Jets nation unleashed a collective sigh on Wednesday when new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey proclaimed the embattled Geno Smith as the team’s starting quarterback for the 2015 season.
Before contemplating that leap off the Queensboro Bridge, though, it’s probably a good idea for the Jets’ supporters to take all of that lip service with a grain of salt and understand NFL jobs are never won in May.
Gailey stunned most observers by saying he didn’t anticipate a competition for the job between Smith, who has been underwhelming in his first two NFL seasons, and veteran pickup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who once toiled for Gailey when both were in Buffalo.
“Because Geno’s the starter,” Gailey explained when reporters asked why. “We saw a lot of talent on film. We saw a lot of promise on film. We saw a lot of things that made us think he could eventually be a good quarterback. It’s hard to have a quarterback competition going into the regular season. Once we decided that (Smith) was the guy that we felt would be the best option at this point for us, that’s the direction we went in.”
That was a sharp 180-degree turn from what Mike Maccagnan, the Jets’ general manager, said in March after trading to get Fitzpatrick from Houston. Maccagnan fell short of calling the projected battle an open competition between the two, but he used the phrase “a competitive environment.”
Last year, under the Jets’ old regime of John Idzik and Rex Ryan, the team claimed that veteran Michael Vick would compete with Smith, but it was clear from the beginning of training camp that the now-deposed Idzik wanted his draft choice, Smith, to win the job.
The baby-gloves routine hasn’t worked with Smith. He has completed just 57.5 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns versus 34 interceptions in his two seasons – dismal numbers in this pass-happy, offensive era.
His lack of development through those two seasons cost both Idzik and Ryan their jobs with the Jets yet the new brain trust seems all too willing to rumble down the same one-way street.
Gailey claims he and new head coach Todd Bowles never considered allowing Fitzpatrick to enter training camp on equal footing with Smith, while rookie Bryce Petty, a fourth-round pick, will obviously need time to hone his skills after playing in a one-read, spread offense at Baylor.
“Threatened is a strong word,” Smith said when discussing his new competition. “Obviously, there is competition like I said and the guys that we have will definitely come in here to compete.”
To be fair to Gailey, Smith does remain the most desirable in-house option because his ceiling as a player is considerably higher than a journeyman like Fitzpatrick.
Also remember the Harvard product is still rehabbing the broken leg that ended his ’14 season and won’t be cleared to resume a full workload until training camp anyway.
Fitzpatrick’s injury means the Jets’ offseason work will have to be based around Smith, so why not take the opportunity to buoy an underachieving player’s confidence in the hopes it can rebuilt under a new coaching staff?
“You know confidence goes a long way,” Smith claimed. “I’m very confident in myself, but like I said, we’re far from Week 1. We get to compete against a great defense and go up against some great guys on the opposite side, so I think it’s going to make me a lot better and I think come Week 1 we’ll see what happens.”
Right now it’s a win-win plan for Bowles and Gailey because declarative statements in the spring don’t mean much as August approaches and they can be easily dismissed.
“I think I know my role,” Smith said. “It’s to get better and I think that’s the role of every single guy in this locker room and the coaches are going to do their jobs and they are going to do the evaluations, but my job is to go out there every single play and make the best of it. Put us in a position to win games and as long as I am on the field, that’s what I’m trying the best to do.”
Smith will be afforded every opportunity to seize the job one last time, and if he can’t, the presumptive starter tag will be pulled quickly. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick has been through it all in this league and understands his role in this morality play — be ready.
“I feel confident in myself and my place on this team,” Smith said. “But every single day is a new experience for me, a new chance to get better and continue to lead myself first of all, try to become the best player I can be so that when it all comes together for us all, we can all be good.”
John McMullen is the NFL Editor at SportsNetwork.com.