Geno Smith’s surprising slide through the NFL draft stopped in the second round.
Now, he might get a chance to be the New York Jets’ starting quarterback.
The former West Virginia star was taken with the seventh pick in the second round, 39th overall, on Friday night and could be the future, or maybe even present, replacement for Mark Sanchez.
”Once I received the call,” Smith said, ”I was extremely elated.”
Smith went from looking embarrassed and frustrated Thursday night on national TV during the first round, sitting back stage at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan as pick after pick came and went, and he remained seated and wondered where he’d end up – and when.
He originally planned to head back home Friday, but opted to stay for the second day of the draft.
”Right now, none of that matters,” Smith said during a conference call. ”My time has come now.”
It’s the second straight year the Jets have made major news at the quarterback position, and none of it has been good for Sanchez, although he agreed to a contract extension last offseason. But less than two weeks later, the Jets stunned the rest of the league, and Sanchez, by trading for Tim Tebow.
The selection of Smith by new general manager John Idzik seriously clouds the future of Sanchez, the team’s first-rounder in 2009 who led the Jets to consecutive AFC championship game appearances but has struggled mightily the past two seasons.
”What this means for Mark Sanchez is competition, and Mark is open to that,” Idzik said. ”We’ve had discussions about that, and I think he buys into the fact that that helps him and it helps any player on our team, and as a result, it helps our team.”
Smith should compete for the starting job this season with Sanchez, who is owed $8.25 million in guaranteed money this season. But Rex Ryan’s Jets currently have Sanchez, Tebow, David Garrard, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms and now Smith as quarterbacks on their roster.
”We’re actually going to add two or three more, I think,” Idzik joked.
Tebow was expected to be traded or released, but in a surprising twist could now potentially stay.
It remains to be seen whether Sanchez will remain on the roster by the beginning of the regular season, despite his hefty contract. Idzik acknowledged that he hadn’t spoken to Sanchez just before or after the Jets drafted Smith.
The one-time franchise quarterback counts $12.85 million against New York’s salary cap this year. If the Jets do decide to cut him as a June 1 designation — and that could be done at any point between now and then — they would take a salary cap hit of $12.35 million this year and $4.8 million next year.
At this point, with the new future franchise quarterback on board, owner Woody Johnson could be prepared to cut his losses now. Idzik would not say with certainty that Sanchez will be in training camp with the Jets to even compete with Smith.
”We’re not going to try to forecast anything or predetermine anything,” Idzik said. ”Just put it out on the field and let it play out.”
The Jets also drafted versatile Kent State offensive lineman Brian Winters in the third round, and acquired running back Chris Ivory from New Orleans for their fourth-round selection.
New York drafted Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner with the ninth overall pick and Missouri defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson at No. 13 — a spot they also considered taking Smith — in the first round Thursday night.
Smith’s wait didn’t take long Friday night even though a few teams that were expected to be in the mix for him — Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Arizona — went in other directions.
Former wide receiver Wayne Chrebet took the podium at Radio City to announce the pick, and Jets fans gathered there were loud, with many cheering and others booing. Smith, considered by many to be the top quarterback available in this year’s draft, wasn’t even the first player at his position taken. That was Florida State’s EJ Manuel, who went to Buffalo with the 16th overall pick on Thursday night.
As Smith sat uncomfortably through the first round, television cameras caught him frowning at times and clearly disappointed that someone who has had so much success on the field was becoming a draft-night punch-line.
”It was just a test of patience, a test of character,” Smith said. ”I wanted to make it my duty to come back today and still represent for my family and all of those that support me.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows the feeling well. He was considered a top-5 pick in 2005, but slid all the way to No. 24 as TV cameras captured many of the same looks that Smith had. Eight years later, Rodgers has a Super Bowl ring and signed a five-year contract extension through the 2019 season Friday.
”Tough situation that I was in eight years ago, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Rodgers said at Lambeau Field. ”April 24, 2005, I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I remember a great conversation I had with (former Packers linebacker) Na’il Diggs that I was reminded of yesterday. The excitement started to grow when I got to the facility when I saw some of the trophies and the names on the stadium. It’s been a great run.
”And hopefully for Geno’s situation, he’s going to have a similar opportunity and obviously he’ll have a lot of people to prove wrong.”
Smith, who owns almost all of West Virginia’s passing records, gets rid of the ball quickly, but has had some accuracy problems. He can make completions on the run and is capable of making big plays – something the Jets sorely lacked last season.
Smith threw for 11,662 yards, including back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, 98 touchdowns and only 21 interceptions in four years at West Virginia. The Miami native had dinner with new Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg before the draft, and Mornhinweg reportedly raved about Smith to Ryan and general manager John Idzik.
”I had pretty good meetings with them and when I visited, it went well,” Smith said. ”But, as you can see, nothing is really 100 percent. Right now, I’m just proud to be a Jet and I’m ready to get to work.”