It's always important to take every preseason performance with a grain of salt. Most teams, the Jets included, don't go into most preseason games with a definitive gameplan or strategy for their starting units, and almost never is a set plan established for the second and third stringers. In addition to which, as last nights performance proves, most players are looking to escape the preseason and training camp without sustaining an injury, because, as many a player will tell you, you can't make the club in the tub.
But putting all that aside for a little while, last night's performance by Bryce Petty against a fairly pedestrian Washington Redskins defense was nothing short of an excellent performance by the 25 year old. Petty found open receivers, threw some nice passes, and, most importantly, looked like a marked improvement over incumbent backup Geno Smith. We'll have to wait a few days to see what the ultimate impact of Petty's performance has on his spot on the roster, but it was a clear step in the right direction for a player with a lot of talent and little experience.
But, suppose Petty does make the roster and the Jets do keep four quarterbacks on the team for the 2016 season. What is Petty's role with the organization this season? And what's his role on this team going forward?
Right now, all we know about Petty definitively is that he's not nearly experienced enough to be the starting quarterback for this team, or any team. Coming out of the 2015 draft, Petty was similar to a lot of passers who were taken in the middle to late rounds; blessed with a lot of talent and ability, but with little familiarity calling plays in a huddle or running a pro-style offense. Petty joined a class of quarterbacks that, aside from top pick Jameis Winston, included almost no true pro-ready passers, including #2 overall pick Marcus Mariota (just two career snaps under center at Oregon), 3rd rounders Garrett Grayson and Sean Mannion, 5th rounder Brett Hundley, and 7th rounder Trevor Siemian. Petty was productive in two seasons as a starter at Baylor, showing impressive arm talent and playmaking skills, but was universally regarded as a project 24 year old who had no experience calling plays, truly breaking down defenses, or going through proper progressions. Mike Maccagnan knew this, took a fourth round flyer on Petty, gave him 45 preseason pass attempts, sat him the whole regular season, and basically gave the message that the team would be comfortable waiting at least another year before making a proper evaluation.
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So, with all that in mind, let's get back to the first question: what is Bryce Petty's role in the organization right now? Well, here's my take.
Despite last night's impressive performance, it really isn't going to change much as far the depth chart is concerned. No doubt, last night showed that Petty has probably earned a roster spot. The Jets clearly just don't know enough about Petty to accurately evaluate him right now, considering he's spent his entire professional career throwing passings against second and third team defenses in the preseason. Because of the unknowns surrounding Petty, the Jets will likely reserve him a spot on the team this year. But while some might think that the knowns about Geno Smith are what's going to lead to his eventual replacement by Petty, it's actually the knowns that are going to help him hang on to that backup job. Smith has thrown 852 more times than Petty has, logged over 5836 more yards than Petty has, and scored 27 more touchdowns than Petty has. Most importantly, Smith has 31 more games under his belt than Petty. All of these are true because Petty has yet to record a stat of any kind in the regular season. Smith has the experience. Smith is going to retain the backup job, at least this season, because the Jets aren't comfortable giving a spread-offense quarterback with just one full season holding clipboards on his resume any kind of legitimate responsibilities. It would take probably a four interception performance for Smith to lose the backup job, and on top of that, it's important to take Petty and Smith's performance with a grain of salt. Petty, despite being a third stringer himself, is playing against practice squad and bubble players for the most part. He had a nice performance in week two of the preseason last year as well if you can remember against the Atlanta Falcons, and while yesterday's performance is a positive sign, it's important to remember this is still the same quarterback who has had just about as lukewarm an offseason as you could imagine. Nothing against Petty, but even after a year in the NFL, he's probably just not ready to handle the best defenses the NFL has to offer.
Well, if he isn't ready to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick this year, what is his place going forward for next year? The answer to that question is far less certain. Petty is not expected to start this year, and probably won't even be expected to start next year if Ryan Fitzpatrick remains with the team. The pressure will really be amped up on Petty if he hasn't secured the backup position over second rounder Christian Hackenberg by the beginning of next season, but with Geno Smith's contract expired, there shouldn't be much reason why Petty can't lock down the backup job by then. In 2018, unless the team signs Fitzpatrick to a long term extension (unlikely given he'll be 35 by that point), that would mean Petty, after his fourth offseason of work at age 27 would finally have the opportunity he so desperately wants to finally compete for the starting job with the only other quarterback still under contract by that point, Christian Hackenberg, who, now 23, will sadly be the favorite to take over the job if Mike Maccagnan is still around. Long term, Petty projects nothing more as a career backup for the Jets, because Mike Maccagnan clearly invested far too much draft capital and personal credibility into Hackenberg for him not to want him to start over a 27 year old former fourth rounder. Sorry Bryce, but it would take a spectacular offseason next year or some brilliant performances as a spot starter for him to have any kind of future as a starter in New York.
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But perhaps we are reading too much into this. And perhaps it's just too early to tell for Petty, who has only played in parts of five preseason games in his career. But what is clear for now is that Petty's roster spot is at least somewhat secure, and he certainly will get another shot to takeover the backup job and run with it.
Today we're going to take a quick break from Jets talk to look at the Knicks recent trade for Derrick Rose. Hopefully it'll be a nice change of pace.
Last week the New York Knicks completed a trade with the Chicago Bulls to bring Derrick Rose and Justin Holliday along with a 2017 second round pick to the Big Apple in exchange for veterans Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez, rookie Jerian Grant. The move cleared more than $13 million in cap space for the Knicks in the summer of 2017, while Rose's $21.3 salary comes off books at the end of the year. All in all, the trade feels like a win win for both teams. The Bulls bring in a solid veteran center to likely replace Joakim Noah while adding two nice role players at guard, while the Knicks get a former MVP and All-Star in Rose who is no doubt far more talented than any guard on the team last season.
But while pundits and analysts loved the move for the Knicks, describing it as a low-risk, high reward move for Phil Jackson and co., the trade actually has all of the hall-marks of a classic New York failure.
Of course, die-hard Knicks fans will say this feels like a familiar story. The organization has routinely acquired veteran point guards with big names exiting their prime, guards like Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Steve Francis, and Stephon Marbury. Rose, while just 27 years old, has missed significant time over the past four seasons thanks to series of debilitating knee injuries. His play last season was lukewarm until March, when his play picked up significantly until the conclusion of the season.
But while the addition of Rose might not destroy the Knicks future like the Marbury or Billups trade did (Billups was a part of the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York), it's certainly one with dubious upside at best. At their crudest, there are two possible scenarios here, neither of them good for the franchise.
1. Rose doesn't play enough because of injuries or performs poorly in the games he does play. In this instance, which is supposed to be the "worst case scenario", Derrick Rose doesn't deliver as a Knicks on the floor. His play is bad or only marginally better than the trio of Galloway-Calderon-Grant, and the Knicks get no closer to playoff contention with Rose than they were without Rose. This scenario is bad because not only do the Knicks not get the improvement at point guard that they so desperately needed, but in addition, they lose a solid young guy in Jerian Grant who showed promise as a serviceable starter down the stretch last season. Rose's contract comes off the books next season, leaving the Knicks once again flush with cap space and devoid of talent. Even if Holliday is a solid contributor for this unit, and even if the Knicks hang on to the second round pick they acquired, neither are going to be big enough factors in the Knicks turn around to make the trade worthwhile.
2. Rose plays well for most of the season and the Knicks are forced to consider him as a long term option. This scenario seems like where the upside kicks in for the Knicks. Phil Jackson brings in a player who shows glimpses of his MVP self and brings solid, consistent play at the position for the majority of the season. If we are really feeling confident, the Knicks even become a fringe playoff team with Rose, and the team finally shows the ability to turn the corner with Rose solidifying a new big three of him, Carmelo Anthony, and second year forward Kristaps Porzingis. So what's wrong with this scenario? Well, let's go ahead and assume that this Knicks team, no matter how much they improve with Rose, don't win the championship like they hope, and they enter the offseason with tons of cap room and a potential franchise centerpiece in Derrick Rose. What then? Here's where the disaster lies for Phil Jackson.
If Rose plays well enough for the Knicks to consider giving him an encore, we'll have to assume Rose will be looking for a nice payday, and with the cap increasing to over $108 million in 2017, we'll have to also assume that payday is somewhere around $17-20 million per year over four years (remember, a max contract by 2017 will be somewhere around $38 million per year). Should the Knicks really be comfortable giving Rose, a massive injury risk who has yet to play ten consecutive games of over 30 minutes since 2011, an elite level contract? They'd be sinking a lot of faith and money into a relatively older player with significant knee damage. Certainly not the low-risk deal that people are talking about. And what if the Knicks actually have the foresight to avoid signing Rose to a long term extension? Well then they made this trade for basically no reason other than to clear cap space, as they traded away the only promising young talent on this team aside from Porzingis for a one year experiment that didn't bring New York a championship. And we're right back to where we started.
The fact of the matter is that this is a riskless trade for Phil Jackson, not the New York Knicks. Knicks fans have been almost unanimously unhappy with his reign as President of the organization, and this trade epitomizes that feeling. Jackson has almost nothing to lose from this trade. If it works out and the Knicks somehow magically pull out a championship or a deep playoff push, he'll add another notch to his belt as an NBA icon. And if it doesn't work out, Phil will only be in New York another year before his five year contract expires. In a worst case scenario for the franchise, Jackson could sign Rose to a long term extension and then bolt for the door the very next season, as his five year, $60 million contract expires in 2018, leaving Dolan and whoever else is left in New York's front office to deal with the ramifications. Either way, the move is high upside for Phil Jackson, and high risk for the New York Knicks.
This trade initially feels like the kind of trade that could catapult the Knicks into the playoffs. They get a former MVP on their roster for the first time in almost 40 years, and they cleared a ton of cap room in the process. But at it's core, this is the type of move that in a year will be revealed as a shortsighted and a reach, and one that we should have known was going to implode.
It's been nearly 18 months since Geno Smith made his last start for the New York Jets, yet the fourth year signal caller has once again found himself at the top of the depth chart going into summer training camps. What exactly is the potential of this offense with the WVU product at the helm?
It's an intriguing question, and one that Jets fans have often asked and likely will continue to ask until Ryan Fitzpatrick resigns with the team sometime before the season kicks off. It's certainly a question that GM Mike Maccagnan, HC Todd Bowles, and OC Chan Gailey have been thinking about since December.
Right off the bat, a couple related questions have to be answered by default. This scenario assumes that, of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't sign with the team to play in 2016, and, additionally, that 2015 fourth rounder Bryce Petty and 2016 second rounder Christian Hackenberg are both not yet ready to take snaps this season. It also assumes Maccagnan won't go out and sign a veteran passer from the fairly limited free agent pool or trade whatever assets he can muster for a backup quarterback somewhere in the league. As it stands, and as the team has continuously stated, Smith is the starter right now.
It's certainly a far different offense, both on the field and in the playbook since Smith took snaps in 2014. Obviously Chan Gailey has since installed his far more complicated and more spread oriented offense, replacing Marty Mornhinweg and his more West Coast style offense. Mentally, Smith will be challenged, as he'll have to understand a more diverse route tree and make better reads faster and more consistently than he was in Mornhinweg's system. Mornhinweg relied heavily on slants, outs, and post routes, while Gailey's offense is a lot more precision passing outside of the numbers, relying on verticality and spreading out defenders over the field. While Gailey offense is probably more complex, it's certainly closer to the Air Raid system Smith had at West Virginia, but by no means is that saying that all spread offenses are homogeneous. The word out of camp has been that Smith has grasped the offense well, and his coaches and teammates have sung his praises so far, but it's not like they would ream him out publicly if he was performing poorly.
Obviously Geno has to be excited about the talent surrounding him. You could certainly argue that not all of the offenses struggles from 2013-2014 were his fault. His starting receivers were horrendous, below replacement level most times, his offensive line ranked in the bottom five in sacks in both seasons, and he didn't have a rushing attack to complement him well (more on that in a moment). Smith's receiving trio of Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, and Chris Owusu have since been replaced by likely HoFer Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enuwa, while Decker makes a return as WR2. And, while his offensive line hasn't changed much, with the exception of Ryan Clady replacing the now retired D'Brickashaw Ferguson, it was a unit that allowed just the third fewest sacks in the league (although much of that could be credited to Fitzpatricks' excellent pocket awareness). Finally, Smith dealt with a relatively ineffective rushing duo in Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson (and Bilal Powell in 2013) that failed to produce a 1,000 rusher despite being "ground and pound" and will now be getting help from a 2-time Pro Bowler in Matt Forte, who also happens to be one of the most able pass catching runningbacks in the league.
So with all of that in mind, what should fans expect from Geno Smith?
No doubt, Geno has likely made terrific strides mentally and in his own maturity. Smith was immediately thrown into the ringer as a 21 year old second rounder coming from a spread offense in college that relied mostly on screens and Tavon Austin. Now, with three years under his belt and an entire year spent studying Chan Gailey's system, it's a strong likelihood that if he were to start, Smith would not make nearly the same stupid mistakes he made in 2014 and 2013. And, now surrounded by a strong, veteran supporting cast, Smith will have a group that will absolutely meet him halfway and then some. Brandon Marshall, if you recall from last year, spent significant time bonding with Smith during the summer when it was assumed he would be the starter. Now, that chemistry will likely pay dividends as the two hopefully try to re-create the magic from last season.
To take a small sample from last season, Geno's relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Oakland Raiders was nothing short of a very good performance. Smith completed 64% of his passes, tossed two touchdowns, and threw for two touchdowns in three and a half quarters of play, good for a 87.9 passer rating. There were moments that proved Smith was still a little immature, like when he decided to scramble and take a direct hit from David Amerson down the sideline, but he genuinley turned in an encouraging performance in what was a rout of the Jets defense by David Carr and Latavius Murray. So certainly, given the time, the likely progress, and occasional glimpses, Smith has 25+ touchdown and 3500+ total yard potential.
But it's important to consider who we're dealing with. Smith is still, at just 25 years old, a kid for the most part, who clearly is not nearly as mentally tough as a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick. Just from watching locker room interviews with him during OTAs, it was clear Smith is still a brash, ticked off player who constantly feels bothered by the New York media. In addition to being a relatively immature player, Smith is a far cry from the very cerebral, calculated play of Fitzpatrick, as Smith showed little ability in two years as the starter to accurately read defensive coverages, and in a system under Chan Gailey that stresses intelligence and awareness, Smith has historically been inept in both departments. Given everything we know about Smith from his play and attitude in the past, it could just as easily be said that it doesn't matter what offensive system he's in or what team he plays for, he's going to make mistakes over and over and over again. No doubt, a sub-one touchdown to interception ratio is possible.
So what do I think Smith puts up if he starts? My gut tells me he's a 19 touchdown, 12 interception guy who throws for 3,500 yards in a full 16 game season. Could Smith throw for 25 touchdowns or more? Yeah, sure, why not? Smith is talented, has clearly improved in some areas, and might realize this is his last shot in the NFL to prove he can be a starter. But on the same token, this is a player who has had his flaws exposed time and time again in his career, and not Chan Gailey, nor Josh McDaniels, nor Adam Gase can fix that. We can't be more then what we are in this world, and we're pretty close to confirming Smith is replacement level at best.
Beyond statistics, however, how does Geno fair against this seasons schedule? Well...
vs. Bengals - Loss here. Bengals terrific secondary is known for forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback. Fast. Can't say Smith pulls out the win here.
at Bills - Loss here. Bills defense is going to be a lot better next season with Ryan's guys in place and a full year under their belt. In Buffalo, and forget about it for Geno.
at Chiefs - Loss here. The Chiefs had a defense that wrecked havoc for offenses last year because of a stout pass rush and a savvy secondary. Geno gets outmatched in KC.
vs. Seahawks - Loss here. The Seahawks showed once they got Kam Chancellor back last year that they are just as good as ever, and the loss of Bruce Irvin won't change that.
at Steelers - Win here. The Jets defense has what it takes to hold their own, in my opinion, and Pittsburgh's secondary is far too inexperienced to stop a veteran group, even with Geno at the helm.
at Cardinals - Loss here. Bowles might rally his troops, but the Cardinals are probably the best secondary in football with Justin Bethel, Tyrann Mathieu, and Patrick Peterson.
vs. Ravens - Win here. Baltimore's offense is fairly mediocre, and we know it's secondary doesn't force many turnovers. Geno brings home a W against John Harbaugh.
at Browns - Win here. The Browns are still rebuilding and are a mostly young group that just won't be able to hang with the likes of Marshall and Decker again.
at Dolphins - Win here. The Dolphins actually have a decent defense, but I like the Jets veterans to carry the team and Geno once again. This will be a good matchup nonetheless.
vs. Rams - Win here. Not because of Geno, though, because this defense is really good, but because Jared Goff is going to struggle against such a talented defensive unit in NY.
vs. Patriots - Win here. Risky, I know, but at home, I think Geno will be hungry for a win after being robbed in 2014 by Brady and co. Really a cointoss to be honest.
vs. Colts - Win here. This is a terrible defense and pretty lukewarm team without Luck, and Todd Bowles exposed that last year and will again this year no doubt.
at 49ers - Win here. Chip Kelly's unit is way too young and far too untalented to defeat the Jets, even at home. Geno should have easy time against a pedestrian secondary.
vs. Dolphins - Win here. Dolphins are decent, but at home, in the cold in December, no way the warm weather Fins can hang. Geno gets it done here as usual.
at Patriots - Loss here. In Foxborough, facing a pretty good defense, I think Geno and company simply get overmatched by Brady and co. You never really know though.
vs. Bills - Win here. No chance the Jets go 0-4 vs Rex and co, and I think that the team finally finds a way to expose the Bills fairly one-dimensional offense by now.
Conclusion: 10-6. The Jets don't necessarily improve, and as we saw last year, I don't know if it means a playoff berth, but I think the Jets have enough talent and experience so that if they stay healthy, a double digit win season is possible with Geno under center. One can only hope however.