno was leading drills at OTA’s and minicamps, and on the eve of training camp he was set to take the first snap of training camp as the starter. That night he felt his phone buzz, and got the news that Fitzpatrick had been resigned for a one-year deal. The next day as camp opened, Smith admitted he was, “pissed off,” at the development. Fitzpatrick’s play did not help those feelings go away. Despite a shaky start to the year, Fitzpatrick had the team at 1-1, including a much needed win in Buffalo. Then Fitzpatrick ran into a stretch not unlike Geno’s 2014 campaign, including a 6 interception outing at Kansas City. The Jets fell to 1-5 leading Todd Bowles to do the unthinkable, and start Geno Smith.
October 23, 2016 is the day Geno hoped would provide the spark for the Jets season, and for his tenure as their quarterback, if not as proof he could play for another team, yet it will likely have his last day in green. In the second quarter of the game against the Ravens, Smith got the Jets off to a solid start. On a third down play, he was twisted down hard while being sacked. He tried to brace his fall by grabbing the defenders facemask, but was pulled to the ground twisting his knee in the process. He quietly limped to the sideline, likely for the last time as a Jet. It seemed to be a minor injury, but nonetheless Fitzpatrick warmed up, and led the Jets to a victory. The minor injury was anything but as Smith had torn his ACL, ending his season, and likely his maligned tenure with the Jets.
During his time as the Jets QB, Smith had become the joke of the NFL, as many Jet quarterbacks do. But it is important to consider what he was dealing with. He started as a rookie quarterback in the New York media market, with 0 talent around him and took the team to 8-8. He then got a real weapon in Decker, but the offense became over reliant on him as a number 1, when in reality, he is better suited as a 2. Then, with his best team to date in front of him, Smith is punched in the face, ending his tenure as Jets starter. He gets one more chance and gets injured after a quarter and a half. Every argument there could be countered. Sanchez didn’t have weapons in 2009, yet he had success. If Smith were a real leader the Enemkpali incident never would have happened. All valid counters, but one argument that cannot be turned around is that Geno Smith never quite got a fair shake in New York.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com