Coach Todd Bowles and the New York Jets face some interesting quarterback-related decisions before the season, and they have nothing to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the starting job.
The team used a second-round draft pick in April on Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The Jets still have former starter Geno Smith and second-year pro Bryce Petty on the roster. It is extremely unusual for an NFL team to keep four quarterbacks on its season-opening roster, and many teams now go with only two. So with Fitzpatrick and Hackenberg all but ensured of roster spots, Bowles and General Manager Mike Maccagnan will have to decide whether to retain both Smith and Petty and, if so, which will be the primary backup to Fitzpatrick.
Smith didn’t help himself by throwing an interception in a 6-for-13 passing performance in Friday night’s second preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
“I think I could have played a lot better,” Smith said after the game.
But he did not dwell on the interception, saying: “Turnovers are gonna happen. That’s the game. Every quarterback is gonna throw an interception. The key thing is: Can you learn from it? … The safety read my eyes and intercepted it. It’s one of those plays you wish you could have back. But you understand that it’s part of the process.”
But how much longer will Smith have in that development process in New York? Smith was to be the Jets’ starter entering last season before then-teammate IK Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw during a locker room fight. Fitzpatrick took over as the starter and has not surrendered the job, re-signing with the Jets just before training camp this year following a long contract stare-down during the offseason in free agency.
Smith has expressed his frustration about his situation while handling the matter in a professional manner.
“I think things are going really well,” he said following the Redskins game. “I’m still picking up the offense, still learning. I’ll never say that I’ve mastered it because you can always learn something new. I think it’s going well. I think the chemistry with guys has picked up as of late. So we’ve just got to continue to do that and prepare ourselves week to week so that when the regular season comes around we’ll be prepared for it.”
It makes little sense for the Jets to retain Smith as the No. 3 quarterback behind both Fitzpatrick and Petty. If the Jets trust Petty as their top backup, they might release Smith and allow him to get a new beginning elsewhere. Bowles has called Smith the No. 2 quarterback but also has said that Petty has a chance to overtake Smith.
“I said Geno was number two and Bryce was number three,” Bowles said. “That’s what I said. I didn’t say there wasn’t any competition. … Anybody can push anybody for any job.”
Petty threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns on 16-for-26 passing accuracy against the Redskins, playing after both Fitzpatrick and Smith had exited the game. Bowles is yet to get Hackenberg into a preseason game. He had pledged that Hackenberg would play against the Redskins. When that didn’t happen, Bowles called it “a coach’s decision.”
Getting Hackenberg into this Saturday’s third preseason game against the New York Giants could be difficult for Bowles, with the starting offense expected to receive its most extensive playing time of the exhibition season. But Hackenberg could play at length in the preseason finale. In the meantime, the Jets must sort out what will happen with Smith and Petty. Smith was asked Friday if he believes he is in a competition for the No. 2 spot.
“I think Coach has answered that question,” Smith said. “But we always compete. We all compete in that [quarterback] room. We’re all competitive players and quarterbacks. So competition is what you make it. We always compete with one another whether it’s throwing at the net or the reps that we get in team [drills], cutting turnovers down. All those things, we compete at.”