A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Life on the Geno Coaster: The most compelling "what-if?" question surrounding Geno Smith goes something like this: What if he had better receivers in his first two seasons? It's worth examining amid the Ryan Fitzpatrick mess, because there may come a point over the next few weeks when the front office will have to ask itself a variation of the same question: Can Smith raise his game if he's throwing to quality wide receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall?
Smith was a below-average quarterback in 2013 and 2014, but he was surrounded in '13 by one of the worst receiving corps in recent memory. The leading receiver was Jeremy Kerley, whose running mates included immortals such as David Nelson, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Clyde Gates, all of whom are out of the league. Things were better when Decker arrived in '14, but it still was a thin group.
It's an age-old debate: Do receivers make the quarterback or vice versa? There's no definitive answer, but it's safe to assume that Smith would be better with Decker and Marshall. How much better? Hard to say. He never got the chance last season because of the IK Enemkpali incident. The folks at ESPN Stats & Information provided this snapshot, showing how Smith performed with Decker and/or Kerley on the field compared to when they weren't:
The numbers show that Smith played at an acceptable level when at least one of the team's top two receivers was in the game. Let's remember this about Kerley: He's not a starting-caliber receiver, but he was thrust into the role on a talent-poor roster. Marshall is a lot better than Kerley, and Chan Gailey is an upgrade over Marty Mornhinweg as a coordinator. Does this mean Smith is ready for a huge leap? Clearly, the Jets have their doubts. Otherwise, they wouldn't be still trying to re-sign Fitzpatrick. Still, it's food for thought.
2. Tough crowd: The Jets conducted their annual Town Hall last Wednesday night, a fan-friendly forum in which owner Woody Johnson, coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan interacted with a crowd of about 1,000 season-ticket holders. It's a cool event that allows fans to ask questions and speak their mind. Media weren't allowed to attend, but eyewitnesses tell me the Q&A portion was dominated by the Fitzpatrick contract standoff -- pretty much like at Jets news conferences.
Apparently the crowd let its feelings be known. Smith was booed when his name was mentioned by Bowles, I'm told. Earlier in the program, there was a "We Want Fitz" chant among some fans. One thing about Jets' fans: They're not shy about expressing their opinion.
3. Another Mo-show on horizon: This is something Captain Obvious might say, but Muhammad Wilkerson isn't planning to attend the mandatory minicamp June 14-16, a source said. Wilkerson hasn't signed his franchise tender, which means he has no contract. It also means, unlike last year, he's under no obligation to attend. He wouldn't be able to practice anyway, as he's still rehabbing his surgically repaired broken leg. The next time we see Wilkerson could be late July, when the team reports to camp. That's no gimme, either.
4. Explaining Lee's contract status: Darron Lee is one of 10 first-round picks who still hasn't signed a contract. Rookie deals are slotted, so what's the hold up? For players drafted 18th or lower, there is a little wiggle room for negotiating, specifically with the amount of guaranteed money in the fourth year. Some players get a full guarantee, some don't. For instance: The Indianapolis Colts' Ryan Kelly (19th) has a full guarantee for his $1.875 million base in 2019. The Washington Redskins' Josh Doctson (22nd) has a guarantee for only $1.2 million of his $1.82 million salary.
There's no reason for panic; it's just a quirk in the system. Lee (20th) will get his eventually. In case you're wondering, he has been practicing with the team.
5. Hack update: The media have watched only two of the first six practices, but I can share a couple of thoughts on Christian Hackenberg. Right now, he looks like a typical rookie. His passes are fluttering, his footwork is robotic and he tends to miss high when he misses a receiver. In last Wednesday's practice, he sailed two consecutive 15-yard passes over the head of a tight end -- against air. That's right, there was no defense. He had a couple of nice moments later in a two-minute drill, but it wasn't a great practice.
"Right now I expect him to look sloppy because he’s seeing a whole boat load of defenses that are coming at him daily, and there’s going to be a growth period," said Bowles, adding that he expects Hackenberg to be more comfortable in training camp.
6. Petty, the sophomore: Bryce Petty, working with the second team, should look significantly better than Hackenberg at this point simply because he's had a year in the system. But that wasn't always the case last Wednesday. Petty had some hiccups, including two interceptions -- an underthrown deep ball and an off-target pass at the line of scrimmage. There's no reason to get worked up about a bad practice in June, but Bowles let it be known he will expect more from Petty over the summer.
Bowles said Petty has improved from a mental standpoint, adding, "But with the few short practice we’ve had, we still have to see more and see it in training camp."
7. Equal-opportunity competition: The battle for the spot opposite Lorenzo Mauldin at outside linebacker is wide open. We're talking Lincoln-Tunnel wide. Josh Martin, Deion Barnes, Freddie Bishop and rookie Jordan Jenkins each received some first-team work last week. Hey, this is the time of year to experiment, so why not? On the other side, Mauldin looks like a different player this year, which is what you'd expect in his second year.
8. Bad omen? Cantor Technology released the way-too-early point spreads for every game in the upcoming season, and the Jets are favored in only five. They're favored in four home games -- Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, Colts and Miami Dolphins. They're a road favorite against the Cleveland Browns.