The inspiring story of Alex Smith won’t continue in Washington. Should its next chapters be written with the New York Jets?
The roller-coaster story of Alex Smith has written its final burgundy chapter.
Per Ian Rapoport and Kim Jones of NFL Network, Smith will be released by the Washington Football Team and become a free agent. The former top overall pick returned to the NFL this season after suffering a devastating leg injury in 2018 and played a role in guiding Washington to the NFC East division title, though another injury prevented him from partaking in their subsequent playoff game against Tampa Bay. Per Rapoport, Smith, set to turn 37 in May, has no plans to retire.
It’s likely Smith won’t have much trouble finding a new destination. His release unto the market comes at a time where many teams are at a crossroads in their quarterback situation, both in the starter and reliable backup roles.
Should the New York Jets be in the running? ESM makes a case for, and against, the concept…
For: He’s a reliable, veteran backup
No matter what sort of legacy Smith leaves behind…and it’s going to be one that’s talked about for a long time…one can never deny his resiliency, strength, and competitiveness. Even before the harrowing injury, the NFL had thrown a lot at Smith. His early days in San Francisco were trapped in a perpetual rebuild and a revolving door of coaches. A teammate’s knee served as a roadblock to the Super Bowl before a concussion saw him lose his franchise quarterback job to Colin Kaepernick the following season. It felt like he found a place to flourish in Kansas City, but the same situation befell him: despite playing an effective, yet relatively boring, brand of football, he was supplanted by an electrifying youngster, Patrick Mahomes in this latter case. At the end of the day, however, Smith has built a length NFL career through resilience and perseverance, finding ways to make the game work for him.
Simply put, there might never be a better mentor in NFL history.
Whether it’s Sam Darnold, Deshaun Watson, or a rookie-to-be, the Jets’ quarterback can benefit from having the mind of Smith mentoring their young franchise man. Additionally, backup quarterback has been one of the most underrated positions in all of professional sports. The Jets had the right idea with the role last season, as Joe Flacco was relatively effective in four starts for Darnold. But the Jets have not won a game with a backup starting since Bryce Petty home an overtime decision in December 2016 against San Francisco. Even if Smith posted some subpar numbers while shaking the rust off in Washington last season (his 78.5 passer rating was his worst in over a decade), there would be far worse options in case of an emergency.
Against: Is this the end?
No matter what role Smith’s team wants him to fill, there will be lingering questions of not only his effectiveness at 37, but how durable he will be in that role. Judging a player for injuries is a concept that deserves a deeper conversation, but it’s an unfortunate reality in today’s NFL. It’s ultimately Smith’s decision to make…and there is every indication that he wants to continue his NFL career…but the bad medical luck he’s had over the past few seasons may be something teams would like to avoid.
One look at Smith’s contract history may cause potential suitors to wonder whether he’s worth the risk. He’s coming off a four-year, $94 million deal with Washington, and while the Jets have the fund through their much-discussed cap situation, but they’re a team with many, many holes to fill. They’re not in a position to splurge on a quarterback that likely has retirement on his scope.
For: Perhaps a stopgap?
Back in December, we investigated whether a stopgap quarterback would be a good idea for the Jets. The concept has become increasingly popular over recent years. Smith became such an option in Washington once it became clear the Dwayne Haskins experiment wasn’t going to pan out. Elsewhere, the Colts had Phillip Rivers take over for a single season and it led to a playoff berth in the third year of the post-Andrew Luck era.
There are no indications that they’re going that route, but it’s something that could at least be discussed. For the record, it’s completely understandable and makes complete sense that the Jets would find their man for the present and future on their roster. If they temporarily fill in the gap for Smith, they can spend this season taking care of their other needs. Under such a system, a, say, revamped offensive line In the off-chance they were willing to go that route, Smith would be a strong candidate to roll with.
Against: Is he too accomplished?
The Jets are in a position where they’re trying to make their own comeback, one where they would probably prefer to start fresh, roll with younger, maybe even homegrown, talent. Adding a 37-year-old quarterback to the mix in a major role seems like the wrong way to steer a rebuild project, especially one planted with so much youth.
Additionally, the Jets don’t do so well when it comes to guys who have done famous things in another jersey. For this process to work, namely that of the maturation and grooming of a potential new franchise quarterback, they need to have as little distraction as possible. Bringing in one of the NFL’s most-talked-about stories wouldn’t benefit either party in that regard.
If the Jets were looking to go the stopgap option, Smith would, again, probably be among the best option. But there’s no indication that they’re willing to enter the single-year quarterback process, and will instead try to find their long-term man. Perhaps if they were the proverbial “one move away” from contending for a championship, but 2020 proved that they’re many transactions away from merely contending for one of the wild card slots, even with extra real estate.
The Jets are already in a position where, for better or worse, every move they make is viewed with an extra layer of notoriety. Through no fault of Smith’s his prescience in green would be a distraction. Between that and a potentially inflated price tag, the Jets would probably be better off looking elsewhere for their backup quarterback.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags