Commentary

Only Jets could butt-fumble QB battle

Rex Ryan dropped the ball after GM John Idzik handed off a messy QB situation

Updated: August 27, 2013, 2:02 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan didn't realize it at the time, but his curious choice to turn sideways in his bizarre postgame news conference was actually a metaphor for the way the New York Jets have handled the quarterback situation:

They've been going in the wrong direction from day one.

Leave it to the Jets to conduct a quarterback competition that produces no winner. They made it into a riddle, a question with no answer.

Ryan is deservedly getting hammered for his irresponsible decision to play Mark Sanchez with the backups, leading to a shoulder injury, but general manager John Idzik is just as culpable as Ryan for butt-fumbling this so-called competition. The difference is that Idzik hides in his bunker, avoiding the media, while Ryan faces the firing squad on almost a daily basis.

Ironically, Idzik, who arrived on the scene in January with the intention of sending the circus out of town, has brought back the Big Top by mismanaging the most important position on the roster. We should've known this was a doomed plan when he decided to keep Tim Tebow until late April, creating an unnecessary distraction while clinging to the crazy notion he could actually swing a trade for the world's most famous punt protector.

It also was Idzik's idea in March to sign veteran David Garrard, pronouncing him a viable candidate for the starting job. Privately, the Jets actually thought Garrard, who hadn't played in two years because of injuries, could unseat Sanchez.

[+] EnlargeJohn Idzik
John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWhile Rex Ryan bears the brunt of blame, GM John Idzik is far from innocent in this big Jets mess.

That folly lasted two months, ending when Garrard retired because of a chronic knee condition that caused unbearable pain.

Idzik drafted Geno Smith in the second round -- a sound move -- but the organization's blind desire to make him the starter led to two bad decisions. The Jets made him practice on a sprained ankle instead of giving him a couple of days off, causing him to miss the second preseason game. They exacerbated the situation by starting him Saturday night, hoping he'd pull a Russell Wilson and seize the starting job from Sanchez.

The outcome was predictable. Smith showed his lack of experience with three interceptions and a brain cramp that resulted in a safety, a tremendous setback for him and the team. The Jets wasted the third preseason game on an ill-conceived experiment, robbing Sanchez and the other starters of their best opportunity of the preseason to build chemistry.

But there was Ryan on Monday, playing the role of spin doctor, trying to sell us -- and perhaps his team -- that Smith wasn't as bad as everyone thinks.

"With Geno, there was the good, the bad and the ugly," said Ryan, who proceeded to emphasize the good and downplay the bad.

Smith was no better than his "brutal" practice in Cortland, N.Y., but Ryan broke out the rose-colored glasses because he knows he might have to start Smith Week 1. Sanchez has a bruised joint in his right shoulder, and there's no guarantee he'll be ready for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sanchez is the presumptive starter, but he didn't get a vote of confidence from Ryan, who declined to name the winner of the competition. Ryan said quarterbacks are interchangeable in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's system, claiming he'd be comfortable with any of the four on the roster.

Interchangeable? Really? Then how do you explain Joey Harrington, who bombed under Mornhinweg with the Detroit Lions?

This is a mess. The Jets would like to start Smith Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles -- he needs the work -- but they can't because there's a chance he could be the opening-day starter. They can't take a chance on him getting hurt, so look for Matt Simms and Greg McElroy to share the playing time. This isn't how Idzik imagined it.

Idzik is a smart man, a Dartmouth grad, but he has made several highly questionable decisions since taking the job. If you think he's not involved in the day-to-day machinations of the quarterback drama, remember what he said at the start of training camp. Idzik told the world he'd have a "pretty big role" in the decision, publicly undercutting Ryan's authority.

A request to interview Idzik was denied, so there's no telling what he's thinking about his quarterback competition gone bad. Ryan said he gets along well with his new boss, claiming there was no blowback from Idzik or owner Woody Johnson on his ill-conceived decision to play Sanchez in the fourth quarter of a preseason game.

"John and I are really like shoulder to shoulder on decisions we make," Ryan said.

Shoulder joint to shoulder joint, he should've said.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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