FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Early in training camp, long before that old, familiar black cloud reappeared and settled over the New York Jets, Geno Smith was ready to show everybody. There was an ESPN.com poll that named him the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, based on the opinion of coaches and personnel executives, and he responded with matter-of-fact confidence.
"If I'm No. 32, by this time next year or the year after, I expect to be in the top 5," he said.
At this rate, Smith will be fortunate to have a starting job in a year or two, let alone a spot among the elite. For the first time since his freshman year at West Virginia, he's a backup, booted from the big chair after 24 straight starts with the Jets. He deserved to lose his job, and you could argue he should've been benched a few weeks ago. But I have a funny feeling we haven't seen the last of Geno Smith.
We'll pause here for a collective groan.
It might be out of necessity, because even if Michael Vick provides a temporary spark, history tells us he won't make it through the final eight games. Durability isn't one of his attributes, so you have to figure his 34-year-old body will betray him at some point.
If it's not an injury, it will be the careless ballhandling. As Rex Ryan noted Wednesday, and as he told Vick, the turnover-prone Jets can't afford another day like last Sunday -- four fumbles by Vick, two of which were recovered by the bad guys. You can't replace a turnover machine with a turnover machine, so there could come a point in which the Jets may have to consider the possibility of returning to the young turnover machine, if only because of his perceived upside.
If that scenario presents itself, the Jets must ask themselves this question: What's best for 2015 and beyond?
I imagine there are some at One Jets Drive who would like to see Smith rot on the bench for the rest of the year, but if the Jets truly believe a respite can help him get his head together -- as Ryan has been saying the last few days -- it makes sense to give him one last chance if Vick falters. You may think Smith is hopeless (I'm skeptical myself), but the Jets might as well see if the second incarnation is any better than the first, assuming his banged-up throwing shoulder heals.
"I don't think this is the last of me playing," Smith said.
Let's be honest: The best way to salvage something from this awful season is to salvage Smith -- or at least say you died trying. Ryan needs wins, but a 6-10 season with Vick -- a goner after the year -- doesn't mean much in the big picture. Forget about .500; none of the last 20 teams that began 1-7 made it to .500.
The Jets are the Titanic. Smith is a lifeboat, albeit one with a considerable leak.
"Let's just get through this game, and we'll address the rest of it later," Ryan said, responding to a question about whether Smith deserves another shot.
Ryan believes Smith could benefit by stepping away and watching from the sideline. Hey, it can't hurt. There are many examples of quarterbacks who benefited from time on the bench. Hall of Famer John Elway was benched as a rookie. The Jets' upcoming opponent, Alex Smith, disappointed with the San Francisco 49ers before finding his groove with the Kansas City Chiefs. There are many second-chances stories. Smith can look across the Jets' locker room to find one -- Vick, who spent two of his prime years in prison.
"Now is an opportunity for him to sit back and learn, whether it's from me or another great quarterback around the league on TV," Vick said. "There are so many people you can learn from vicariously, and that's what he has to do."
The organization is sending mixed signals. Ryan, showing a blind spot for quarterback talent, still believes Smith can develop into a winning quarterback. General manager John Idzik always has been a staunch Smith supporter, but he seemed less effusive than usual in recent interviews. On Wednesday, Smith bristled when asked if anyone in the organization has conveyed to him that he's still prominent in its plans.
"Can we talk about the Chiefs, the team we have to play?" Smith asked. "I mean, you're asking a lot of questions about things that are more personal. We don't know that. We've got to prepare for Kansas City. To sit here and talk about myself would be selfish. I understand you guys want to know a bunch of questions about where I am as a person and my mental state.
"I'm good. I've got to get better from this. I've got to learn from this, and I am. I will learn from this."
Something tells me he'll get a chance to show how much.