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NY Jets: What Must Geno Do?

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How can Geno Smith earn a contract extension with the New York Jets?

Gallery Photo: Geno Smith Photo Album

As of today, there appears to be no progress in talks with Ryan Fitzpatrick. That likely leaves Geno Smith as the presumptive starter unless and until Fitzpatrick is back under contract with the Jets. Most observers seem to think the two sides will eventually come to an agreement. While this may well be true, it is by no means a certainty, and the Jets must prepare for the possibility of a year without Fitzpatrick behind center.

If Fitzpatrick does not return to the Jets in 2016, let's assume for the moment Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback this season. An interesting question then arises. Geno Smith will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. While it currently appears a good bet that he will not be re-signed by the Jets, a good showing in 2016 might change that thinking. One need only look at the Washington Redskins and the season their quarterback Kirk Cousins put up last year for confirmation that, however unlikely it may seem, a quarterback who appears to be headed out the door can catch fire and earn himself a new contract. Cousins, like Geno, struggled badly with turnovers, had a worse interception % than Geno, and struggled with his accuracy, before putting it all together with a surprising fourth year in which he was one of the top rated quarterbacks in the NFL. That sudden surge in his contract year earned Cousins the lucrative franchise tag, a one year deal and ongoing discussions for a long term extension.

To be sure, stories like Cousins' are very much in the minority. In general if you have struggled badly in your first three years you will likely never amount to much as an NFL quarterback. But there are always exceptions, Cousins just being the latest example. So the question is, what must Geno do in 2016 to earn a new contract? What would you say should earn him a one year prove it type deal? What should earn him a long term extension at the going rate for starting quarterbacks?

In thinking this through, keep in mind that we are assuming for this discussion that Fitzpatrick never returns to the Jets in 2016. If he does not return in 2016, it is difficult to imagine Fitzpatrick being back for the 2017 or later seasons, so let's just go ahead and assume Fitzpatrick is permanently out of the picture for the Jets. That leaves only Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty under contract beyond 2016. It is of course possible that one or both of them show enough to bank on them as a long term starter. However, for the purposes of this discussion let's assume Geno Smith remains the starter for the entire 2016 season. That would mean both the other quarterbacks would still be somewhat unknown quantities in 2017 and beyond. Under those circumstances, the value of a proven veteran who performed to whatever level you find acceptable in 2016 is obvious, and Geno Smith would likely earn at least a one year prove it deal if his play in 2016 is deemed acceptable. So what do you think is acceptable?

For me, we have to take into consideration a few things. The weapons he has to work with in the passing game have markedly improved. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are an elite combination at wide receiver, and Matt Forte is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. Clearly, barring major injuries, the "he has no weapons" excuse is off the table. Given the improvement in weapons Smith has to work with, a certain amount of improvement in his numbers should be expected even if his actual level of play remains the same. In 2014 Smith had a passer rating of 77. Surely the improvement in weapons should be worth at least a five point improvement in that number without any improvement in Geno's play. This is consistent with an example like Fitzpatrick, who improved in 2015 something on the order of five points over his prior level of passer rating in Buffalo, when he had the same offensive coordinator but worse weapons.

Improvement of five points would put Geno at a passer rating of about 82, still a decent amount under NFL average, which was about 88 last season. I think in order for Smith to earn a one year extension, with the weapons he now has at his disposal, NFL average play is probably a minimum requirement. If he can't achieve that with these weapons in his fourth year in the league, the odds he will ever be a good starting quarterback in the NFL do not appear to be favorable. Sure, there are always exceptions, late bloomers, but they are very much in the minority after four years in the league. A decision has to be made based on the chances of further significant improvement, which are not good after the fourth year; not impossible, but not good. So for me, the minimum level of play for Geno to earn a one year extension would be league average play as reflected in his passer rating.

In addition to the league average passer rating, I would need to see substantial improvement in three specific area: sack percentage, interception percentage, and touchdown percentage. Chan Gailey has significantly improved the sack percentage of just about every quarterback he has ever worked with, so if Geno is ever going to improve in that area, now would appear to be his best opportunity. Gailey has been less successful in improving his quarterbacks' interception percentages and touchdown percentages, but those are the two statistical areas that have really held Geno back so far. With his new weapons to work with, it is time for Geno to improve markedly in both areas, to at least somewhere close to league average. If he can do so, I would say he's earned a one year extension.

Of course, there are all the things like pocket awareness and reading defenses that are not so easily quantifiable, but those things should more or less show up in the numbers I've mentioned here. If Geno can achieve the goals I've set out for him, it's pretty likely those intangibles will have improved as well.

The final thing I think Geno needs to do is improve the team's scoring. The Jets just don't score with Geno under the helm. So I'd like to see the Jets score at at least an average NFL rate.

That's it. That's what I think Geno must do to be a Jet in 2017. For a long term extension, the same criteria would apply, but the targets would be increased. Let's say a passer rating at least 10% better than league average, and sack %, TD %, and Int % also roughly 10% better than league average or better. Throw in a top 10 scoring offense and I think Geno will have earned a long term extension. Yes, I'm aware this is wildly improbable, but as long as Geno is the starting quarterback (and we are assuming for the purposes of this discussion that he will be the starting quarterback in 2016) and the subject of his impending free agency looms, it is perhaps useful to try to quantify just what it would take to convert you to a believer, at least as much as merits a one year extension, and, in the best of all possible outcomes, as much as merits a long term commitment from the Jets.

So what about you Jets fans? What would it take for you to commit to Geno Smith for 2017? How about for a long term extension? When answering, please try to keep an open mind. However unlikely, there is a non-zero possibility that Geno Smith turns out to be a quarterback worth keeping. See if you can quantify what exactly would convince you to convert that small possibility into one large enough to make a commitment.