New York Jets: Geno Smith
1. Reality bites: The irony of the Eric Decker signing is that general manager John Idzik, who has spent a year trying to eliminate the Jets' "Hard Knocks" image, took on a player with his own reality TV show. Decker and his wife, country singer Jessie James, are preparing for their second season on E!'s "Eric and Jessie: Game on." The season premiere is March 30. His former team, the Denver Broncos, said last year it had no problem with Decker doing the show. "To each his own," team exec John Elway said.
Some people wonder if Decker picked the Jets over the Indianapolis Colts because he wanted to raise the show's profile by playing in the No. 1 media market. He downplayed that notion, saying he picked the Jets with football in mind. As for his wife's input, Decker said, "She obviously wants what’s best for me in my profession. She spent a lot of time in New York with her career when she was younger, and she's excited again to have an opportunity to work now again and to be able to have some resources and things. I think that overall it is a great decision and place for us as a family and career wise."
Idzik isn't a show-biz kind of guy, and I find it hard to believe he likes the idea of a player having his own show. It creates the perception that he's bigger than the team. But in the end, the No. 1 reality was this: Idzik was willing to put aside any concerns to land their top-rated free-agent receiver. The GM hasn't been made available to comment on any of his signings.
2. Decker vs. Holmes: Not to pick on Santonio Holmes or anything, but ...
Decker produced five 100-yard receiving games last season, one more than Holmes managed in four years with the Jets. Decker is counting $4 million on this year's cap, $6.5 million less than Holmes would've counted. Just saying.
3. Strength in numbers: The Jets have six experienced wide receivers under contract, and they could add another two through free agency and the draft. Overkill? Not really. Teams always look beyond the current year when making personnel moves, and when the Jets look at 2015, they see only two of those six receivers under contract -- Decker and Stephen Hill. That's why stockpiling makes sense.
4. Go west, men: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg , accompanied by two members of the scouting department, attended two important pro days on the West Coast -- USC and Oregon State. The main attractions were wide receivers Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks, respectively. In each case, the Jets' contingent spent private time with the players. It's not unusual for Mornhinweg to scout on the road. In fact, he attended Geno Smith's pro day last year, taking him out to dinner the night before. With the 18th pick, the Jets are thinking strongly about a receiver.
5. Revis Inc.: Darrelle Revis' contract with the New England Patriots sheds light into his thinking as a player/businessman. Technically, it's a two-year, $32 million deal, but the second year is bogus because of a $25 million cap charge. They added a second year for cap purposes and because Revis is hellbent on a $16 million-per-year average. Has been since 2010, when he staged his second holdout with the Jets. At the time, he proposed a 10-year, $160 million deal. He refused over the years to bend on the APY, finally finding a team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) willing to pay it. Why $16 million? I think it goes back to Nnamdi Asomugha's $16 million-a-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2009. As soon as Revis surpassed Asomugha as the top cornerback, in the eyes of many, he considered $16 million his birthright.
For an interesting take on the Revis contract from the Patriots' perspective, check out ESPN.com colleague Mike Reiss.
6. California dreaming: The quarterback-needy Raiders are targeting two players likely to be released -- Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez (in that order), according to a report by ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez. Sanchez makes a lot of sense. Joey Clinkscales, the team's director of player personnel, is a former Jets executive and was heavily involved when they drafted Sanchez in 2009.
The Jets are running out of time to make a decision on Sanchez, who's due a $2 million roster bonus March 25. If they don't sign another quarterback (Michael Vick?) before then, what then? Do they turn to Sanchez, trying to get him to take a major pay cut? If Sanchez balks, he will be released -- unless the Jets pay the $2 million, buying more time. It's not Idzik's style to cut a player before his replacement is on the roster. It hurts leverage. If the Raiders want him badly enough, maybe they'd be willing to make a trade.
7. Tony the recruiter: Former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, now the Raiders' offensive-line coach, was instrumental in recruiting right tackle Austin Howard. Said Howard: "I really love his style of coaching. Once we got that call, it was honestly a no-brainer decision to get on the plane and make the trip out to Oakland.” Obviously, the five-year, $30 million contract had something to do with it, too. Sparano was a key Howard ally in the summer of 2012, when the Jets replaced Wayne Hunter.
8. A tale of two kickers: Nick Folk was the only kicker this year to receive a franchise-tag designation, which usually translates to a top-of-the-market contract. In Folk's case, his four-year deal is actually similar to what Dan Carpenter just landed from the Buffalo Bills -- at least in terms of first-year compensation. Folk gets $3.6 million in total compensation (the amount of the franchise tender), Carpenter scores $3.425 million. Carpenter was given a chance, albeit brief, to take Folk's job last preseason, but he lasted only a few days. Now he's making nearly as much as him.
9. DRC on ED: Came across this quote from Super Bowl week. Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was asked which of his team's receivers is the hardest to cover. His answer: Wes Welker. "Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are great receivers, but you can kind of break their moves down," he said. "Wes, he does too much." DRC could end up reunited with Decker.
10. Hurting at OLB: It didn't get any attention, but the Jets decided not to tender restricted free agent Garrett McIntyre, making him unrestricted. It would've cost them $1.4 million. It came as a surprise because McIntyre was a decent backup, good for about 20 defensive snaps per game. With Calvin Pace also an unrestricted free agent, the Jets are perilously thin at outside linebacker.
After three days of "legal tampering," the free-agent signing period kicks off at 4 p.m. ET. I know you have questions with regard to the New York Jets, so here goes:
Q: How much cap space do the Jets really have?
A: After cutting Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie in a 24-hour span, a $17.75 million savings, the Jets have $39.6 million in cap room, according to ESPN data. Only four teams have more cap space than the Jets, which means the Idziks can be big spenders, if they so choose.
Q: Could the Jets make a big splash on Day 1?
A: Yes. Those who sign players on the first day usually overpay. That doesn't appear to be John Idzik's style, but he has needs and money to burn. Prediction: They will land a cornerback in the first 24 hours. Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, in whom the Jets have expressed interest, is expected to make a quick decision. Considering the hole at corner, he'd be a good get for the Jets -- as long as they don't pay a ridiculous price. They're also showing interest in Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis, who also may sign quickly. Davis is Cromartie-esque -- talented, but flighty.
Q: How will they address the need at wide receiver?
A: The Jets have been fairly quiet in recent days on the receiver front, although most of the speculation is centered on Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders. I wouldn't be shocked if Julian Edelman draws some interest from the Jets. Idzik might be hesitant to pay No. 1 money for a No. 2 receiver, understandably so. Some people around the league believe Idzik will add a cheaper, second-tier receiver in free agency, leaning on the receiver-rich draft for an infusion of talent.
Q: Is Michael Vick really a possibility?
A: Yes, he is. The Jets can offer the chance to compete for a starting job and scheme familiarity (see Marty Mornhinweg, his old coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles). Vick will have other suitors, with the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers among those mentioned. I think he'd be a nice, short-term complement to Geno Smith. If they can't land Vick, the Jets could chase Josh McCown.
Q: Why is Mark Sanchez still on the roster?
A: This seems to be a popular question. His $2 million roster bonus isn't due until March 25, so they have some time. Idzik wants to have a replacement before he cuts the most experienced quarterback on his roster, so he probably will make Sanchez twist in the wind while he shops around. If he can't find a veteran quarterback, he'll have to convince Sanchez to take a hefty pay cut or release him, leaving himself vulnerable at the position.
Q: What's going on with Austin Howard?
A: Exactly what you'd expect to be going on: He's negotiating with the Jets while gauging interest from other teams. It's all a big poker game. The Jets want to re-sign their right tackle, but they've yet to find a landing spot in terms of price. If Howard hits the open market at 4 p.m., it could be the last we see of him in New York.
Q: Besides wide receiver and quarterback, what areas are they targeting?
A: They're showing interest in a few tight ends, including Brandon Pettigrew. They're also looking for secondary help -- corners and safeties. They've contacted a number of safeties, including T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner. The Jets had two big problems last season -- throwing the ball and stopping people from throwing it against them. Keep that in mind as we wade through free agency.
The free-agency season is upon us, and the Jets have about $23 million in cap space, which will grow to more than $40 million if/when they dump Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Mark Sanchez. It's "go" time for Idzik, whose long-term plan -- presented to owner Woody Johnson when he was hired 14 months ago -- is predicated on stockpiling talent in 2014.
People who know Idzik say he won't take a "shop-till-you-drop" mentality into free agency. They say he will spend, but won't forget his core principles. He won't give lucrative, long-term deals to players over 30 or those with injury concerns. He won't sell out to sign "the big star." He won't deviate from his "the-draft-is-our lifeline" philosophy. He won't pay top-dollar prices for middle-of-the-road players.
Pardon me, but I'm skeptical of the last one, because most teams overpay in free agency. Do you think starting-caliber receivers will be beating down the Jets' door to play with Geno Smith and the 31st-ranked passing offense? Of course not; the Jets will have to pay to attract the top talent.
Former longtime NFL GM Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, cautioned that free agency isn't a cure-all.
"The best players are signed,” he said on a media conference call. “These (free agents) are essentially ‘B’ players whose agents are looking for ‘A’ money. That, in itself, is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager.”
Ideally, you want to use free agency to fill needs, allowing you to take a best-available-athlete approach in the draft. It's easy to preach that, but quite another to practice it. When the bidding starts and the money starts flying, it's easy to get sucked into the madness of free agency. Idzik is known for his deliberate approach; we're about the find out how deliberate. The "legal tampering period" begins at midnight; the signing period commences at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
A few thoughts on what to expect from the Jets:
1. Keeping their own: Unlike last year, the Jets are actually trying to retain some of their free agents-to-be, namely RT Austin Howard and TE Jeff Cumberland. They're deep into negotiations with both players. It wouldn't be a surprise if both re-up by Tuesday. They're interested in keeping LB Calvin Pace, 33, but they won't shower him with money because of his age. They told RG Willie Colon, almost 31, he's free to test the market. Once again, it's the age factor. Former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse also is unlikely to return. In his case, it's not age, it's a talent thing.
2. Resolve the QB situation: If I were Idzik, I'd address this ASAP. How can you convince free-agent receivers to sign if you're selling the still-unproven Smith and a bunch of question marks at quarterback? They should make an immediate run at Michael Vick, with Josh McCown the No. 2 option. Vick isn't what he used to be, but he has more credibility than Smith at this point. If Idzik strikes out in free agency and the trade market, he might have to turn to Sanchez, whose cap charge ($13.1 million) and surgically repaired shoulder make him a less-than-ideal option.
3. Go wide: There are two ways to approach the wide-receiver search. Idzik can go long and invest significant money in Golden Tate, a solid No. 2 receiver, or he can go short and take a chance on Hakeem Nicks, who might be ammenable to a one-year deal. Nicks has No. 1 talent, but he hasn't played like a lead receiver since 2011. Obviously, there are other options as well, including Emmanuel Sanders. Stay away from Eric Decker; he'll cost too much and he's not a true No. 1. If the Jets can sign a No. 2, pairing him with Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson, they'd be in position to look for a No. 1 in a receiver-rich draft.
4. The big splurge: Even though the Jets have a ton of cap space, I can't see Idzik spending franchise-type money for one player -- unless he makes an exception for S Jairus Byrd. Even that would be a long shot. With the possibility of 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), Idzik can afford to be relatively patient, building for sustainable success and avoiding the quick fix. The goal should be to build around Smith, letting him grow with those around him. That was part of the problem for the previous regime. They put Sanchez in charge of a win-now team and, by the time Sanchez was ready to take the next step, the talent around him had eroded. They couldn't get it going at the same time. This is Idzik's chance to make that happen.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South
Key free agents: RT Austin Howard, PK Nick Folk (franchise player), TE Jeff Cumberland, LB Calvin Pace, RG Willie Colon, S Ed Reed.
Where they stand: The Jets are trying to re-sign Howard before he hits the open market. He's not a household name, but he's a massive blocker with surprising athleticism. Howard has two years of starting experience and he's only getting better. They've expressed an interest in re-signing Cumberland and Pace, although it's unclear if deals will get done by Tuesday. Pace produced a career-high 10 sacks last season, playing for the minimum salary, but he's 33 -- and the Jets won't throw significant money at a player that old. The Jets are rebuilding at tight end, so Cumberland's role is undefined, which could affect negotiations. Colon and Reed are fallback options. In Reed's case, way, way back. Colon is recovering from biceps surgery and won't be healthy until the spring.
What to expect: With an anticipated $30 million in cap space, the Jets could be aggressive buyers if they so choose. They need a wide receiver (or two), a tight end and a veteran quarterback to push Geno Smith. There aren't any true No. 1 receivers on the market, so they'd better be careful not to overpay for the second-rate talent. Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate could be on the radar. They're likely to have interest in QBs Josh McCown and Michael Vick, who'd be ideal because he already knows Marty Mornhinweg's system from their days together in Philadelphia. If they strike out with free agents, the Jets could retain former starter Mark Sanchez, contingent on his health and a massive pay cut. The Jets could have 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), so they don't have to overpay to fix every need in free agency.
2013 stats: Started six games (2-4) before getting hurt and losing his job to Nick Foles. Completed 77 ot 141 passes (54.6 percent) for 1,215 yards, with five touchdowns, three interceptions and a 86.5 passer rating. Played in 325 offensive snaps (29.4 percent).
2013 salary: $4.0 million.
Sign him up: Even though he turns 34 in June, Vick will be the top quarterback on the free-agent market and the Jets need a veteran to challenge/back up/mentor Geno Smith. Vick's play has declined over the last three years and there are questions about his durability, but he still has the raw skills (not to mention the familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg's system) to fit in well with the Jets. In the Jets' ideal scenario, he'd come in and push Smith, serving as Geno insurance if the second-year quarterback falters. There's always the chance he'd beat out Smith in training camp. If that happens, so be it. Vick wouldn't come cheaply (at least $4 million for 2014), but the Jets can't afford not to have a quarterback of Vick's ilk. They suffered last season without an experienced alternative that could've replaced Smith when he slumped in November.
Reasons to stay away: With a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 and a starting record of 12-17 over the past three seasons, Vick has slipped to statistical mediocrity. There's also the question of whether he'd be receptive to the Jets' potentially muddled situation. He'd have to be on board with the entire dynamic.
ESPN.com colleague Paul Kuharsky, our Tennessee Titans team reporter, did the research and came up with this nugget on the number of quarterback selections since 2004:
Denver Broncos: 7
New York Jets: 6
Philadelphia Eagles: 5
Green Bay Packers: 5
Cleveland Browns: 5
Baltimore Ravens: 5
San Francisco 49ers: 5
Washington Redskins: 5
During his run as general manager, 2006 to 2012, Mike Tannenbaum subscribed to the Ron Wolf theory on quarterbacks: It never hurts to draft one every year because of the value in the position. There's also the need factor. You could argue the Jets haven't had a true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. Tannenbaum selected five quarterbacks, and his successor, John Idzik, took one in his first draft. It wouldn't be a surprise if they add another in May. A look at the six:
Geno Smith, 2013, second round: He went 8-8 in an up-and-down rookie year. He hasn't been anointed yet, but he's the likely opening-day starter.
Greg McElroy, 2011, seventh round: He started only one game for the Jets (it was ugly) and was released last preseason. He's on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster after spending last season on their practice squad.
Mark Sanchez, 2009, first round: He was the Sanchize for two seasons, but it fell apart and now he's a likely salary-cap casualty. His career record is 33-29, plus four playoff wins.
Erik Ainge, 2008, fifth round: He never played a down for the Jets. His career was derailed by substance-abuse problems and he's out of the league.
Kellen Clemens, 2006, second round: He was drafted as Chad Pennington's heir apparent, but he played poorly in 2007 and never regained the confidence of the organization. He will be a free agent after spending the last three years as a backup for the St. Louis Rams.
Brad Smith, 2006, fourth round: The Jets converted him to wide receiver, used him in the Wildcat and made him a kickoff returner. His quarterback days are over, but he's still hanging around, playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s how the Jets landed Vinny Testaverde, who was 35 when he replaced Glenn Foley after a few games and led them to the AFC Championship Game. It was one of their smartest personnel moves ever.
Pardon the time travel, but the Testaverde story is relevant because the Jets are faced with a similar situation at quarterback -- not identical, but similar.
This time, the Testaverde role could be played by Michael Vick, who fits the same profile. He is a former top pick, turns 34 in June and will be looking for a third team after losing his job last season to Nick Foles, the new prince of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets are intrigued by Vick, and there’s already rampant speculation they will pursue him when free agency begins March 11.
Vick would be a nice fit for the Jets, assuming they part ways with Mark Sanchez. They need a seasoned backup who can fill a two-pronged job description: still good enough to pose a threat to Geno Smith (and win games, if called upon) and willing to serve as a mentor to the young quarterback.
This isn’t to suggest that Vick will pull a Testaverde, who lasted four-plus years as the Jets’ starter and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, but he would fill the current void. He would be a short-term answer for a team that has to start thinking short term. The full-scale rebuilding project is over.
Make no mistake, the Jets still want Smith to succeed and believe he can, but they’re still not willing to commit to him -- wisely so. Even though they have more invested in Smith than they did in Foley all those years ago, the Jets still have questions. A player like Vick would be solid insurance for 2014. If Smith regresses, if he crumbles under the pressure of having Vick over his shoulder, it’s time to move on. You start over in 2015.
It’s one of the toughest commodities to find, a quarterback willing to be a good-soldier backup but capable of becoming captain of the platoon if called upon. Vick was a model teammate last season, handling the quarterback change with aplomb, but he still wants to be a starter. There’s no telling if he would be amenable to the Jets’ situation. The Jets need to find out.
“A lot depends on the makeup of the No. 2 quarterback,” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If you’re grooming a young starter, there needs to be a healthy balance of competitor and mentor but also a good resource on the sideline and during game prep. I certainly think [Vick] can still start in the short term.”
Another reason this could work is Vick’s familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg’s system. They spent four years together in Philadelphia, 2009 to 2012, with Vick making the Pro Bowl in 2010 after rebooting his career in the aftermath of a 21-month prison sentence for dogfighting. In 2010, he posted a career-high 100.2 passer rating.
A healthy and rejuvenated Vick, armed with his knowledge of Mornhinweg’s offense, would pose a serious threat to Smith in training camp. General manager John Idzik always talks about competition; this would be real competition. You would have to think it would be Smith’s job to lose. And if he does, so be it.
Obviously, Vick isn’t the same player he was in 2010. Undermined by injuries and turnovers, his production has deteriorated -- with a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 over the past three seasons. He has played a full season only once in his career, but the beauty of the Jets’ situation is that he probably wouldn't have to.
Because of his background with Mornhinweg, Vick is a better option than any of the other free-agent quarterbacks. Josh McCown, 34, is interesting, but he did nothing noteworthy in his career until a five-start hot streak last season with the Chicago Bears. He would be a good insurance policy -- until he had to play.
The way to go is Vick -- as long as he’s cool with the conditions: Help the kid as much as you can, knowing that you’ll play if you give us the best chance to win.
If the Jets decide to chase Vick, they might want to include the Testaverde story in their recruiting pitch.
1. Backs to the wall: This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice. The bad boy from last offseason has legal issues, a surgically repaired knee and an upcoming $650,000 roster bonus. Why would the Jets pay that for a player in Goodson's situation? Both Brown and Tate have above-average running skills and they can catch the ball, a much-needed skill in the Jets' backfield.
2. Money to burn: When free agency opens March 11, the Jets should have at least $22 million in salary-cap space (not counting the anticipated veteran purge), but that doesn't mean they'll be spending like Kim Kardashian in a designer clothing store. Idzik still believes in building through the draft. "The draft is your lifeline," he said. "Free agency is phone-a-friend." That said, the Jets are expected to use the phone a few times. The feeling in the organization is they will sign a No. 2 wide receiver, a tight end (if they lose Jeff Cumberland), a veteran backup quarterback, a running back and a kicker (if they lose Nick Folk). They're optimistic about their chances of re-signing tackle Austin Howard. Yes, they have a fairly lengthy shopping list, but I don't see them breaking the bank for anyone with an $8-million-a-year-type deal. They will use the draft to find a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end, along with plugging some holes on defense.
3. QB quest: The Jets met with at least two quarterbacks, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The 6-5 Mettenberger, in the final stages of knee-surgery rehab, is an interesting prospect. Idzik, who scouted him in person during the season, is looking to add a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft. Mettenberger could be just that in the late rounds. I see the Jets going to training camp with Geno Smith, Matt Simms, a new veteran backup and a rookie.
4. Off the Mark: If the Jets decide they want to retain Mark Sanchez (unlikely), they will try to get him to swallow a massive pay cut. The amount of their proposal will tell Sanchez just how much they really want him. If they try to slash his base pay from $9 million to $1 million, it would be insulting, a strong indication he'd have no chance to unseat Smith. If they offer in the $3 million-to-$5 million range, with a chance to make more money with incentives, it would show they consider him a viable starting option.
4a. Butt fumble revisited: Former longtime GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian believes Sanchez has been unfairly stigmatized by the "butt fumble." "Unequivocally, the butt fumble wasn't his fault," Polian told me. "It's been played ad infinitum. The guard (Brandon Moore) got driven into him. Perception is often times reality, and that's what people think. If you ask the average person what they think of Mark Sanchez, they'd say the butt fumble. It wasn't his fault."
5. Legal tampering: The combine is the place where agents and teams meet to discuss free-agent deals. Technically, it's not allowed, but no one says anything. Curiously, a number of agents told me that teams are reluctant this year to discuss specific dollar amounts. It's likely that teams, concerned about having their offers shopped around, are waiting for the March 8-11 exclusive negotiating period to get serious.
6. Seen around Indy: Former Jets colleagues Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini lunched together. Despite the awkward parting in 2009 (actually, Woody Johnson was the driving force behind Mangini's ouster), Tannenbaum and Mangini have remained close friends. Mangini, named last week as the tight-ends coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is working his way up the ladder on the offensive side of the ball. If he makes it to coordinator some day, he'll have the rare offensive/defensive coordinator on his résumé.
6a. Seen around Indy II: Rex Ryan and twin brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, took a break from the combine to eat at a local Hooters restaurant. Naturally, they ended up on Twitter, posing in a picture with a group of Hooters' waitresses.
7. Give that man a pair of ear plugs: Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's experience in a circus-type environment (the Jets, 2009-2012) should serve him well in his new job as the Cleveland Browns' coach. He got the job after 23 people turned it down (only a slight exaggeration), saw the two men that hired him get whacked (Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) and was hit Friday with the news that the Browns reportedly came close to hiring San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before turning to him. Pettine called the Harbaugh story "noise -- and my goal is to quiet the noise." He recently held a staff meeting in which he used a Power Point presentation to underscore the challenge before them -- two playoff appearances, one playoff win and 141 coaches since 1991. Said Pettine: "To turn around a franchise, you have to be extraordinary." Here's wishing him luck; he'll need it.
8. Best and worst: I thought Michael Sam handled himself extremely well Saturday in his first news conference since sharing he is gay. Facing perhaps the largest news conference in combine history, Sam was confident, yet not cocky, projecting the image of a young man who just wants to play football. On the other side of the news-conference spectrum was Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who fumbled his way through a Q & A that focused on the bullying scandal. He was all over the place, accepting responsibility in one breath but pleading ignorance in the next. How they fired longtime trainer Kevin O'Neill, portrayed in a negative light in the Wells report, was a low-class move. The Dolphins flew him to the combine and then fired him, two days before he was to receive an award in Indianapolis as the league's top trainer. He didn't attend the ceremony, but received a standing ovation when his prepared remarks were read to the crowd.
9. Respect for JC: It was interesting to hear offensive linemen talk about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the possible No. 1 overall pick. Said Michigan tackle Michael Schofield: "I played a series against Clowney, and that was probably the hardest series of my life." Other linemen echoed similar sentiments. The Houston Texans, picking first, have a tough choice. They need a quarterback, but Clowney is the best talent in the draft.
10. Johnny Football speaks: Clearly, Johnny Manziel's mission at the combine was to shatter his image as a rock star-party boy quarterback. Asked to describe the difference between Johnny Football and Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A & M star shifted into third person. "Johnny Manziel is a guy ... I’m from a small town of Kerrville, Texas, 20,000 people. People make me out to be a big Hollywood guy, (I'm) really just still a small-town kid" -- who jets off to Vegas to party with the rich and famous.
New York Jets rookie Geno Smith said Monday that he expects to be in another quarterback competition next preseason, just as he was this season with incumbent starter Mark Sanchez.
"Yes I do," Smith said Monday. "I'm going to be in full competition with myself and every other guy who is in camp."
It has yet to be seen what type of competition Smith will face this offseason, as the Jets will have to determine whether they believe Smith is their future quarterback. If he's not, they could pursue a free-agent quarterback or perhaps go back to the draft in what is expected to be a deep class of quarterbacks. Backups Matt Simms and David Garrard likely wouldn't overtake Smith.
Smith had some bright moments early on this season, leading the Jets to a 5-4 record at the bye behind a pair of last-minute comebacks, but he's struggled as the season has progressed. He's thrown for 2,642 yards with 10 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, which is the second-most interceptions in the NFL. Smith said Monday he has not met his own expectations thus far.
"I think I could have played a lot better, and I understand there are growing pains and things you have to learn from, and experiences you have to get better from," Smith said. "I set the bar high for myself. I always will. That's the way I'll improve, by setting that bar high and keep climbing."
In Sunday's 30-20 loss to Carolina, Smith had a chance to notch the best win of his career, but a costly interception doomed him and put the Jets on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention. With the Jets trailing 23-13 in the fourth quarter, Captain Munnerlyn intercepted Smith and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown with 8:17 remaining.
Smith completed 15-of-28 passes for 167 yards, threw one touchdown and one interception, and also added 44 rushing yards. It marked one of his better games, considering Carolina's stingy defense. But in what has become an unfortunate reoccurring issue for him, a pick-six undid any good there might have been.
"Obviously the pick-six hurt us. Very detrimental," Smith said. "For the most part we did some good things, but overall we had some negatives that ended up biting us in the butt."
After the loss, Smith said he felt he let head coach Rex Ryan down. The rookie said Monday he did not express that feeling to Ryan, and explained that he feels that he lets the entire team down after every loss. With the Jets possibly fighting for Ryan's future, as the Jets could part ways with him after three straight years without a winning record, Smith reiterated he supports his coach.
"I love Rex," Smith said. "Despite of what decision is made, my feelings toward him will never change."
Quarterbacks coach David Lee, however, sees a future with the New York Jets for the rookie.
"I've had long enough to feel good about him and his future here with us," Lee said. "I think he has great arm talent. He can escape."
Lee described Smith's play as "hot and cold" thus far. He appreciated how Smith has led the team back from fourth-quarter deficits, but Lee said Smith has hurt the team at other times, mentioning the losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Smith has yet to win back-to-back games.
"I'm pleased with his progress," Lee said. "Just [would] love to see more consistency."
Lee noted improvement in Smith's decision-making when it comes to throwing the ball away or trying to make a play.
The coach praised Smith for throwing the ball away roughly five times in Sunday's 26-20 win over the Saints, including once late in the fourth quarter when the Jets were trying to ice the game.
Smith has eight passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and in breaking down Smith's turnovers, Lee said it's a mixture of things including location and decision-making. Lee added that Smith also has freelanced at the end of some games and that has come back to haunt him.
"At the end of the game there's times he'll leave the game plan and do too much, do things on his own, which we've had hard talks about that," Lee said. "He said, 'Coach, I did the same thing in college. I feel desperate, I feel pressured.'"
Overall, Lee likes the way his quarterback has evolved through nine weeks.
"Right now he's improving weekly and he improves on things he screws up, which is what's encouraging to me," Lee said. "Geno's smart. He prepares. He's in this building 6 a.m. every day. It's not a mistake he knows what he's doing, the ball comes out fast because he's preparing and knows where to go. He's worked hard."
Smith completed just 8 of 19 passes for 115 yards and rushed for one touchdown in the Jets' 26-20 win over the Saints. While he avoided throwing an interception for just the second time this season, his 115 passing yards were his fewest of the year. The 19 pass attempts were also a season low for the rookie.
"I think I did a pretty good job today of managing situations. Not trying to force the ball, knowing when to tuck the ball and run, knowing when to get the ball out of my hands versus the pressure look, or even throw it away," Smith said. "I think not having so many negative plays and negative yardage, I think that's something that really helped us today because many times we were able to flip field position with punts and it helped our defense out going up against a really good offense."
Smith started slow, completing just 2 of 6 passes for six yards in the first quarter, and never got on track. His longest play was a 44-yard screen pass to Greg Salas at the beginning of the third quarter, but Salas did almost all of the work to turn that play into a big gain. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Smith's eight completions traveled a total of seven yards downfield.
The rookie's best stretch of play came after the two-minute warning in the first half with the Jets ahead 14-13. Smith completed passes of 13 yards and 21 yards to Salas and Zach Sudfeld, and capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to put the Jets ahead, 20-14. On his touchdown run, Smith used a nice shake move to elude Cameron Jordan. It was his third rushing touchdown of the season.
"It was designed," Smith said. "I think it was one of those plays going into the half that really elevated us because not only did we get some points but we gained some momentum."
In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Smith threw just two passes, both of which fell incomplete. Both attempts came on third down, with the Jets giving Smith the chance to extend their drives and keep Drew Brees off the field, but Smith wasn't able to make the plays.
"I think our running game was working for us all game and we lean on our offensive line, especially in those situations. You want to run the ball and you want to make those guys stop you," Smith said of the conservative calls. "Looking back on it I think it was the right play call because of just the way we were running the ball all game."
Despite his up-and-down play this season, Smith has the Jets at 5-4 heading into their bye week, and in prime position for a playoff spot. He has simple plans for the upcoming week off.
"Studying," Smith said. "Studying."
"I made a late throw to the sideline," he said about the errant pass. "They always tell you, 'Don't be late to the sideline.' The guy made a good break on the ball and was able to grab it.
Instead, the turnover dashed the Jets' hopes for any chance at making a comeback. Smith finished 20-for-30 with 159 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked three times and threw two pick-sixes, the other of which Chris Crocker returned for a 32-yard touchdown on the Jets' first play of the second half.
"The guy made a good play," Smith said. "It wasn't my best pass, but he made a good play. I have to do a better job of keeping the ball out of defender's reach so they can't make those types of plays."
Smith was pulled for the first time in his career with 13:04 left in the fourth quarter. Coach Rex Ryan said he planned to let Smith play one more series, but he altered the plan after the Bengals scored on Jones' interception return.
Smith was replaced by backup Matt Simms, who made his NFL debut. Simms played three series, completing 3 of 7 passes for 17 yards. He also ended up as the Jets' leading rusher (35 yards), which pretty much tells the story on offense.
"I understand why the decision was made, but I always want to be in the game," Smith said. "I never want to be in a situation where we're down and I have to be pulled from a game. It's always upsetting, but I understand why the decision was made."
The Bengals did nothing defensively that surprised the Jets, Smith said.
"They played their game," he said. "They got us behind early, and their defensive line was able to get after us. They made it tough on us. We have to be able to step up to the plate and get it done on offense, no matter what the circumstances."
Ryan considered Smith's performance to be, well, Jet-like.
"It was like the rest of the team," Ryan said. "Obviously, it was a poor performance on everybody's part."
That's the way it's been all season for Smith and the Jets, who haven't strung together back-to-back wins this season, but have avoided consecutive losses. After throwing for 233 yards in last week's overtime win over New England, Smith turned in a season-low in passing yards on Sunday.
"It's not discouraging," Smith said. "Mistakes are going to happen, no matter how many years I play in this league. It's something to learn from."
Asked if he locks on to receivers too much instead of going through his progressions, Smith replied, “I don’t think I have that problem.”
Smith ranks third in the NFL with 11 interceptions. He threw a 79-yard pick-six to Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan Sunday.
On the play, Ryan jammed Jets wideout David Nelson at the line. Nelson couldn’t get a clean release on his route, but Smith never took his eyes off Nelson and tried to force the ball in anyway. Ryan snagged it and took it to paydirt.
Smith wound up recovering and finishing 17 of 33 for 233 yards and a touchdown to go along with the pick-six. He also ran six times for 32 yards and a score.
The 23-year-old out of West Virginia appreciated the support he got from New York’s former starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez.
“I talked to Mark after the game,” Smith said. “He just congratulated me and we exchanged hugs. It’s pretty much what we do every single game. We talk before the game and go over things. He always wishes me well and it’s nice to have a guy like Mark on my side.”
Smith also praised his offensive line.
“Those guys are my best friends,” he said. “I can’t do anything without those guys protecting me.”
Turnovers have plagued Smith this season, and they once again were a problem in Sunday's 19-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith entered the game coming off the first turnover-free game of his career, a come-from behind 30-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but that momentum didn't carry over. Smith couldn't get into a groove, and threw a costly interception while attempting to throw the ball away with the Jets at the Steelers' 23-yard line in the third quarter. He finished 19-of-34 for 201 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions, giving him 10 this season and four multi-interception games.
"There was a number of things that can be said as to why I made mistakes," Smith said. "The key thing is to try and eliminate those mistakes and try and never have them, but if you do, you have to learn from it and that's something I've been facing so far in my career here. It's something that is kind of expected and I got to learn from and improve on."
Smith is working to improve his turnover-prone ways as he and the Jets prepare for a pivotal Week 7 showdown with the Patriots at MetLife Stadium. In his first meeting with the Patriots on Sept. 12, Smith had a rough game as he completed just 15-of-35 passes for 214 yards and tossed three interceptions in the Jets' 13-10 loss. He had a chance to be the hero, but his three interceptions came in the fourth quarter.
Heading into Sunday, Smith said he has a good feel for the Patriots and stressed that he and the team need to execute. He called it a "heated" rivalry and said Patriots are "very polished." The Jets' offense actually had more yards than the Patriots, 318-232, in the previous matchup.
"I think every single guy felt bitter after that loss on the road that Thursday night," Smith said. "But we've put it behind us and we've learned from it and gained experience from it and moved on."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If Mark Sanchez was healthy, the New York Jets would have one salacious quarterback controversy. But his injured right shoulder won’t be healed until November (if then), so they have little choice but to ride with Geno Smith.
Better take a Dramamine.
After Sunday’s 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans at LP Field, Smith approached many teammates in the locker room, basically telling them, “It won’t happen again.” It will, of course, because he’s a rookie, and rookies have days like this. He handed 28 points to the Titans with four turnovers, and introduced a new term into the franchise’s long history of blooper plays -- the Around-the-Butt Fumble.
At 2-2, it would be a panic move for the Jets to bench Smith in favor of Matt Simms. They’d be going from little experience to no experience. Afterward, Rex Ryan eliminated any doubt, saying Smith will start next week against the Atlanta Falcons.
Unless he pulls a Greg Schiano and flip-flops, Ryan is making the right call by sticking with Smith. It’s a no-brainer, really. This season is all about Smith, finding out if he’s good enough to make him the centerpiece of the franchise. There may come a time to check out Simms, but not now.
So turn down the volume on the “We Want Simms” drumbeat.
The next chapter of this soap opera is waiting to see how the kid from West Virginia University responds to adversity. He has to get better, right?
Smith offered a scathing self-evaluation, describing his performance as “piss-poor.” Hard to argue with that. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles because of careless ballhandling, evoking memories of some Sanchez-ian gaffes.
Smith scored points for creativity, trying to switch the ball to his left hand -- behind the back -- while getting bulldozed by defensive tackle Karl Klug at the Jets’ goal line. Note to young quarterbacks: Don’t try any trickeration when there’s a 280-pound human attached to your body.
Naturally, Smith fumbled, and it was recovered for a touchdown to make it 31-6. The game probably was out of reach anyway, but that one moment -- that one brain cramp -- showed a young player overwhelmed by the moment and the day.
“It was kind of one of those tough situations,” Smith said. “My only reaction was to swing my left hand around and grab it before I fumbled it. I couldn’t get it around.”
Sanchez, watching from the sideline in street clothes, could empathize. At least now maybe his Butt Fumble can be put to rest.
How bad was Smith? He was sacked, lost a fumble or threw an interception on nine of his 42 drop-backs, bringing his turnover total to 11 -- eight interceptions and three fumbles. He’s tied with Eli Manning for the league lead in turnovers. In fact, Smith has more turnovers by himself than all but one team -- the New York Giants, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
A livid Ryan was in no mood to use the rookie-growing-pains alibi.
“How many times are we going to make that excuse?” he asked. “One of these days we’re going to have to learn from them, and it better be soon. The team we’re going to play next [the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons] is a pretty good darn football team, so we better learn in a hurry. It has to get better.”
Smith was intercepted by Alterraun Verner on the second play of the game, underthrowing a deep ball to Stephen Hill, and he was cooked right there. He never regained his composure, rattled by the Titans’ relentless blitzing.
Another lowlight occurred when he was scrambling in the open field for a first down, holding the ball with one hand and inviting what occurred next -- a tomahawk chop by linebacker Zach Brown, who slapped the ball loose. His second interception was a bad decision, forcing a ball into blanket coverage on Santonio Holmes, who was beaten to the ball by Verner.
Then came the Around-the-Butt Fumble.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the way I took care of the ball,” Smith said.
Smith wasn’t the only goat. The Jets committed 10 penalties (that’s 30 in two weeks) and allowed four touchdown passes, so there was plenty of blame to go around. Ryan tried to emphasize that point. Sensing the media was picking on Smith in the postgame news conference, the coach insisted, “I think we’re unfairly criticizing one man.”
His teammates -- the ones who spoke, that is -- supported him, saying the right things. Holmes and Calvin Pace, veteran leaders, left without speaking to reporters.
“We believe in the guy,” Kellen Winslow said of Smith.
Do the Jets have a choice?
They are paying the price for mismanaging the quarterback competition in the preseason, resulting in Sanchez’s injury. So now it’s Smith or bust, trying to figure out a way to make him better. Marty Mornhinweg could help by calling more running plays. They actually ran well against the Titans, but the aggressive playcaller kept dialing up passes.
In the meantime, prepare for a bumpy ride.
“[The mistakes] are correctable,” Smith said, “and they will be corrected.”