Quarterback is the most important position in football. You know that. I know that. And if we didn't, the talking heads put before us on television would bloviate until we knew what it takes to play quarterback in the National Football League.
It's all so very tiring. Yet the emphasis on the quarterback makes for one of the few instances in sports where the fixation matches up with the reality. We're willing to look past all that's gone on with the New England Patriots this offseason because Tom Brady is a Hall of Famer. We're not willing to install a team like the Houston Texans as Super Bowl favorites because no one is sure Matt Schaub is good enough.
Most saliently—for those of us who've turned on sports television at any point in the past four days—we know the New York Jets are screwed because their quarterbacks make Jeff Tuel look ready to start Week 1.
Incumbent Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith are currently embroiled in a quarterback battle. Sanchez, once considered a possible savior, is about as reviled in New York as anyone whose name doesn't rhyme with Slim Clebow. His failure to develop from two-time near-AFC champion to real-life NFL quarterback led to the drafting of Smith, whose eyes have been so wide this preseason they've made Bambi look like Gilbert Gottfried.
Nowhere was that more the case than in Saturday night's Week 3 preseason clash against the New York Giants. Smith was thrown in as a starter, with the team on their knees begging him to win the gig in such a way as to make Usher in the "Confessions Part II" video seem nondescript in comparison.
The result was little less than a travesty. The former West Virginia standout finished with 16-of-30 passing for 199 yards. He even threw a touchdown pass on a beautiful 86-yard drive. Everything else, though, was wretched. Smith threw three interceptions and looked generally lost on the field, as evidenced by his stepping out of the back of the end zone while trying to evade a pass rush. Sprinkle in some three-and-outs, and he might as well have gotten tattoos of "not" and "ready" on the left and right side of his cheeks.
Head coach Rex Ryan decided at that point that it was a good idea to give 'ol Sanchez another try. In the fourth quarter. Mostly against dudes who will be selling insurance next week or are already doing so. And then this happened:
The post-game scene remains a bizarre spectacle in cringe-inducing black comedy. Skinny Rex justified his decision by saying he was trying to win the game. Media members toppled each other to see just how hot their take could be. In the end, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal is reporting Sanchez won't practice this week, which should ostensibly give the job to Smith.
It doesn't matter.
There isn't much anyone truly knows heading into an NFL season. Joe Flacco's transformation from "Is he coming back?" to "Back up the Brinks truck" in last year's playoffs proved that much. We live in an era where folks parse deep into the numbers, trying to find which 5-11 or 6-10 team will be playoff-bound. Or they try finding the opposite, a playoff squad bound for some massive regression. You'll find any number of teams in both categories; you'll also find that everyone has a different Super Bowl pick despite there only being 32 teams.
But here is the one thing most everyone you talk to around the league can agree on: The New York Jets have no chance. Sanchez is a lost cause. Smith may be headed there if this season kills his confidence. Ryan is getting fired; the only question is when. This 2013 campaign is about to get really ugly; the only question is how much schadenfreude the media will indulge in along the way.
Ryan and the quarterback situation will get the most blame, because this is football and that's how things work. But the reality of the Jets' roster composition is that outside of a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Brady, there is no conceivable scenario in which any coach or quarterback could extract a winning football team.
Seriously, go here. Bilal Powell is your starting running back. Jeff Cumberland your tight end. Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, the latter of whom might as well be playing with Bugles on his fingers, are your starting receivers. The defense is filled with a deadly combination of players two years past their prime and two years away from being experienced enough to stand out.
The Jets' problems at quarterback and at the headset are just representations of a rotten core. And the reason for that is the same as it usually is: bad drafting. The following is a list of players former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted in the first three rounds, the place where cornerstones are supposed to be found, in his final five years with the club:
I'm obviously fudging the numbers a bit here to underline Tannenbaum's failures. His first two drafts (2006 and 2007) were pretty exemplary overall considering circumstances. Those classes produced D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Leon Washington, Darrelle Revis and David Harris.
Nabbing five Pro Bowlers in two classes is damn good, especially when one of those turned into one of the greatest corners of the modern era. Ferguson and Mangold are both stalwarts at their current positions, though age has started to creep in for both. Harris will start again this season, but his fall from grace in 2012 (most notably in pass coverage) was jarring. Revis is coming off an ACL tear and is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
But, overall, 2006 and 2007 were about as good as you can hope for as a general manager. Each of those five players served their purpose, and usable players like Eric Smith and Brad Smith came out of those two classes.
After that, though, the clock struck midnight and Tannenbaum's eye for talent went from 20/20 to Otto Delaney. Of the 11 players Tannenbaum drafted in the first three rounds between 2008-2012, less than half are still on the roster and none of them are remotely cornerstones. Muhammad Wilkerson might get there this year, and Quinton Coples has a ton of physical tools, but it's fair to say that Tannenbaum pretty much wasted as half-decade's worth of Aprils.
And if that 11 seems a little bit of a smaller number than you'd expect, New York has also been hamstrung by its former general manager's penchant for gifting away picks. In the 2009 and 2010 draft, the Jets made seven total selections. There was a five-year run from 2007 to 2011 in which the team had fewer than seven draft picks. That's fine when you're hitting home runs like Revis, Ferguson and Mangold. But when it's Sanchez, Kyle Wilson and Vernon Gholston, you're probably going to have some problems.
That mammoth list of busts doesn't fall entirely on Tannenbaum's feet. There are several factors that go into NFL player development. The team has spat out offensive coordinators like chewed bubblegum. Ryan at times has become more caricature than football coach. Then there's Tim Tebow. Which, well, enough about him already.
We're going on Year 2 of the Green and White Circus. You've got the ringleader, less affable and jolly than before, almost beaten. You've got the quarterback controversy, less interesting and equally putrid. Sanchez may have lost his job, but he'll likely get it back and then lose it again. And then get it back. Who knows, maybe Greg McElroy will get another shot.
Smith vs. Sanchez is getting all the press. But it's the rotten core of players assembled around them that will probably cost a coach his job and possibly put both signal-callers on a one-way ticket to Bustville.
Now all that's left is to watch the carnage.
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