New coach. Same New York Jets.
That was my first thought immediately upon hearing that New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith was sucker punched in the locker room by his now former teammate and linebacker IK Enemkpali, has a broken jaw, and would miss 6-10 weeks. Details of a $600 debt Smith owed to Enemkpali had not yet emerged. But to be frank, it didn’t matter. I’d already heard enough.
Judging the victim in an assault incident is never acceptable, but given a certain street code implied in the NFL, one that protects a quarterback by any means necessary, I can’t stop thinking, if Smith was a different kind of NFL quarterback he wouldn’t be internet fodder today.
Smith’s approaching his third season in the League. His first two seasons have been rough as he’s been one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks. Ever. His struggles to complete passes, avoid turnovers (especially in the red zone), and exhibit better decision making in general have been well documented. His Jets career includes more INTs (34) than TDs (25), and that’s never a positive. Quite frankly, Smith under center never puts the Jets in the best position to win the game. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. His presence is viewed as a liability. His inexperience and inability to grasp the fundamentals of the game make him detrimental to the offense’s ability to gain yards and charge into the red zone, the quarterbacks’s sole responsibility.
And yet, despite his lack of capacity to guide the team, Smith is still recognized as a team leader based on the general principles associated with him being the starting quarterback of the team. Quarterbacks wear red jerseys as a bold reminder of caution to the rest of the team, especially during training camp. Although scuffles are typical, quarterbacks usually remain out of the fray. Their value to the team is too high to risk injury. After all, they’re the motor that drives the offense. And without them, the team is unlikely to travel very far. This has always been the case, and will remain so for quite some time.
With a general understanding that the quarterback deserves the utmost protection and respect, no matter what, it means a lot that Enemkpali, a second-year fringe player with everything to lose, bucked tradition and cold-clocked Smith over a measly $600. Certainly a bitch move by Enemkpali, but why did he feel ballsy enough to do it?
Enemkpali is no saint. He has a history of being a hothead, and that can’t be ignored. However, if Smith played better, he’d lead better, and naturally command the respect of every player on the team, as most quarterbacks do. Enemkpali felt empowered enough to take it to Smith because Smith, after two seasons, hasn’t earned the honor immediately bestowed upon NFL quarterbacks entering the league. And while some Jets’ players have a zero tolerance policy for fighting a teammate, Darrelle Revis saw things differently and assigned Geno Smith some blame for Tuesday’s incident, saying, “I hold both of them responsible.”
I read a comment on the internet that said, “If your franchise quarterback gets sucker punched, then he’s not your franchise quarterback.”
Under no circumstance would anyone attack Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, or Russell Wilson. Hell, even rookie quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta are off limits, and they haven’t logged any minutes in a preseason game yet. Cam Newton’s training camp altercation earlier in the week made headlines, but he instigated the situation. So, even an exception to the rule doesn’t put the Panthers situation in the same category as the Jets.
Bottom line is this. Despite surrounding Smith with more weapons, many Smith doubters remain who believe he’ll never be a top performer in the league. He lucked up by nabbing a starting position in the NFL, but on most teams, he’d be competing for a backup position. Now, with him missing the next 6-10 weeks, his backup, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will step in. While Fitzpatrick has his own set of issues, including being a turnover machine when he’s under pressure, he still exhibits more competence than Smith at the quarterback position. I don’t expect Fitzpatrick, 32, to duplicate his 2010 productivity that earned him a ridiculous contract extension from the Buffalo Bills, but at the core he’s just a more skilled player than Smith. And, if Fitzpatrick remains healthy throughout the season, the likelihood of Smith returning as a starter this season is extremely slim. Due to Smith’s career history, and Enemkpali knocking him out of commission at a critical point in his career and season, the Jets no longer have to feed us the party line of Smith being the future of the franchise. Rather than hinge their hopes on Smith finally reaching his potential, and being disappointed when he revealed he just doesn’t have the chops to cut it, they have enough justifiable reason to look toward a future that excludes Smith, today.
While the most epic locker room brawl in the history of the league isn’t how they would’ve liked to draw the conclusion that it’s time to move on from Smith, Enemkpali made that decision for them. And that’s a good thing.