The New York Jets did something in the offseason they haven't bothered with in a while: they signed a competent second quarterback. Michael Vick has not been a worldbeater outside his one miracle comeback year with the Eagles. Other than that one year he has been a roughly average NFL passer whose value is enhanced by being the best running quarterback the game has ever seen. He has also been a quarterback who fits in nicely with recent Jets history of turnover machine quarterbacks. And he has been increasingly injury prone, as age and too many hits have caught up with him in a way that NFL defenders rarely have.
Still, there is no question Michael Vick is a better NFL quarterback than Geno Smith has ever shown himself to be thus far. Nonetheless, the Jets have seemingly given Smith a leg up in the competition. To my mind, this is exactly the right decision. It is no secret that Smith struggled mightily as a rookie. It is also no secret that he had horrifically bad receivers and that he was less than prepared to step right in and run an NFL style offense having come from a quirky college spread system.
If the Jets were serious Super Bowl contenders then it would make sense to have the most important position on the field, quarterback, be subject to a completely open and even competition. However, at least in my mind, the Jets are not legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2014. The team still has too many glaring weaknesses and not enough stellar strengths to seriously contend for a title. If the Jets' management also believes this, then it makes little sense to invest a year in a 34 year old quarterback who has trouble staying healthy and is clearly not the future of this franchise. If this team is building for 2015 and beyond, then unless the staff has already given up on Geno, and I don't believe they have, Geno must be given the starting job in 2014.
Benching Geno for 2014 would only prolong the question of whether he will ever have what it takes to lead this franchise in the years to come. If the Jets bench Geno then when the 2015 draft rolls around the Jets will still be in the position of wondering whether or not Geno is the future, since he would not have been given the opportunity to prove himself one way or another on the field. The Jets need to be sure about Geno, one way or the other, when the 2015 draft comes around. Wasting another year not knowing if we already have the quarterback of the future would be inexcusable when we can find out on the field this year.
Geno has been given better weapons to work with at wide receiver, tight end and running back. He has a full year under his belt and will have another training camp under Marty Mornhinweg by the time opening day rolls around. If he fails horribly then we'll know; time to draft another quarterback. And if he makes good progress then we'll know; time to try to build around Geno. Either way, we'll know. And knowing has significant value in terms of how to approach the 2015 draft.
Of course there is a point where it would be unconscionable to start Geno. If he were to struggle so badly that he looks like he's made no progress since last year, even regressing from his last four games of last year, and if Vick looks healthy and comfortable in the Jets offense, then the nod would have to go to Vick, and it would probably be time to begin planning how to find the next candidate for long term answer at quarterback. However, if Geno is performing even sort of close to Vick, I think the nod has to go to Geno. Geno presumably still has at least the potential for substantial upside; Vick does not. Finding out whether that potential is real or illusory trumps winning an extra game or two in a year the Jets are extremely unlikely to win it all.
All this may sound like simply handing the job to Geno, thus repeating the mistakes this organization made with Mark Sanchez. Perhaps it is. But it is in my mind worth doing for one year, for the sole benefit of knowing whether or not to move on. Sticking with Geno for four years without major progress would be insane, but giving him one more year to prove just what kind of potential he has is not.
This presents something of a conflict of interest for Rex and Idzik if Vick looks like the better player early on. Rex is very likely in full win now mode. If the Jets fail to post a winning record in 2014 Rex stands a very good chance at losing his job. So if Vick looks like the better player, even if it's not by a lot, Rex has every incentive to play Vick, as Rex does not necessarily have the luxury of risking a Geno failure that would likely drag Rex down with him. This will present an interesting dynamic early on. Will Rex have marching orders to start Geno unless Geno is downright awful? Will he be free to make his own choice at quarterback, without any undue influence from upstairs? Will Rex be coaching with the long term best interests of the program in mind, even at the risk of losing his own job? Stay tuned. If Vick stays healthy and looks sharp, this could get very interesting.
Who do you think should start, and under what conditions? Should Geno be given the initial edge, as is apparently happening? If it's close, should Geno be given the nod? If Geno struggles badly, how long should the Jets stick with him? Should the Jets be making decisions for the longer term, or is it all about winning games in 2014 and nothing else? Will a rift develop between Rex and Idzik if Geno struggles? Let us know your thoughts.