Is QB Truly the New York Jets' Biggest Concern This Summer?

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIJune 6, 2013

May 22, 2013; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (left) greets teammate Geno Smith (right) during organized team activities at the New York Jets training facility.  Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

After what seemed like the worst 6-10 season in the history of competitive sports, the New York Jets are turning the page into a new era of personnel decision-making with a fresh new front office in place to turn the organization around.

Massive changes were inevitable for the Jets as they entered the 2013 offseason. Some, such as real competition at the quarterback position, were necessary.

Others, such as trading the greatest player the franchise has had since Joe Namath donned his fur coat on the sidelines, were avoidable and may set the franchise back several years.

While ESPN will not be making a trip out to Florham Park this offseason to capture the drama-filled team in its entirety, the Jets’ offseason will be centered on a quarterback battle that could wind up putting the final nail in the coffin of Mark Sanchez’s rocky career in New York.

Of course, the quarterback battle deserves all of the attention it is going to get because of the sheer importance of the position—after all, if Geno Smith turns out to be a star or Mark Sanchez manufactures an Alex Smith-like comeback from quarterback purgatory, the Jets could be a lot closer to turning the corner than most think.

However, rebuilding the Jets is no ordinary reclamation project. John Idzik has taken over an organization that has endured more than its fair share of mudslinging and drama, which makes every transaction that much more vulnerable to heavy scrutiny.

The truth is, the Jets have no more room for error. In the eyes of the fans and media, they are not allowed to make the same regular mistakes other teams make on a daily basis.

Because of this, the competition between signal-callers will not be what defines John Idzik’s first 12 months on the job. After all, there will be sound justification for starting either player; the decision will be made on the practice field and in preseason games. 

Picking the quarterback is the easy part.

Rather, Idzik will be judged on whether or not the Jets have made sound personnel decisions with the rest of his boom-or-bust transactions which could either expedite the rebuilding process or set the team back even further.

Because of limited cap space that has been hampered by bad contracts of the previous administration, Idzik was forced to fill out his roster with players who were injured or had off-field issues in an effort to maximize the talent of a team that was starved for it.


Draft Day Gambles

The moment Idzik filed the paperwork to send franchise hero Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers for two draft picks (with just one pick in the 2013 draft), he instantly made this year’s draft the most important draft of his lifelong career in the NFL.

The concept of trading a superstar on an otherwise barren roster is hardly a new concept. Teams across all sports do it, and the logic of turning one great player into multiple long-term contributors is sound.

However, it is one thing to trade an All-Star. It’s another to trade a franchise icon in his prime.

When one trades a player of Revis’ magnitude for an unknown commodity in the form of a young college kid that has yet to set foot inside an NFL facility, there is no room for error. Whether Idzik intended it or not, this was going to be the draft that was going to set the Jets up for the long term, no matter how bottom-heavy the draft seemed to be.

Selecting Dee Milliner with the ninth overall selection made plenty of sense on the surface. After all, who better to “replace” Darrelle Revis than the consensus top cornerback in the draft?

Using a high draft pick on a need position is perfectly sound logic—but it does not ease the short-term concerns that surround Milliner.

Milliner’s shoulder issues should be eradicated by the start of training camp, but the concerns with Milliner are not isolated to a single shoulder injury. He has had surgery on his labrum in the past.

He has been admirable in his ability to play through injuries, but the fact that they continue to arise raises serious doubt as to whether Milliner possesses the unique body composition needed to sustain a career in the NFL.

What has gone a bit overlooked is how often Alabama players have struggled out of the gate in recent history, especially at the cornerback position. Nick Saban, known for running a grueling practice schedule, wears his team down to a nub—and the fact that they are playing well into January every year does nothing to lessen the physical burden.

Trent Richardson had a solid rookie campaign, but he was plagued by injuries that prevented him from being the truly dominant force the Browns expected him to be as the third pick in last year’s draft.

Now over a year removed from the college game, Richardson is still battling injuries before camp even starts:

Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Richardson’s mentor at Alabama, has yet to earn a starting role with the New Orleans Saints since being drafted in 2011.

Meanwhile, Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round cornerback prospect for the Cincinnati Bengals, spent most of his season nursing injuries. He recorded a whopping four tackles on the season and finished on injured reserve.

Digging deeper into Kirkpatrick’s rocky start, injuries were not the only thing holding him back form being productive. Alabama cornerbacks are not taught some of the most fundamental skills of playing cornerback at the NFL level, including how to backpedal.

Kirkpatrick may be a good player with some time, but if Milliner (who has a far more extensive injury history) deals with the same issues as Kirkpatrick and has a non-productive rookie season, it could mean serious trouble for a new regime that is trying to replace a living legend.

Beyond the first two rounds, the Jets continued to add meat along the offensive line that needs at least two new starters with the departure of Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson.

Using three draft picks on offensive linemen certainly attacks the situation head-on, but their strategy does not come without risk. All three players—Brian Winters, Oday Aboushi and William Campbell—will be making a projected move to a new position at guard or right tackle. Campbell, a former defensive tackle, will be making a drastic position switch to the offensive side of the ball.

Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence of former offensive and defensive tackles making the successful transition to guard.

Last year, the Ravens won a Super Bowl largely thanks to their offensive line play in the postseason, which was anchored by two stellar guards who were college tackles. Brandon Moore, the longtime Pro Bowl guard for the Jets, was a former undrafted player who made the conversion form the defensive side of the ball.

Still, these players are projects. There is a chance that any one of them could turn out to be the next Vladimir Ducasse, the latest Jets project who has failed to earn a starting guard position since being drafted as a former tackle back in 2010.

Even if these players do pan out to be good players, using three picks on one area of a team with so many roster holes could be a move Idzik will eventually regret.


The Remaining Holes

Only time will tell if this draft class could be the start of something great for the Jets, but the immediate future for the green and white still appears bleak.

As of now, the Jets' starting tight end is Jeff Cumberland, backed up by someone who was playing rugby in Australia just two years ago.

Should Santonio Holmes or Stephen Hill suffer injury again (both are coming off season-ending injuries), the Jets, just like last year, have a bare cupboard to turn to for receiver depth.

Meanwhile, the safety position that was finally solidified a season ago will undergo yet another makeover, with just one experienced veteran on the roster in Dawan Landry.

Of course, it would not be a Jets’ offseason if they didn’t neglect to get a young prospect at the outside linebacker position.

Idzik was never going to be able to fill the sheer number of holes on the Jets roster in just a few months with limited cap space—but he has left a barren cupboard in many of the same places as Mike Tannenbaum last year.


Just How Much is Riding on Geno Smith?

By now, it is almost instinctual to overreact to every move the Jets make in a negative way, especially when it comes to decisions surrounding the quarterback position.

After all, the Jets brand has become synonymous with dysfunction and a "circus" atmosphere—despite the fact that they were playing meaningful games well into December. As a result, it is presumed that the Jets are doomed with Geno, who will drag down the organization with him.

Keep in mind, these accusations were made before Geno was even fitted for a helmet.

Even if Geno is a colossal failure, Idzik and the Jets can certainly survive if Geno Smith falls flat on his face.

Not only was Smith “just” a second-round pick that carries a relatively cheap price tag, but he was actually the Jets’ third draft pick—they had passed over him twice , never feeling the need to trade up to get who was widely perceived as the best passer in the draft.

The casual nature in which the Jets took Geno suggests that they were never intent on tying the fate of their franchise to the West Virginia product. But with a broken Mark Sanchez on the roster, adding young potential starters at the position is never a bad thing.

If Geno fails, the Jets can release him in a few years with nearly no financial repercussions. More than anything, they miss out on adding a second-round pick to their roster at another position—certainly not ideal, but not a franchise-altering move in the least.

Ultimately, the battle between Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez will not sink Idzik and his new regime.

Who, then, has the first-time general manager staked his reputation on?

Dee Milliner.

As the first draft pick of the Idzik regime, Milliner faces the unenviable task of directly replacing a living legend—whether it was Idzik’s intention or not.

Is it fair to put such immense responsibility on a young kid? Of course not. The idea that Milliner could be the next Darrelle Revis is absurd.

Milliner may turn out to be a great player—but it could take some time.

Considering the rocky starts of Alabama players to enter the NFL just months after playing for Nick Saban, the odds that Milliner will step in immediately and play like a ninth overall pick are somewhat low.

If Milliner struggles out of the gate, Idzik will learn soon enough that rebuilding a team in New York, particularly on the heels of such an embarrassing season, is not quite like Seattle.

So far, Idzik has not gotten off to a terrific start—David Garrard has bowed out of a winnable quarterback competition and Mike Goodson, one of the first players the Jets targeted in free agency, has run into some serious legal trouble that could put his season in jeopardy.

The doubt is already starting to creep into the Jets’ once-promising restart. A struggling "Revis replacement" would just add lighter fluid to Idzik’s pressure cooker.

The Jets are far from a quick fix. Patience will be needed for Jets fans to survive the next few seasons, but whiffing on this draft class, no matter how successful Geno Smith can be, would set this troubled franchise back even further.


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