I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm actually prepared to see Sanchez/McElroy start some games this year if it means giving Smith a chance to sit and learn. Even more stunning is the fact that letting Smith sit may have more long-term benefits than starting him right off the bat.
Now before you start grabbing your pitchforks and calling me a witch (and believe me, I thought of taking a bath in holy water just to make sure my skin didn't fall off), I thought it was worth explaining some of the reasons that taking our time with putting Smith on the field has its benefits:
Let’s start with the understanding that the Jets front office has absolutely no commitments to Geno Smith. He signed a four-year deal worth less than $10 million (i.e. just over one year’s worth of Mark Sanchez), which means the Jets do not have so much invested in him that they would feel obligated to play him immediately and make sure the investment pays off as they did with the last QB they drafted early. The Jets are entirely within their rights to let Smith sit and watch, learning all of the mechanics that he apparently did not learn in college, and wait until he’s ready as opposed to throwing him to the wolves too quickly.
The fact that recent rookie QBs have come in and excelled immediately takes away from the fact that QBs generally don’t play that well as a rookie. Ryan, Flacco, Bradford, Newton, Dalton, Luck, Wilson and Griffin all had incredible rookie seasons which has put pressure on teams to find that player that can come in and play right off the bat. But you can’t put those kinds of expectations on Smith just because he’s another early round QB. Smith was arguably the best QB in a relatively weak QB class – in the previous 4 drafts he might have been a middle-round pick considering how incomplete his game is.
Smith has a ton of talent and potential: he has incredible arm strength, pocket mobility, untapped athletic potential and a very low turnover rate dating back to college. With enough time, weapons and development he could become a Top 15 QB.
The problem is: Geno Smith doesn’t have any of those things at the moment. Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff is on borrowed time, the Jets have one of the league’s least inspiring offenses, and if forced to split reps with Sanchez (which, given how much the Jets are paying him and the various supporters he has within the organization will continue as long as he remains healthy), Smith will not be in a position to succeed in his first year unless he truly is the next great franchise QB.
Let Smith sit for a while. He can watch the game at an NFL speed, examine the playcalling, learn the offense at his own pace, and continue to build his body without having to go to an ice bath after every game. By 2014, the Jets will have more cap room to buy offensive weapons, Sanchez will in all likelihood be gone, and there may even be a more offensive minded coaching staff to work with him.
Don’t get me wrong, the Jets will do everything they can to win now – they always do. However, if the narrative continues to be “Sanchez gives us the best chance to win now,” then there may be more logic to letting Sanchez take his final bows in a season where the expectations are lower than Death Valley and give Geno Smith more time to learn the position. By 2014 he could be a viable starter – who knows, he could have a Sophomore season like Colin Kaepernick.
Good things come to those who wait. If fans want to know if Smith is the guy, then waiting until he is ready to play will have far more benefits than simply throwing him into the fire and seeing if he burns.