FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – There are three games remaining in Geno Smith's apprenticeship, three games to convince the New York Jets' hierarchy he should be the guy in 2014 and beyond. The chances of that happening by Dec. 29 are remote, which is why general manager John Idzik should be paying attention to the happenings in Washington D.C. -- and we're not talking about Obamacare.
For reasons known only to Mike Shanahan, the Washington Redskins benched Robert Griffin III Wednesday in favor of Kirk Cousins. The upshot, intentional or not, is a three-game showcase for Cousins, who can create a trade market for his services by demonstrating long-term potential amid a dysfunctional situation.
Cousins should be a person of interest for the Jets, who will enter the offseason facing the same question from a year ago: Who is our starting quarterback? Mark Sanchez, still mending from shoulder surgery, almost certainly will be jettisoned in March, leaving Smith and Matt Simms on the depth chart.
The Jets can’t simply hand the job to Smith, not after 20 interceptions (and counting), so Idzik has to import competition or a bonafide starter. He can do it by drafting another quarterback or checking out the free-agent market, which will include a lot of mediocre talent and, possibly, the erratic Jay Cutler, whose big arm will cause some desperate team to wildly overpay.
Or Idzik can try for the best of both worlds, bringing in a young (and cost-efficient) veteran with upside. A player like Cousins, who still has two years left on his rookie contract.
Cousins has started only one game in two years, has just 73 pass attempts, but he’s well regarded in the scouting community. Obviously, he wouldn’t have lasted until the fourth round if he had RGIII’s skill set, but he’s a solid prospect with potential, the kind of player that should intrigue a team like the Jets.
The price for Cousins would depend on how he plays down the stretch. The Redskins are starved for draft picks, and the Jets have two third-round choices in the next draft. It probably would take more than a third-round pick to make a deal, especially if he plays reasonably well, but it’s a potential investment that deserves consideration.
Hey, maybe the Jets could throw Sanchez into the deal. The Redskins were smitten with him before the 2009 draft, wining and dining him at a tony Italian restaurant in the D.C. area.
Obviously, it’s buyer beware when considering a player with a small body of work. There have been many examples over the years of quarterbacks that flashed potential in a cameo role, drew the attention of a quarterback-needy team and flopped. The list of one-hit wonders includes Scott Mitchell, Rob Johnson and Matt Cassel.
Idzik knows this better than most because his previous team, the Seattle Seahawks, gave Matt Flynn a three-year, $26 million contract based on one impressive start for the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 2011 season. The Seahawks proposed after one date and ended up in divorce court before the honeymoon ended.
The Jets wouldn’t be looking if they had confidence in Smith, but how can they be sure? He’s tied for the league lead with 20 interceptions and he has eclipsed an 80 passer rating in only four games, including last week’s win over the Oakland Raiders.
On Wednesday, Smith described the Oakland game as a turning point for him, saying he was “just playing freely” and instinctively. Previously, he said, he was playing “like a robot.” That sounds good, makes for a headline, but it’s really just player-speak.
It's easy to be loose against a mediocre defense, but quite another challenge to play that way against the No. 2 defense in the league. This week, he faces the Carolina Panthers (9-4) on the road, and the road hasn’t been kind to him -- four touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 1-5 record.
The Panthers can make young quarterbacks play like ... well, robots.
Idzik’s ability to rectify the quarterback situation will go a long way toward defining his tenure in New York. No doubt, he will explore all options, from Teddy Bridgewater (a pipe dream) to Michael Vick. The answer could be 200 miles to the south, where a young quarterback -- a pawn in a power struggle -- gets a chance on the big stage. The Jets will be watching.