With rookies due to report to New York Jets training camp on Monday, the team announced that it has agreed to a four-year contract worth approximately $5 million with highly scrutinized quarterback Geno Smith. Entering his first NFL season, the Jets young gunslinger is set to duel with incumbent starter Mark Sanchez when training camp officially opens to all players on Thursday.
A former West Virginia standout, Smith fell into Gang Green's lap in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft (39th overall) after several league scouts questioned his focus and dedication during the NFL's Scouting Combine. Smith was criticized for spending more time updating his social media accounts than engaging with potential teammates, coaches and front office personnel. In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, unnamed league sources referred to Smith as a "diva," which may have contributed to his draft stock plummeting.
Following April's draft, Smith fired his agents and signed on with Roc Nation, founded by rap star turned entrepreneur Jay-Z, a move that was met with strong opposition from football critics. Roc Nation is currently under investigation by the NFLPA for allegedly using non-certified agents (Jay Z) to recruit players. A photo surfaced on Smith's Instagram account of the quarterback posing with Jay Z just days before he hired Roc Nation to represent him.
If Smith was drafted in the top-10, as many football pundits had expected, he would have been guaranteed at least $12 million over the term of his deal. With his contract negotiations in the rearview, Smith appears fully driven to take over starting signal-caller duties.
On Saturday, the former Mountaineer star told the Charleston Gazette that he has a "great shot" to win the quarterback battle. Earlier this offseason Smith turned down Sanchez's invitation to his California-based Jets West Camp instead electing to train in Florida, which fueled speculation that a rift could exist between the two quarterbacks. Both Smith and Sanchez publicly stated that no animosity exists in their relationship and insist that they are just fierce competitors vying for the top spot on the depth chart.
Meanwhile, head coach Rex Ryan maintains that there will be an open quarterback competition at training camp in Corland, N.Y. this summer, but made it clear Smith will need to make some significant adjustments to his technique and decision-making if he wants to start this upcoming season.
"He came from a system that primarily was a shotgun system," Ryan noted. "His steps, drop backs [and] his mechanics that way, footwork-wise, weren't dialed in the way they'll have to be at this level. It's all new to him."
While Ryan was quick to point out Smith's room for improvement, he's not ruling out the possibility that the rookie could turn the corner in time for the start of regular season.
"Sometimes, you really can't even notice them because when he's on, the guy is absolutely terrific. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy process, but I have confidence that, when we get to Cortland [for training camp], I think you're going to see the guy keep improving and improving."
Whether it's Sanchez or Smith under center in 2013, the Jets will need vast improvement at the quarterback position if they hope to avoid becoming the media's punching bag and the doormat of the AFC this upcoming season.
Rick Laughland covers the New York Jets for Greenandwhitereport.com