New York Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith will miss six to 10 weeks of the upcoming NFL season after a teammate broke his jaw during an altercation in the locker room on Tuesday. Linebacker Ikemefuna “I.K.” Enemkpali doled out the season-altering punch, Coach Todd Bowles later said, adding he was immediately cut from the team.
“It’s something we don’t tolerate, something we can’t stand,” Bowles said (via ESPN), speaking of his zero-tolerance policy for the 24-year-old’s actions. “You don’t walk up to a man and punch him in the face.”
“It was nothing to do with football. … It was very childish,” Bowles added. “He got cold-cocked … sucker punched, whatever you want to call it, in the jaw.”
After Bowles’s comments, reports began to emerge that the fight was about money. CBS analyst and former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason posted a tweet to that effect:
ESPN’s Adam Schefter subsequently confirmed that, indeed, Enemkpali was angry about $600 he felt Smith owed him. Here is what Schefter posted on Facebook:
“At the heart of the dispute between former Jets LB IK Enemkpali and quarterback Geno Smith is $600 that Enemkpali believed Smith owed him, per league sources. Enemkpali purchased a plane ticket for Smith to attend his July 11 football camp at Pfugerville High School in Pfugerville, Texas. However, days before the camp, a person close to Smith was killed in a motorcycle accident in Miami and Smith did not attend Enemkpali’s camp, per sources. After Smith did not attend, Enemkpali demanded that the Jets’ quarterback refund him the $600 he allegedly used to purchase a plane ticket. Smith told Enemkpali he would reimburse him the money, but he did not. Enkempali confronted Smith today about the money and the confrontation ended in a punch and broken jaw.”
However, TMZ Sports, citing “sources inside the Jets locker room,” reported that Enemkpali was more angry that Smith failed to show up for the linebacker’s charity event. According to TMZ’s account, Smith said he didn’t want to discuss it at that moment, and turned away, which is when Enemkpali (in the quoted words of an anonymous Jets player) “straight sucker punched him.”
Enemkpali said he regretted his actions and issued an apology of sorts through the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
“I apologize to the Jets organization, coaches, teammates and fans. Geno and I left our frustration get the best of us,” he said. “I should have walked away from the situation. It was never my intention to harm anyone.”
Smith’s jaw, which was fractured in two places, will require surgery to fix, but the player promised in an Instagram post on Tuesday, “I’LL BE BACK.”
Smith, who has 25 touchdowns and 34 interceptions over his two-year NFL career, was actually having a pretty good training camp and was assumed to be the Week 1 starter for New York, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini. He was listed as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart the Jets released on Monday and didn’t throw an interception until the 12th day of camp on Monday.
Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick will now take on the starting quarterback duties, Bowles confirmed on Tuesday afternoon. Baylor rookie Bryce Petty and free agent rookie Jay Heaps will act as backups.
“I’m confident in Ryan,” Bowles said (via Pro Football Talk). “Ryan’s had a good camp. Geno was having a good camp, too, so it’s hard to replace a guy when both guys are doing well. But Ryan’s been a pro, he’s been here before, he has a lot of games under his belt, he knows the system, he knows how to throw the ball, he understands the game.”
Reactions to the incident have been mixed among fans and others around the league, although Cris Carter’s proved one of the most polarizing over at the Bristol Hot Take Hatchery.
Wikipedia pranksters, meanwhile, found humor in the incident.
“I.K. was released after doing the coaching staff a favor and breaking Geno Smith’s jaw,” the new free agent’s Wiki page states.
Others would like to remind rival Giants fans not to get too chesty.
Enemkpali, who played in six games and racked up two tackles in his rookie season last year, is now a free agent. It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll be picked up by another team at this point. Not only did he tee off against his own starting quarterback (generally, not what one wants in a team player), but he also has a bit of a past — which the Jets knew when they took him in the sixth round of last year’s draft out of Louisiana Tech.
And finally …
This post has been updated multiple times.