There is little question that long-term financial advantages exist for the New York Jets if second-round rookie Geno Smith beats out veteran Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback job to start this season.
Given Sanchez's league-leading 52 turnovers over the last two seasons, there are probably just as many on-field advantages for a fresh start at the game's most important position.
But has the Jets organization actually created a rigged competition between the two quarterbacks this offseason, slanted heavily toward Smith winning the job?
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is already convinced. The Jets beat writer called the quarterback competition "farcical" and a "charade" in a column Tuesday, while also declaring Smith will win the job by playing two turnover-free quarters against the New York Giants Saturday night.
"Smith was never truly competing against Sanchez," Mehta wrote. "He was competing against time."
Mehta reported Tuesday that the Jets plan on starting Smith against the Giants if there are no setbacks with his injured ankle. Smith missed New York's second preseason game after rolling the ankle in his NFL debut.
If Mehta is correct, Smith could win the starting job outright not by playing overly well Saturday, but by avoiding the same costly mistakes Sanchez has made in bulk over the last two seasons. The Jets' message to Smith against the Giants might be as simple as, "protect the football, and the job is yours."
While it's unlikely such a situation exists for the rookie quarterback—the Jets need to see more than a safeguarding game manager to feel confident in that decision—Sanchez certainly hasn't helped his own narrative with more mind-numbing mistakes.
In the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, Sanchez all but handed rookie Ezekiel Ansah a pick-six when his attempt to throw a screen went directly to the Lions defensive end. Sanchez would go on to have a productive showing, but it was the head-scratching turnover that defined his performance.
The hits kept coming last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sanchez threw an interception in the end zone and later ran out the first-half clock on a broken play inside the red zone. Both mistakes cost the Jets certain points.
If the Jets weren't rigging the competition before, Sanchez certainly provided all the reason necessary to now tilt the scales directly in Smith's favor.
And while New York has avoided naming a starter, both for Saturday's game and the regular season, it appears the Jets are preparing to give Smith every chance this week to cement his case as the No. 1 quarterback.
According to Mehta, Smith worked with the first-team offense for the third straight day Wednesday, which comes as an alteration to New York's camp-long plan to give the quarterbacks a two-day rotation with the starting offense.
The increased workload could be a result of Smith missing game reps because of the ankle, or it could be the Jets working through the dress rehearsal week of the preseason as if the team was preparing for a regular season game.
It would be difficult to fault the Jets for making that decision.
Sanchez's time as either the starter or backup likely has a one-year deadline. While his roster spot was set in stone in 2013 thanks to the $8.25 million he is guaranteed this season, the Jets would have to pay Sanchez another $11 million—$9 million in base salary and a $2 million roster bonus—to keep him in 2014.
Unless he somehow becomes the second coming of Kurt Warner overnight, the Jets aren't paying him that money next season.
The sand in the hourglass only accelerated when new Jets general manager John Idzik spent a second-round pick on Smith, who was always expected to start at some point this season. Why not begin that process now, especially after watching so many recent rookie quarterbacks win competitions and play well right away?
The Jets even have a history of this kind of decision-making under Ryan, who staged a "competition" between Sanchez and former second-round pick Kellen Clemons during the 2009 preseason. Sanchez didn't play overly well during that August, but the Jets were ready for change at the position, and the new regime wasn't going to wait on playing the No. 5 overall pick.
Four summers later, the same script might be playing out.
Even if Ryan has continued giving Sanchez unwavering support, there's a general manager with a hand in the decision who likely prefers the rookie winning the job. The competition narrative has helped keep both quarterbacks as sharp and motivated as possible, even if the battle has been slightly rigged toward Smith all along.
Rigged in this scenario may mean nothing more than identifying the better quarterback.
Ahead of the Jets' third preseason game, it appears Smith would have to have a Sanchez-type meltdown to re-tilt the scales back toward the veteran.