- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Don't waste any time, New York Jets.
Start the Geno Smith era with Gang Green right now.
Do not wait until 2014. Do not even wait until Week 8 of the 2013 regular season. For the long-term betterment of the Jets organization, Smith should be the starter in Week 1 and New York should never look back.
What is the point in the Jets going another year with embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez? He represents New York's ugly past and is on borrowed time. The only reason he's on the roster in the first place is his guaranteed $8.25 million salary this season. New York should make Sanchez an expensive backup and keep it moving. Releasing Sanchez is another option, although chances are slim because it would cost the Jets a $12.35 million cap hit this year and a $4.8 million cap hit next year.
But starting Sanchez should be out of the question. We already know where the Sanchez train is going -- and it’s not anywhere good. It would be bad for the Jets, bad for the fans and even bad for Sanchez, who clearly is regressing and needs a fresh start in 2014. One bad game with the Jets and New York fans will be ready to turn on Sanchez, and the entire team, again. Remember "Tebow-mania" last year? Think "Geno-mania" if New York doesn't learn from this mistake. The young, rebuilding Jets would be doing themselves a favor to avoid this scenario.
Smith represents a much brighter future and a new era in New York. He is the first quarterback pick for first-year general manager John Idzik. The Jets showed this offseason they are forward-thinking and not dwelling on the past. Look no further than New York's shrewd move to trade star cornerback Darrelle Revis -- its most talented player -- and draft Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. If the Jets can quickly move on from “Revis Island,” they certainly can move on from “The Sanchize.”
The Jets are not going to the playoffs, with or without Sanchez under center. Their biggest goal for 2013 should be developing their young quarterback for the future. That would be taking a page out of the Miami Dolphins’ playbook of last season with Ryan Tannehill. A year later, Miami is the biggest threat to the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. The Jets can do the same if they play their cards right and properly develop Smith, who wants to play immediately.
“I love to compete,” Smith said on a conference call with the New York media. “Mark is a guy who I watched at USC, watched him in the NFL, and I think highly of him. … [But] I’m coming in as a rookie and I’m going to compete and I’m also going to accept my role, whatever it is.”
Sanchez has received more chances than any quarterback in the past four years. Sanchez was expected to compete with 35-year-old David Garrard, who hasn’t thrown a regular-season pass in two years. The Jets, for the fifth consecutive season, were virtually handing Sanchez the job again. But things changed when New York turned in its card Friday with the 39th overall pick. Smith essentially fell into the Jets’ lap in the second round after New York reportedly considered him with the No. 13 pick in the first round. The Jets also tried to trade up to start the second round but couldn't. Everything worked out for the best.
Smith was the second quarterback taken, but nearly everyone -- sorry, Buffalo and EJ Manuel -- rated him as the best quarterback in this draft. Smith certainly has the fewest flaws and appears NFL-ready. It also doesn’t hurt that Smith is coming to New York with a chip on his shoulder after being passed over by every team with a first-round pick. Six more passed on Smith again in the second round before the Jets ended his rough draft outing.
There are some questions with Smith that the Jets must work through. For example, he might have some composure and maturity issues, which he showed during the draft by storming out of the green room Thursday after being bypassed in the first round, then guaranteeing that the Jets will make the playoffs Friday during an interview with the NFL Network. But Smith is young, and, with the proper guidance, he can be taught how to handle things better at the next level.
But what can't be taught is the physical tools and natural ability Smith brings to the table. Smith has a good arm, good mobility, is very competitive and fits in new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast scheme. That should be enough for the Jets to turn the page immediately.
“I’m excited to be a Jet,” Smith said. “My time has come now, so I’m going to accept it.”
Sanchez had his turn in New York, and it's time to move on. Smith’s time has just begun -- and the sooner the Jets hand him the football, the better it will be for the entire organization.