For the third consecutive year the New York Jets and their fan base are stuck on wild card weekend having little more to look forward to than the draft and next season. The question however, on the mind of the organization and fans alike is what can the Jets do to right the wrongs of last season? The starting point has to begin with a thorough evaluation of the most important position in football, the quarterback.
A study of the top teams in the NFL blatantly demonstrates that to be successful in this league you need a quarterback. As a direct result of this, the Jets have invested two high round draft picks during Rex Ryan's tenure as Head Coach on the aforementioned position. Mark Sanchez certainly had his ups and downs while leading the team to two AFC championship appearances, yet it might well be time for the Jets to finally move on. No reason needs to be given beyond his salary of $13,100,000 in 2014. This restricts the Jets ability to dive into the free agency market this off-season, which they need to do in order to provide some offensive firepower. By releasing Sanchez the Jets can create $8,300,000 of cap space.
At the hub of the Sanchez decision is the issue of Geno Smith and his true ability to be a franchise quarterback. Before truthfully exploring this detail it is important to note that the Jets NEED a veteran presence to push Smith, or at least provide a serviceable backup for Mornhinweg . The Jets, I believe have the perfect man for the job already on their roster in Mark Sanchez in every way other than one...He’s Mark Sanchez and this is the New York Jets. For any of the other thirty one teams in the NFL this is a feasible idea, however not so for the Jets. This competition already played out last offseason and to do the same again would be quite frankly the same as flogging a dead horse. The Jets fans, Organization and just as importantly, Sanchez all need to move on and realise they will not have their fairy-tale ending…well at least not together.
The next part of the evaluation process has to firmly revolve around Geno Smith and just how good can he be. Smith undeniably had some moments during the year which gave fans a glimmer of hope, a minute of belief. What ties Smith to all other successful rookie quarterbacks over the last few years? Geno Smith, Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson all maintain the ability to hurt teams with their legs. Smith was able to spark the Jets more often than not, with his running not passing ability. Rather than worry fans this should be embraced. Smith was able to rush for the second most touchdowns of any quarterback in the NFL with six, behind only Cam Newton. The ability to run the ball when the play breaks down is key as it can slow down the pass rush. Importantly, it also prevents the play from ending when the receivers are covered, which was a common theme for the Jets receiving corps over the course of 2013.
Smith came out of college as a pure pocket passer, he was reluctant to scramble, yet it is this very skill which could make him succeed in the future as it did this year. The Lavonte David late hit in week one against the Buccaneers may have appeared to be little more than a dumb error but it was an opportunity created by Geno's legs, something Sanchez never achieved. Beyond this, Geno showed more willingness to run and create plays with his legs as the season went on showcasing, development and the maturation of his play in line with what it takes to win in the NFL. I truly believe this is going to be an integral part of his game and the Jets success in the coming seasons. Yes, the NFL is a passing league but this does not mean running has no place at all, in fact far from it. The running quarterback could well be the Achilles heel of the pass first NFL defensive schemes.
Having said this, Smith does need to develop his passing if he is ever truly going to be considered as anything other than a mediocre NFL quarterback. The main area for growth has to be as noted by Morhinweg, his slow release. It has been well documented that Smith took the longest of any starter in the league in terms of time taken per throw. At first viewing this is entirely down to his inability to successfully read defences combined with the receivers failing to get open. Where, this undeniably was the case throughout the season, Geno during his mid-season slump was taking an age to throw the ball. This in turn resulted in incompletions and more worryingly interceptions as well as picks sixes on balls thrown out in the flat. Look no further for evidence of this than against New England and Cincinnati.
Smith began to hold the ball longer as he worried about forcing passes. This was not so much an accuracy issue or decision making, but a problem with his release, which impacted his whole game. This is not to say that Smith had no difficulties when it comes to reading defences or accuracy, but the former will develop over time, with experience. Beyond this, I have confidence in Smith’s ability to throw accurate passes. This defined him in college and at times this season. Anyone disagreeing should rewind back to his touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland against the Atlanta falcons.
The ultimate question the Jets need to be asking themselves is whether Smith is more franchise or Sanchize? The truth, unfortunately is that it is too early to tell. Yes, the two quarterbacks had eerily similar stat lines in their rookie seasons, with Sanchez throwing 12 touchdowns to 20 interceptions while also rushing for three more. Smith threw 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions while rushing for six touchdowns. Smith accounted for three more touchdowns and one greater interception. Undeniably, on multiple occasions throughout the year, especially early, Smith was asked to carry the team more than Sanchez was in 2009, and yes Sanchez had a better supporting cast.
But one cannot forget two important parts of this comparison. Sanchez began the season with Chansi Stuckey as a starting receiver who is no longer employed in the NFL. Braylon Edwards was part of a trade before the deadline however; this is far from an easy transition as perfectly demonstrated by Trent Richardson in Indianapolis. On the other hand, Smith threw for 600 more yards than Sanchez, which clearly demonstrates his added importance to the team. This may seem like little more than two average games for Peyton Manning this year, but you cannot forget that for the Jets historically inept passing game under Rex Ryan that is equivalent to four more games worth of passing or a quarter of the season.
Can Geno become what the Jets Need? I guess only time and more talent around him will be able to truly tell us what we have in Smith.