Don't write the obituary for Geno Smith's career as starting quarterback of the New York Jets quite yet– at least Joe Namath doesn't think so.
The most decorated and successful quarterback in team history, Namath looks upon Smith and isn't prepared to say that the third-year quarterback is automatically relegated to carrying a clipboard this season. Smith has had plenty of ups and downs during two years in the league as he was benched several times his rookie year and lost hist starting job at one point last season. He's never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a season, his completion percentage is pedestrian and his mechanics as well as his ability to read defenses are still very much a work in progress.
Other than that, he's Canton-bound.
But the former second round pick isn't being written off as a starter according to Namath, this despite the acquisition of Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason. There is also a new head coach in town in Todd Bowles, who has no ties to Smith. All this on paper spells the end of the Geno era in New York. But Namath isn't quite in that camp.
“I don't think it's the end of Geno being the starter. Fitzpatrick has some credentials that are impressive. I don't know whether he lost his job in Buffalo, why he lost his job in Houston. I know he got hurt. He may have lost it ahead of time. I always question when a team lets a guy go if he can play that well. It remains to be seen how good Fitzpatrick is going to be in green and white,” Namath told Metro last week in an exclusive interview.
“I expect Geno to play better then we've seen him play. He's shown some good athletic ability, made some good plays. He's suffered through some growing players. Dang. Even myself can related to the second season not being as good as the first. Maybe it's making more mistakes.
“I think the job is wide open. Whichever guy does perform the best is going to get the job. It shouldn't be contract related. I think Todd Bowles is coming to win. He's going to play the best people that he has.”
This offseason looks like a real, actual quarterback competition for the Jets, with Fitzpatrick and Smith likely heading into training camp in somewhat of a dead heat. The past two seasons, it appeared from the outside looking in that the Jets had ordained Smith, the draft pick of former general manager John Idzik, as their de facto starter despite his obvious limitations.
But there is a new general manager in Mike Maccagnan as well as a new head coach in Bowles which means that Smith doesn't have a clear-cut pathway to be the starter this year.
In fact, Fitzpatrick is the one with the ties as he was with the Houston Texans last year where Maccagnan was the director of college scouting. And there is always the possibility that the Jets could draft their quarterback of the future this spring, eventually clearing the way for Smith and Fitzpatrick to move on from the organization.
“But when you're talking quarterbacks specifically, you have a lot of offseason stuff going on and until you've got on the other side of the line scrimmage trying to knock you down, you don't get a feel for the quarterbacks physiology and what's going on. Anyone can play 7-on-7. We quarterbacks love 7-on-7 because no one is getting hit,” Namath said.
“You like to think that we play as we practice. But you're not getting blindsided and rolled down and getting hit in practice. An outstanding practice quarterback isn't necessarily a starting quarterback.
“You have to justify whoever is under center to the rest of the team.”
Namath noted that Fitzpatrick might have an edge grasping the offense faster given his well-known cerebral acumen. A former quarterback at Harvard, Fitzpatrick has one of the highest Wonderlic scores in NFL Combine history.