Geno Smith: What Is Happening?

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

We have spent much digital ink over the past few days discussing all of the negative stories coming out about Geno Smith. Usually I like to avoid giving these things oxygen by continuing to provide attention, but I think these stories merit closer scrutiny because they seem to be taking on a life of their own. Let's take a step back and really look at what is being said about the newest Jets' quarterback.

There are a number of stories out there critical of Geno from a Murderers' Row of writers including Mike Florio, Jason Cole, Manish Mehta, and Rich Cimini. What exactly are the problems with Geno?

It probably all started with a profile by Nolan Nawrocki. In addition to the typical concerns about his college offense and some relative inconsistency issues, Nawrocki threw these gems into his scouting report.

Not a student of the game. Nonchalant field presence — does not command respect from teammates and cannot inspire. Mild practice demeanor — no urgency. Not committed or focused — marginal work ethic.

....

A cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks, Smith is a gimmick, overhyped product of the system lacking the football savvy, work habits and focus to cement a starting job and could drain energy from a QB room. Will be overdrafted and struggle to produce against NFL defensive complexities.

It was a bit stunning because almost every scouting report and word out of West Virginia both on the record and anonymously has portrayed Smith as an extremely hard worker and a good teammate. For some reason, this profile took on a life of its own. Nawrocki isn't an exceptional judge of quarterbacks. Two years ago, he bashed Cam Newton as a prospect and praised Blaine Gabbert. Numerous reports directly contradicted this, including those sourced by the people who know Smith best. Multiple people involved with the West Virginia football program jumped out to refute this the day after it hit the air. We aren't perfect, though. Nawrocki was expressing his opinion shaped by information of some sort.

Then came the night of the NFL Draft. Smith was widely expected to be a first rounder. He fell out of the first round. Cameras caught him sulking. He announced he was not returning for the second day of the Draft. Many jumped on him for showing an inability to handle adversity.

Then after the Draft, he fired his agent. A report came out by Manish Mehta that he did so because he was upset about his Draft position.

The Daily News has learned that Smith thought that he would and should be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Sources told the News that Smith’s agents from Select Sports Group gave him no assurance of his draft position.

Florio added what he saw as the only reasonable takeaway.

Regardless of the reason for making a change, doing it in the immediate aftermath of the draft creates the impression that he did it in reaction to his failure to be drafted higher. And that means there’s now even more reason to believe that Smith will have a hard time handling adversity in the NFL and dealing with the intense scrutiny and criticism of the New York media.

He looked spoiled.

Then after the Draft, Jason Cole reported that Smith left teams unimpressed on visits because he kept checking his phone.

Two sources indicated that when Smith went on some visits to teams, rather than interact with coaches and front-office people, he would spend much of his time on his cell phone. Instead of being engaged with team officials, he would be texting friends or reading Twitter or a number of other distracting activities.

Then Rich Cimini penned another report of the exact same thing and presented the following as new information.

A league source confirmed the report. In fact, an official from one team -- not a team that visited with Smith -- said the cell-phone episode was mentioned and discussed in its draft room while evaluating Smith.

So yeah, another team apparently knew about the cell phone thing.

Cimini also noted one scout's takeaway.

"He's going to have a tough time in New York," an NFC scout said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Right now, he's coming off as a spoiled, pampered brat."

That is what one person took from the information. Is this a warranted conclusion?

I don't think it is good to sugar coat problems when it comes to the Jets. If you have done that over the last two years, you have probably ended up pretty disappointed in the product the team has put on the field. You cannot simply rationalize everything when it comes to the team. So let's take a look at the big three accusations made about Geno's behavior.

Sulking at the Draft

All right, so Geno sulked as he fell at the Draft. Is this is a big deal? Let's look at the facts. This is a 22 year old guy. He thought this was going to be the greatest night of his life. All of his dreams were going to come true. I don't think it's an understatement to say it felt like a given he was going in the first round. Over 95% of people who follow football probably agreed with him.

Then he started falling. His dream wasn't coming true. This was a shock. It was a nightmare. And it was playing out as he was surrounded by the people closest to him and millions watching on national television. Is it unreasonable for a 22 year old to be devastated by something like this happening? You may disagree. I don't think so.

We can talk about dealing with adversity. Whenever I hear about adversity in sports, I think back to the 1996-2001 Yankees. I grew up rooting for those teams, and they dealt with adversity better than any team I've ever seen. I also think back to 1995. The Yankees lost an epic series to the Seattle Mariners. They blew a 2-0 lead in a best of five and late inning leads in Game 4 and Game 5. They went on to win four of the next six World Series and five of the next six American League Championships. You still hear stories about the night they lost to Seattle in 1995 how devastated the locker room was. I've heard stories of the flight back to New York from Seattle being like a funeral. The night things happen is rough. It's more about how you respond after it.

Geno probably shouldn't have announced he was not attending the second round, but it was in the heat of the moment. When he had a chance to cool his head, he actually did show up on Friday. I think it's a bit of a stretch to call this a reflection on handling adversity. Playing quarterback in the NFL has little in common with sitting in the Radio City green room.

Firing his agent

A player switching an agent is not really big news. It happens all the time. An agent is there to provide a player services. If a player decides he can be served better by somebody else, he has every right to chance the way you or I might change to change our doctor, our barber, or our mechanic.

If Geno changed his agent because he was angry that he didn't get picked first overall, you could see a potential ego problem. It's not really clear that is what happened, though. Deadspin reported that Geno's fired agents were trying to pitch a story to numerous reporters that looked almost identical to the one Mehta printed. Deadspin, citing sources close to Smith indicate he was unhappy about the unwillingness of the agent to push back against the Nawrocki report. Combating negative press is a pretty essential job for agents. The agent essentially is in charge of a player's brand. Additionally, the Deadspin report indicated Smith was unhappy with advice he got from his agents to skip the Senior Bowl. Nawrocki's report was critical of Smith skipping the Senior Bowl.

It's unclear which version is accurate or whether some combination is, but it should be obvious the incentive Smith's former agent would have painting the situation as Geno being immature.

Checking his phone on team visits

The third big indictment on Geno seems to be the reports he checked his phone too much on visits to teams. I can see where it might not have made teams happy, but I'm struggling to see the red flag here. What exactly does checking one's phone have to do with playing quarterback or leading a locker room? There's the talk that he wasn't very outgoing, but you don't need to be outgoing in social settings to be a leader in an NFL locker room. I can name plenty who aren't, including the last two Super Bowl MVP's.

There's a school of thought that this is a job interview, and you wouldn't look at your phone during an interview. This makes me think back to my own experiences interviewing for jobs. I'll say straight up that at 22 I had no idea looking at a phone was a bad thing in an interview. I'll also say that I haven't done a great job in every job interview I have had in my life. Sometimes I probably made a bad impression. Other times I just didn't click with the people interviewing me. In some of the bad ones, the company might have made a mistake passing me over. .

Other times I did really well, and it ended up being the right fit and becoming a really good employee for the companies that have hired me. This is an experience I have had from the other side in supervisory roles. Twice at an old job, I noticed a really good worker from another department on the verge of getting fired. I asked that those people be transferred to me. They both did really well. Their previous supervisor did not like them, but I found the dislike had nothing to do with aptitude for the job. It was about personal stuff that did not matter.

A handful of bad interviews doesn't necessarily mean somebody is a bad fit everywhere. Sometimes it just isn't the right fit. Other times it is, and the interviewer is too busy fixating on things that don't matter to realize it. Sometimes looking at a phone isn't a sign of immaturity. It can be just a sign of responding to an important text.

Conclusion:

So let's put this all together. We're getting a lot of armchair psychology saying that because Geno Smith was upset on Draft night, fired his agent for reasons unknown, and looked at his phone visiting with teams that there are major, major concerns with his demeanor. I have a tough time buying that. Is it possible that Geno has maturity issues, and these are a manifestation? Sure. Is this the only possibility? Heck no. Is it even the most likely? I really question that conclusion. Again, we're dealing with a 22 year old guy here who had his heart ripped out on national television, made a bad impression with a few people because he looked at his phone, and decided to change somebody giving him a service. Let me go further. Even if this is all true, isn't there a chance he will get more mature? If you are older than 22, are you more mature today than you were then? I'm just a few years removed from 22, and what I knew then against what I know now is like night and day.

I'd be really worried about Geno if we heard things like "not a hard worker" "can't stay out of trouble" and "bad teammate" from the people who know him best. We haven't heard those things, not even from anonymous sources who might not like him.

I'm really struggling with us going from being upset about falling out of the first round and looking his phone to major red flags he can't play quarterback in the NFL well. How do people come to these conclusions? I do have a theory on this.

We are in a very politically divided time in our country. All across the political spectrum, people are convinced the media is favoring the other side. You see a similar dynamic in sports. I have never met a fan who was not convinced the media is out to get his team. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart has a different take. He says the media isn't biased for one side or another. It is biased towards laziness and sensationalism. Again, I think the same is true in sports media. We live in a world where Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith occupy our mornings screaming at each other.

Geno Smith plays for the Jets. There are things that might, conceivably be red flags about his attitude. We're dealing with the Jets, though. If Geno really has attitude problems, the story writes itself. It fits right into any story about dysfunction and chaos in the locker room for which the Jets have become famous. It's an easy story, and it generates attention for the author. They know that most fans won't pay it close scrutiny because it sounds close enough to the truth as fans know it. If there's the slightest suggestion of dysfunction surrounding the Jets, it must be totally accurate.

There are reasons Geno Smith fell into the second round. They might be due at least in part to concerns about how he has handled himself. People having concerns do not necessarily make said concerns legitimate, though. The following was said about Robert Griffin III last year by one scout, " He's got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn't treat anybody good. The concerns are not necessarily illegitimate, but it feels to me like we need a lot more before the things we have heard can be considered serious red flags. When it comes to evaluating a quarterback, reaction in the green room, retention of agent, and not looking at his phone aren't especially high on my list.

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