Jets Quarterback Battle Has No Real Winner
By Neil Cohen
Congratulations, Geno Smith. You’ve ‘won’ the job as Jets starting quarterback.
Watching the franchise’s quarterback moves was enough to make fans nostalgic for last summer’s controversy between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, back when it looked as if the Jets had just hit a slight bump after reaching the AFC championship game in two consecutive seasons and would be able to get back into contention.
Contention isn’t even a consideration this time, with the Jets almost universally picked to be one of the worst teams in the league with no game-breakers on offense.
Smith, a rookie out of West Virginia drafted in the second round, will be the starter when the season opens against Tampa Bay on Sunday. General manager John Idzik might be happy with the result, but Smith didn’t win the job because he had outplayed Sanchez during the preseason.
It was more due to a shoulder injury that will sideline the fifth-year starter until at least the third game of the season, which was caused by playing Sanchez behind a porous offensive line late in the fourth quarter of the exhibition game against the Giants. That seems to be a fitting way to win the Jets’ quarterback job, just be the last man standing.
Where Tebow was brought in to challenge Sanchez to return to his playoff form, now it seems they just want to find a replacement for the man formerly known as San-chise, tattoo on coach Rex Ryan’s right arm or not.
The men behind Sanchez have been constantly shuffled, with Brady Quinn the latest to join the crew on Labor Day.
Rich Cimini noted at ESPN New York that the Jets have signed nine quarterbacks during the past 18 months, including Drew Stanton, David Garrard and Graham Harrell, none of whom suited up for the team during the regular season.
So the Jets open Sunday with four quarterbacks on the roster: Sanchez, Quinn and rookies Smith and Matt Simms, who had the best outing of the exhibition season, a 33 for 44 effort against Philadelphia. Quinn replaced Harrell, Aaron Rodgers’ backup last year in Green Bay. He was signed on Aug. 28, replacing Greg McElroy.
Remember McElroy? The starter on the Crimson Tide’s 2010 national-championship team was drafted in the seventh round in 2011. He got on the bad side of coach Rex Ryan after his rookie season when he went on an Alabama radio station and spoke about the dysfunction within the Jets’ locker room. He was kept on the team anyway as the team’s third-string quarterback after Tebow was added last March.
And with Sanchez struggling and the Jets’ staff having no faith in Tebow, McElroy was given the start in Week 16 against the Chargers, getting sacked 11 times and suffering a concussion which he hid from the team until late in the week. He was cut twice at the end of this season’s training camp, first on Aug. 31 when rosters were reduced to 53, then brought back only to get an injury settlement.
McElroy was there when training camp opened in Cortland, which was more than could be said for Tebow, who was released at the end of April, days after the Jets had drafted Smith in the second round to be the next to challenge the sinking fortunes of Sanchez, the NFL’s turnover leader the past two seasons.
Given the chance to unseat the incumbent, Smith sprained an ankle in the first preseason game, and against the Giants on Aug. 24 threw three interceptions and stepped on the end line for a safety. But the past few weeks, it became apparent the team wanted a change, and Sanchez’s injury has given them the excuse to start the Geno Smith Era.
How long that era lasts this year depends on Sanchez’s health as well as Smith’s performance. The uncertainty of the former helped set the quarterback roulette wheel in motion, culminating in the signing of Quinn, who had been released by the Seahawks and had a 1-7 record as a starter in Kansas City last season. He was added merely to give Smith a veteran backup and is no threat to unseat him as the starter.
Which is the main problem for the Jets. Unless Smith develops quickly, none of the quarterbacks for the Jets scare anyone and their biggest value will be to help the team get a high draft pick in 2014.