The Jets will likely be looking for a quarterback to provide competition for Geno Smith as free agency gets underway Tuesday. But in the eyes of the franchise's best ever at the position, the Jets already have their quarterback of now and the future in Smith. He just needs to prove it.
Despite an up-and-down rookie season, Smith has earned the endorsement of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. Still the only man to quarterback the Jets to the Super Bowl, Namath sees plenty of upside in Smith despite throwing 21 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns as a rookie.
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But Smith finished strong, completing 68-of-116 passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions in his last four games. The team won three of those final four games to close out an overachieving 8-8 season. But management and head coach Rex Ryan failed to endorse Smith as the starter heading into next year.
“Geno got some valuable experience, he improved along the way and he got the team excited about things,” Namath told Metro. “I don't have a great deal of confidence in what we hear coming out of any NFL team headquarters. So many things are clouded in mystery, posturing.
“He did a fine job for a rookie last year. You can't compare it to any other position or a veteran doing the job. It is such a team game and Geno didn't have a wonderful offense to work with. His wideouts were hurt, the receiving corps was so-so. The line improved. That Austin Howard looks like he is something and I have to think the Jets need to make him a priority for a new contract. Brian Winters? I'd like to see more tape on him because there was improvement. But it wasn't a great offense; it wasn't an offense built to maximize his skills.”
The Jets have been linked to a number of top free agent quarterbacks, including Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. But Namath believes Smith has earned the right to come in and compete for the starting job based off of last year.
“You have to prove in training camp that you are the starter and that you are better than the guy behind you. In those preseason games you have to prove it and show that you have it — not just in practice, but in those games. I don't think he did that last year,” Namath said. “This guy isn't performing like so-so. He had some good games; he had some games where he'd want to take things back I'm sure. First stringers are first stringers but it isn't etched in stone. Maybe you give him a little room, a slight edge. There's a tremendous upside to his game. Can he prove it? Can he be consistent?
“Geno is the starter going in but if someone performs better, they bring in someone else. But I think he earned enough to be the starter right now.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.