Undoubtedly, the New York Jets are envious of the quarterback situation they face this weekend, even as the Jacksonville Jaguars young quarterback is still flawed and developing.
That the Jets figure Ryan Fitzpatrick and his broken ligament in one hand is better than their starter from the past two years, a highly-touted draft pick, is very telling in just how this team perceives the future of Geno Smith moving forward. It was Smith, a second round pick of the Jets two years ago, who was anointed as the replacement for Mark Sanchez, who himself was supposed to be the team’s franchise quarterback.
That this team has essentially lacked a building block quarterback for four decades is underscored this weekend: Jets management trusts a quarterback with one healthy hand over Smith, the talented by frustrating quarterback of their past two years. Very much to his credit, Smith came into last weekend’s game at the Oakland Raiders and while it was far from perfect, showed some quality through the rust of having not played this season.
But on the opposite sideline this weekend, the Jets face a team that has drafted a quarterback that looks like their franchise’s future. Blake Bortles had a tough rookie season by any meaning of the word but he has come along nicely this year. He’s showing more poise, more composure and great pocket awareness as his comfort level is clearly growing.
“I think when we drafted Blake, we really liked his competitiveness and his toughness and I think that was a couple of things we wanted to make sure to continue to build on and he’s done a good job of that. We kind of took him with the idea of a race to maturity I guess you would say. How can we help him mature through this process as fast as possible? Our intent was not to play him last year, but through circumstances, he got an opportunity and did some good things like any young player, and then did some things that he learned from,” Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley told Metro this week.
“I think in this offseason was where he made his greatest strides. He really looked at how to handle his body, how to (get into) a routine in pre-practice and was around some guys – Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees – I think he took a lot from them. I think he wanted to have a better understanding of protections and the mental part of the game and he’s achieved great growth in that aspect. His competitiveness, his toughness, I think he has a better understanding of not only during the game with protection and schemes, but also just a routine for himself and he’s in a groove right now as far as that concerned.
“His consistency is something we constantly work and challenge him with and you see signs of it. I think with that Buffalo game it shows some of his resolve, coming back where he threw a pick-six and came back and led us to a game-winning drive. I think those traits are showing up more consistently.”
And the Jets don’t have a Bortles on their roster.
Yes they have Bryce Petty, a fourth round pick, but the rookie still faces a steep learning curve as he transitions from an offense in college that masks a quarterback’s deficiencies. But in the injured Fitzpatrick, the Jets only have a stop-gap quarterback who can fill the void under center for a season or two before time will eventually force him out from a starting role. He isn’t a franchise quarterback.
And in preferring a banged up Fitzpatrick over Smith for this game, it is clear that this new regime doesn’t think much of the last general manager’s quarterback pick.
Like so many quarterbacks who have come and gone with this franchise, Smith was supposed to be the answer. In Smith, there is a quarterback who can’t seem to get out of the way for his abilities to shine forth, his clock management in the Oakland game showing someone who just doesn’t get it after three years in the league.
What the Jets would do with a Bortles is anyone’s guess. They might screw up his development, like they did with Sanchez. Or this new regime might be able to maximize his skillset and grow him into someone finally worthy of taking the mantle that Joe Namath has held all these years. But we will never know, in large part because the Jets haven’t drafted an offensive player since 2009.
That pick? Sanchez.
Bortles isn’t perfect but he’s something for the Jaguars to cling to in hope and good faith. Look what a competent quarterback like Fitzpatrick has been able to do around these parts, building some momentum and confidence not just in the offense but the organization as a whole.
Imagine now what a bright young quarterback with good pedigree could do for this franchise. Franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees but that the Jets have committed so little over the past few years to finding the one to lead them back to the Super Bowl puts them in this predicament now.
The reality of the situation is that there is no easy solution to this, that the Jets inability to draft a marquee quarterback over the past decade isn’t something that can be easily rectified in one draft or one offseason. But it does underscore on weekends like this that the Jaguars have their young quarterback to build around, no matter how rough the growing pains might be.
The Jets can’t say the same thing right now.