At some point over the next few weeks, the New York Jets will have to ponder this question: Geno Smith or Marcus Mariota? They have to be prepared, just in case Mariota falls to them with the sixth pick.
On Monday, owner Woody Johnson was asked that question as he met with reporters at the league meetings in Phoenix. His answer will surely draw attention.
"Geno is probably way ahead of him at this point, believe it or not, whether you guys [have] skepticism of that or not," Johnson said. "Certainly, [Mariota's] college career was good."
By saying Smith is "way ahead" of the Heisman Trophy winner, Johnson presumably was simply stating the obvious, noting his current quarterback has two years NFL experience and Mariota has ... well, none. What Johnson's football people must determine, if they haven't already, is whether Mariota has a higher ceiling than Smith. If so, how much higher?
Adhering to the organization's public stance on the quarterback situation, Johnson was non-committal on Smith. He was asked if Smith is the right guy.
"That’s something we’re going to look at," Johnson said, "We’ve got from now until the start of the season to address every position, not only quarterback. We’re going to have competition at every position. Hopefully, that’ll bring out the best in them -- the quarterbacks and the rest of the positions."
The lukewarm assessment was a dramatic contrast to what Johnson said last October: "I think Geno Smith can be a franchise quarterback, I really do." That, of course, was in the early stage of the 4-12 season, and a lot happened over the final three months to change opinions.
The Jets traded for veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, so it looks like it'll be Fitzpatrick versus Smith in training camp. The trade doesn't preclude them from drafting Mariota, although there's a sense they might take a pass.
They're performing due diligence on Mariota. Instead of returning to New Jersey after the league meetings, the Jets' brass will hang out in the West and head up to Oregon for Saturday's private workout with Mariota.
Johnson said he has no idea what they will do with the sixth pick, adding, "We’re in the process of going through all the candidates. ... I don’t know who it is at this point, whether it’s Mariota or anybody else."