For Geno Smith, The Tough Times Won’t Last

When Ryan Fitzpatrick re-signed with the New York Jets to be their starting quarterback, it meant Geno Smith would have to return to his role as the team’s backup.

While Fitzpatrick and the Jets struggled through months of offseason back and forth over money, Smith was in the role of presumptive starter for the upcoming season. It was another opportunity to show he’s ready to lead a football team. The return of Fitzpatrick, for now, has taken that opportunity away.

Smith’s shown he can be an NFL quarterback, however, the jury’s still out on if he’s good enough to start in the league or just be a reliable second option.

Smith’s three years in the league have been filled with accuracy issues, leadership concerns, questionable decisions on and off the field, and a broken jaw.

If history has shown him anything, it’s that opportunity is always knocking.

The Jets selected Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, former general manager John Idzik hoped he’d found a potential franchise player worth developing. Free agent quarterback David Garrard was signed as a veteran option and the team still had the much-maligned Mark Sanchez.

Garrard’s knee troubles kept him off the field and Sanchez, the incumbent who was drafted four years earlier to be the face of the team, went down with an injury in a preseason game.

Smith was named the starter as a rookie. New York wound up finishing 8-8 with Smith throwing 21 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. It was an uneven performance which led to a lukewarm endorsement from fans, critics, and the team.

A year later, with the Jets parting ways with Sanchez, Smith showed improvement on the field. He cut down on the interceptions and improved his accuracy. Off the field, however, maturity issues reared it’s head enough times to still leave room for doubt if Smith was the long-term answer for New York.

The Jets decided to change course in 2015 with the team’s management. New general manager Mike Maccagnan, along with new head coach Todd Bowles, were now in charge with returning the team back to contending for the playoffs. New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system was reported to be the right system for Smith’s skill set.

Smith, still under contract, had an ideal situation to take advantage of as the projected starter. He now had a couple of years under his belt and a fresh page under new management to work with. It took for a locker room altercation, with then-teammate Ike Enkempali, to dramatically change those plans.

A financial disagreement led to Enkempali’s departure from the Jets and a fractured jaw for Smith. Fitzpatrick took over as the starter and, while Smith could only watch from the sidelines, led the Jets to within one win of reaching the playoffs.

This past offseason, Smith’s teammates openly campaigned for the Jets to bring back Fitzpatrick. An argument can be made the situation, as uncomfortable as it may have been, has served as a character builder for Smith.

If there’s any doubt in the back of Smith’s mind that he can weather another storm, he should only look at all of the adversity he’s had to endure up to this point.

Smith has gone about his business of preparing for the season, he performed well in OTA’s while earning praise from Bowles. That being noted, the Jets remained committed to bringing back Fitzpatrick.

The numbers, however, are the numbers. Smith has made 29 career starts for the Jets, he’s posted an 11-18 record with more interceptions than touchdowns. In this case, the numbers work against Smith in every way possible.

The Jets, now with their preferred quarterback of choice back to lead them, are ready to take flight in 2016. Smith’s future, meanwhile, has reached yet another fork in the road.

It’s possible that young prospects Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg could take a big enough step forward in the preseason where it gives the Jets enough cause to consider cutting Smith.

The flipside to that coin, however is Smith’s track record. As uneven as it may be, it’s still more established than either of those two players and is the most logical choice to be Fitzpatrick’s backup quarterback again.

Then there’s the possibility, although slim, that Fitzpatrick struggles enough to where the Jets would have to play Smith. That’s providing if they decide to keep Smith aboard.

If there’s any doubt in the back of Smith’s mind that he can weather another storm, he should only look at all of the adversity he’s had to endure up to this point.

Smith’s tenure as a Jet has been marked with inconsistency. The concerns over if he can take a veteran-filled Jets team to the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl are warranted and logical.

Time will tell which path Smith will travel and how much longer his time as a Jet will be. The Jets and the other 31 general managers around the league will be watching to see how Smith goes about his role as Fitzpatrick’s backup. How he performs on and off the field will go a long way in determining where he plays a year from now.

Two things are for certain, he’s shown he’s capable and that he can also endure the tough times.

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