- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Joe Namath won Super Bowl III 45 years ago, but he remains the most recognizable name and face in New York Jets history -- a testament to his star power and a commentary on the quarterback position. Nearly a half-century later, they're still looking for the next Namath, a true franchise quarterback who can elevate the franchise to a championship level.
That is the biggest key to the Jets' success over the next three seasons. The current hope is Geno Smith, who may or may not be the answer. He's 8-8 as a starter and shows intriguing arm talent and mobility, but he has yet to prove that he can be a consistent winner in the league. The Jets expect (hope?) him to take a giant step in 2014, surrounding him with better talent than last year. A lot is riding on Smith, because if he flat lines or regresses, they will be back to square one, looking to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston or another young gun next spring -- along with a handful of other quarterback-needy teams.
Everything is set up for Smith to succeed, right down to the Jets' salary-cap plan. With only $1.9 million in quarterback money committed to 2015, a big reason why they have a ton of cap room in future years, they have the flexibility to give him a mega-contract in 2016. If it's justified, of course. That would complete general manager John Idzik's grand rebuilding plan. He already has a good, young defense with a handful of potential stars, and there are a few skill-position players that make you think the offense can improve. The missing piece is the quarterback.
Call it a curse. The Jets thought they had their franchise quarterback a decade ago, but Chad Pennington's career was ruined by shoulder injuries. After one year of Brett Favre, a move that showed their desperation, they drafted Mark Sanchez. He was anointed as the new golden boy, but his career veered off the rails after two promising seasons. That brought them to Smith, who carries the torch for the quarterback-starved franchise.
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