New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith made plenty of headlines before the 2015 season, but he became almost an afterthought as the team went 10-6 with Ryan Fitzpatrick and narrowly missed the playoffs.
Smith was expected to be the starting quarterback before the campaign, but IK Enemkpali broke the signal-caller’s jaw in a locker-room fight. The West Virginia product missed significant time and only played one game after Fitzpatrick left with injury. Team owner Woody Johnson recently addressed the incident publicly for the first time and talked about Smith’s future, per Darryl Slater of NJ.com.
Slater noted Johnson approved of head coach Todd Bowles’ handling of the incident (Bowles cut Enemkpali) and didn’t question Smith’s maturity. However, Johnson stressed the importance of Smith’s decision-making as the quarterback, per Slater:
No, but you have to grow in this sport. If you're static, you're starting to go down. You've got to learn from the experienced veterans and learn how to study and learn how to look at film and learn how to work out—and to think about the way you comport yourself, both inside the facility and outside. You've got to realize, as a quarterback, you're making decisions for the team. You're the leader of the team, so everything you do will be judged on that level.
Johnson also talked about Smith’s skill set before the final year of his rookie contract, per Slater:
“Geno had a pretty good year. We'll see in the summer how he's developed, but I think the coaches are pretty optimistic about what he's learned, his maturity. We know he can throw a ball. I think he's taken it to a new level, and we'll see how that plays out.”
The question remains whether Smith can be a franchise quarterback in the future, especially because he is only 25 years old and was a former second-round pick of the Jets (2013 draft). Fitzpatrick was excellent in 2015 with 3,905 passing yards, 270 rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns, but he is 33 years old and a free agent this offseason.
Johnson commented on Smith’s ability to be that franchise cornerstone, per Slater:
“That's up to the eye of the beholder, but he has all the skills. It's a question of what his desire is, and from what the coaches told me and what I've seen myself, I think he's matured a lot. He knows he's a professional. He has the ability to do it, if he sticks with it.”
Outside of just his Smith comments, Johnson was optimistic about the direction his team is headed, as Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday shared:
Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk also weighed in on the Jets’ quarterback situation and suggested Smith may not be in the long-term plans:
"Re-signing Fitzpatrick is a top priority for the Jets this offseason. Should they accomplish that and add another quarterback in the draft or free agency to go with Smith and Bryce Petty, Smith may have to show someone else that he’s sticking with it come next season."
There may be plenty of question marks surrounding Smith (he has 27 touchdowns and 35 interceptions in his career), especially after a lost season in 2015, but Johnson himself said he matured. Smith is someone who can run the ball from the quarterback spot and does have a 3,000-yard campaign on his resume (2013).
Smith has plenty of talent in place, and 76 different quarterbacks threw at least one pass in 2015 alone because of injuries and lackluster play. There is room for Smith to make an impact in this league in 2016 and beyond.