Way back in January, I said that I would judge any new GM primarily on how he performed during the draft. Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at where the Jets stand heading into the 2013 season.
As I predicted, the Jets went defense with their first overall pick. You’ve kind of got to expect that when Rex Ryan is your head coach. So the Jets selected Dee Milliner CB, Alabama as their first pick followed by Sheldon Richardson DT, Missouri. I’m not wild about either pick. On the defensive side of the ball, I think pass rusher and safety were the greater needs. People seem to forget that Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson held down the fort pretty well in Darrelle Revis’ absence last fall. But I’m not going to second guess Ryan on defense. If anyone can coax performance out of a new group of defensive players it’s Rex Ryan.
Which brings us to the Jets third pick. The New York Jets select Geno Smith: Quarterback, West Virginia. At which point I screeched at the TV: What?!?!?!?! The Jets already were carrying five quarterbacks on their roster. Five! And now they are adding one more?
I would have absolutely have taken running back Eddie Lacy at that spot. Adding a beast back like Lacy is a no brainer and takes a ton of pressure off of whomever lines up under center. Failing that, I would have taken a tight end. The Jets have a huge loss at TE since Dustin Keller took his talents to South Beach. The Jets had multiple glaring offensive needs. QB was not the highest priority. But that is how it went down.
What happened after that is the media engaged in massive group think that this meant the immediate release of Mark Sanchez. That was not how I saw it. Here’s why.
After the draft, the Jets were carrying six QBs: Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, David Garrard, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. Oh, and Tim Tebow. No team with as many needs as the Jets can afford to carry that many players at that position. Conventional wisdom was “Hasta la vista Sanchize”. But if you think it through that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Follow with me here.
First, GM John Idzik released Tebow first thing Monday morning. Good move. His football skills do not outweigh the media distraction and fan division he brings.
And then there were five. Idzik says there will be a five way battle for the starters’ job. I’m sure there will be. But realistically, the three with a shot at starting against Tampa Bay in Week 1 are Garrard, Sanchez and Smith. Garrard was a great pickup in the offseason as a backup. He is essentially Mark Brunell 2.0 and will be a great sensei for Smith. I’ve always liked Silky. He’s a solid player, a good guy and has lots of NFL experience.
He’ll look great in OTA’s and in training camp. But I worry about this: He’s 35 and hasn’t played a down of competitive football in two years. Worse yet, the reason for that is because of injury to first his back and then last year to his knee, as we all saw on “Hard Knocks”. If he makes it through training camp and the preseason and then starts the season that will be great. Smith can sit behind him and learn and Sanchez can be a veteran backup, albeit an expensive one. However, the Jets offensive line is going to be a work in progress this year.
I applaud Idzik for recognizing that this has been a glaring problem the last two years and he did a nice job picking up pieces both in the draft and free agency to bolster the depth. Long term that is great. Short term? Sometimes it takes a while for an offensive line to gel. I have no doubt the Jets will work hard on it and they have the incomparable Nick Mangold to set the tone and help teach the youngsters. But one missed blocking assignment and Garrard could easily be in jeopardy. It’s one thing to be pile driven into the turf when you’re 25. It’s a completely different thing when you are 35.
That’s one big reason to hang onto Sanchez. Say what you want, and I am well aware of the tremendous Sanchez fatigue among the fans and in the front office, but Sanchez has proven durable, especially the last two years where he has endured one bone crushing hit after another. Viewed in that light, he is a pretty good safety net. Especially when you consider his $8.25 million guaranteed salary and the huge potential cap hit if he is released. Might as well hang on to him. Maybe some other team will find themselves in the market for a starter or backup as the offseason and preseason progress. Who knows?
One thing we do know is that the media is over it with regard to Sanchez. Their basic attitude is ‘move along, nothing new to see here’. The new rookie quarterback is the most newsworthy story now. With that in mind, keeping Sanchez is financially prudent short term and much less of a distraction than keeping Tebow
What happens with the Jets this fall is up in the air because really everything depends on how fast Geno Smith comes along. Apparently, new Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg likes what he sees in Smith. That bodes well. Ideally, they could develop Smith so he grows and learns and isn’t overwhelmed. There is reason for cautious optimism.
However, I have been watching closely and have seen a couple red flags.
First let me say, that this is not meant to be a Geno Smith bash-fest. He is to be applauded for fulfilling his lifelong dream to be drafted into the NFL. That takes years of hard work and dedication. He, his family and friends should all be very proud of that accomplishment. I extend my sincere congratulations.
Hopefully he will find success. But, as an observer, a couple of things have given me pause. As has been extensively documented, Smith dropped into Day Two of the NFL Draft and didn’t do himself any favors with his Green Room conduct on Day One. Leaving in a huff before Day One is over and indicating that he wouldn’t come back for Day Two as espn’s Suzy Kolber reported is not a great sign of maturity. To me it indicates a lack of awareness. He was one of the top rated QBs in the draft. It worries me that he seemed to be unaware that the media would be watching him closely. College players watch the draft religiously as a sort of portent of what they will someday be in for. The media scrutiny (ok, overkill) is no secret. His reaction to dropping out of the first round came off as pouty and immature. Obviously, someone among his advisory group got in touch with him later and told him to show up for Day Two with a smile on his face.
A better media strategy for Smith (coached or not) would have been to take the high road and say as Day One wrapped up, “It doesn’t matter where I get drafted, only that I get drafted. All I need is to get my foot in the door and to be given a chance. After that, I’ll earn my success.” That’s a simple, straightforward talking point that no one could argue with. Smith needs to grow up pronto with regards to his media awareness. It’s never too late to attend the Crash Davis Academy of media platitudes. Smith needs some intensive tutoring because the media scrutiny in New York is nothing compared to what he saw in college. This ain’t Morgantown.
The other thing that worries me is the loss in the Pinstripe Bowl in poor weather conditions at Yankee Stadium. This does not bode well for someone who could be making a lot of starts in the windy confines of MetLife Stadium. Maybe that game was an aberration and Smith will be able to make adjustments. Only time will tell.
Here we are at the beginning of May and the team that will take the field in September is starting to come into focus.
The Jets begin OTAs later this month. We’ll begin to find out even more then.