In 2012, under ousted GM Mike Tannenbaum, on June 14 the Jets signed Jordan White, the last remaining unsigned pick from their 2012 draft class. Third round pick Demario Davis had signed on June 2. The other 2012 draft picks had all signed in May. This was in keeping with a long standing Jets tradition under Mr. T of getting their draft picks signed and in camp as soon as possible.
What a difference a year makes. Here we are on July 20, 2013 and the Jets’ three top picks remain unsigned. Of particular concern to many Jets fans is second round pick Geno Smith, who was expected to give incumbent Mark Sanchez stiff competition for the starting QB job.
By now most Jets fans know Geno Smith fired his agent shortly after the NFL Draft and signed on with Jay Z's fledgling sports agency, Roc Nation. What some may not know is that Roc Nation has appointed agent Kim Miale, who has never negotiated an NFL contract, to handle Smith's contract negotiations. This may be part of the reason Smith remains one of just four second round picks who remain unsigned. Throw in new Jets' GM John Idzik, who seems determined to reverse the errant salary cap ways of his predecessor, and you have the recipe for a potentially damaging holdout by Smith.
The holdup with Geno's contract appears to involve the percentage of money guaranteed in his deal. Geno is said to be looking for a percentage similar to what prior second round QB picks Dalton and Kaepernick got, approximately 73% of the total value of the contract. The trouble is Manti Te'o, who was chosen one pick ahead of Smith at #38, has apparently already agreed to a contract containing only 67% guaranteed money. With contracts typically slotting in according to what players picked immediately before and after you have agreed to, Idzik appears to be adamant about holding his ground on this issue. Idzik likely does not wish to set a precedent that the Jets will pay guaranteed money above slot in his inaugural year as a GM. The problem is Smith's agent, Kim Miale, is working on his inaugural contract, and his agency, Roc Nation, is in its inaugural NFL year. They will also likely be loathe to give the impression they caved in their first significant NFL negotiations.
This sets up as prime conditions for a holdout. Idzik ultimately holds all the cards, as Smith has no other viable option than coming to terms with the Jets. Idzik knows this and will likely use his leverage accordingly. He will likely refuse to budge on the guaranteed money in an effort to further distance himself from his failed predecessor, as well as set the Jets organization on the right path toward responsible and successful salary cap management. Roc Nation also is smart enough to understand that if Idzik refuses to budge, then Miale really has no viable options other than to eventually sign on the dotted line. But the key word here is eventually. This is something of a test case for Roc Nation. It is likely, particularly after coming out with controversial quotes earlier this year that they are here to shake up the world of lazy and ineffective NFL agents, that Roc Nation is unwilling to get this deal done early on Idzik's terms. That would look too much like Roc Nation can't walk the walk, that they are no more effective than the agents they recently ridiculed. So we may be in for a somewhat prolonged Smith holdout, as Idzik plays his cards as he should, using the leverage he alone holds, while Roc Nation searches for a way of saving face.
The Jets rookies report to camp on Monday, July 22, 2013. Three days later the veterans report and full blown practices commence. Two weeks and a day after that is August 9, the first preseason game, against Detroit. Two weeks and a day after that comes August 24, the last preseason game that the starters will see any meaningful playing time, in Metlife Stadium against the Giants. It all moves very quickly from here.
Eventually Smith will sign, most likely on Idzik's terms. The question is, when? If a deal gets done too soon, Roc Nation may perceive the situation as harming their fledgling NFL brand. They do not wish to be perceived as ineffective right out of the gate. So suppose Smith holds out for a week after camp opens, what then? Well, that probably would not be fatal to Smith's chances of starting from day one, as he still would have a week of practices before the preseason schedule gets underway, theoretically still enough time to impress the coaches. But anything beyond that would really be cutting it close. Smith is already struggling to make the huge transition from Air Raid college offense to Morninghweg's West Coast pro offense. He is struggling with his footwork, his reads, his knowledge of the offense, as we should expect a somewhat raw rookie to do. If he misses too much time in camp, there comes a point when he would no longer be viable to suit up in the first preseason game. Since the starter is likely to be determined by the end of the second preseason game, and nearly certain to be determined by the end of the third game, just a bit more than a month from today, missing one or more games would likely terminate Smith's chances of beating out Sanchez for the starting gig.
It is still early. Geno could still report to camp on time and win the starting job, as many at GGN fervently hope. But it will be getting very late very soon. And if Geno misses too much time, the eagerly anticipated QB battle may prematurely end, not with a bang but a whimper. The QB battle just might be over before it starts. And somewhere Mark Sanchez might be doing a little happy dance, thankful for Roc Nation in a way Roc Nation never anticipated.