After Sunday’s loss in Carolina, the time for a green and white playoff pipe dream has all but come and gone. What was once a roaring fire after the upset win over New Orleans is now a collection of smoldering kindling waiting to be mathematically eliminated
The loss also clinched the Jets’ third straight non-winning season, something that hasn’t happened since a 1994-96 stretch capped by the 1-15 disaster.
Seeking a way back to the relevant and powerful, the Jets would be wise to study Sunday’s opponent – not for their ball-control offense or dominant front-seven, but for the decision the Panthers made roughly 32 months ago.
On that fateful night, in late April 2011, despite drafting Jimmy Clausen in the second round only 12 months before, the Panthers selected a quarterback they believed could deliver a Super Bowl. Given Clausen’s abysmal rookie campaign, the mediocre free-agent quarterback crop and Cam Newton’s turnaround job at Auburn, the decision was an easy one for Carolina. Take the difference-maker at No. 1, give him the job and give Clausen a permanent clipboard.
Let's be clear, the Jets do not face such an easy choice.
Smith is twice the quarterback Clausen will ever be and the Jets are far from the No. 1 pick – nor should they pay the freight it would take to secure it this spring. But they can still be bold and find the quarterback that will finally change the direction of this franchise.
While Teddy Bridgewater will almost assuredly be off the board before the Jets pick, the 2014 class is littered with talented quarterbacks. Whether you prefer Johnny Manziel’s exciting brand of improvisational football or Derek Carr’s rocket arm, there will be plenty of options to choose from in rounds one through three in May.
This is not to say that Geno Smith will never be a winning quarterback. He may very well overcome his turnover propensity and confidence issues and develop into an average to above-average passer, but system quarterbacks don’t win Super Bowls anymore. And, as nice as it is to win nine or 10 games and maybe catch the Patriots sleeping from time to time, this wild card business has gotten old, fast.
Yes, the Jets’ skill position talent the past three seasons has bordered on an abomination, but not once did I see a quarterback who improved the play of those around him. Would Geno suddenly stop staring down his receivers if he had Reggie Wayne instead of David Nelson? Would he finally be able to read a corner blitz if Jimmy Graham were the Jets’ tight end?
There are simply too many mental lapses, too many issues with mechanics that date back to his college days and too many fundamental problems to think of Geno as anything other than a placeholder until the Jets find “the next guy.” Why wait another year or two if it’s already apparent now?
In a league that rewards bold decisions, the Panthers opted not to wait. It took them two-plus seasons to reach the upper echelon, but Newton’s ability to impact games with his skill alone made the waiting passable.
If Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are the epitome of what a young quarterback should be – Geno Smith ain’t them. Despite having the physical tools to play on their level, he lacks the accuracy and, thus far, the decision-making to reach that plateau. Maybe if Smith had sat and learned like Kaepernick or Aaron Rodgers, things might’ve been different, but the Jets don’t deal in “ifs.” The NFL is a world where cold, hard truth rules and nothing is guaranteed.
The Jets could go the free-agent route, overpaying for Jay Cutler or rolling the dice on Michael Vick’s health, but what good would that do the Jets in the long run? This isn’t about finding success in 2013. It’s about building what John Idzik promised when he was hired as general manager – a consistent winner, which is something the Jets haven’t been in a very long time, maybe ever.
Yes, drafting a quarterback in May would be admitting the Smith pick was a mistake, but there’s no use in leaving the egg on your face just to avoid having to wipe it off in front of the class.
Accepting mediocrity to avoid being called a failure is no way to go through life. And it’s no way to run an NFL franchise.
Idzik would be wise to heed that lesson before deciding what to do this offseason.
Corey works for NBCSports.com as an editor and can be reached at @cgriffin415 on Twitter or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.