Whether or not everyone in the Jets' organization was on board with the idea of Geno Smith as the Week 1 starter, Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury made the decision an easy one. Smith, with just two preseason games under his belt as an NFL QB, will start in New York Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We're going to go with Geno Smith as our quarterback and we are excited about that," head coach Rex Ryan told the team's website.
Ryan may be toeing that line now, but he reportedly was one of the few supporters left in Sanchez's camp during the preseason. Making matters more difficult for Ryan and his coaching staff was that neither Sanchez nor Smith really ran away with the competition in recent weeks.
Smith missed the Jets' second preseason game with an ankle injury, then Sanchez sat out the team's final exhibition outing after suffering a shoulder injury the week prior. On the field, the results produced by the dueling quarterbacks were mixed. Sanchez opened the preseason with a pick-six in Detroit, then Smith fired three interceptions against the Giants.
All the while, the Sanchez-vs.-Smith debate raged within the team's front office. Finally, this past weekend, a report surfaced that Ryan and GM John Idzik were ready to move on from Sanchez. Idzik reportedly had been stating Smith's case throughout the preseason, though Ryan steadfastly left the QB competition open.
Sanchez, though, will not be able to play in Week 1 and may miss more time, leaving Smith, Matt Simms and newly-signed Brady Quinn at QB.
If all goes according to plan now, Sanchez may have played his last meaningful snap for the Jets. For Sanchez to reclaim the starting gig somewhere down the line, Smith likely would have to suffer an injury of his own or falter to such an extent that Ryan deems a QB change necessary. Neither situation would sit well with the Jets' fans, who are praying that Smith can be the superstar under center that this team badly needs.
A reversal back to Sanchez as the No. 1 QB would stand as a rather harsh indictment of Smith's early performance.
If Smith at least holds his own, however, the questions may turn again to Sanchez's future in New York. He still has four seasons (counting this one) remaining on the contract he signed in March 2012. The Jets would have to eat nearly $13 million in salary to release him this season and would take an almost $5 million hit for 2014. Assuming Smith is not a total failure as the starter, that latter number likely will come into play -- the Jets may be willing by the end of this year to sacrifice that $5 million to rid themselves of the Sanchez circus.
But if we know anything about the current Jets regime, it's that nothing is predictable. Smith will be the starting QB for Week 1. What happens beyond that is still anyone's guess.