First-round snub will only help Smith

The fine print on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s invitation to elite players for a free trip to New York City strongly encourages them to stay as long as it takes to go.

Or in other words, stay until you hear your name.

In rare instances, this leads to the NFL version of the walk of shame, green room attendees not taken on Day 1 trudging back in their rumpled suits for Day 2 and another pick, or 10 picks, or round of national TV scrutiny and public humiliation.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith initially decided not to return Friday after a long Thursday of 32 up, 32 down and barely a nibble of interest, much less being invited on stage for an awkward hug, cap and jersey.

Smith flew all the way to NYC to watch Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, his buddy from long ago, called up by Buffalo in what was supposed to be his moment and he looked crushed. He watched himself be passed on in favor of junk butts and head cases, his face falling deeper and deeper. And in that moment, he had to be thinking, “What was I thinking? Why did I not hang with Barkley?”

What Smith finally said was bleep this bleep. Friday morning, he had a change of heart and decided to show up for Day 2.

As hard as Thursday had to be for Smith, and I felt badly for him as he looked gutted in screen shot after screen shot, this was exactly what needed to happen. The spots he had mentioned as being selected for — as high as No. 2 in a few mock drafts and in the mid-teens in most others — were too high. This is not about intangibles or intelligence or anything other than legitimate questions about how NFL ready Smith was right now. This is not a recommendation of the smear report on him, just proof that questions existed.

He was in danger of being overdrafted. And because this is how it goes nowadays, Geno Smith labeled legit questioners as “haters”. He tweeted about this this week.

He was wrong about Thursday. He was right about the “so called experts.” They had no idea how wary teams were of him, and really all the quarterbacks in this draft. USC’s Matt Barkley did not get a call either. We were just not privy to his personal agony because he wisely said “thanks, but no thanks.”

This is the best case for Smith, the public part notwithstanding. It really is. No longer will he be saddled with first-round expectations. Depending on who takes him, he has a chance to sit for a year and learn. He has a chance to develop whereas if he had gone to Jacksonville or Philly or even Buffalo, he’d have gone from the frying pan right into the fire.

And what happened Thursday is no indication of what kind of quarterback he is going to be.

Good QBs have fallen before and landed in big fat piles of money, with a few walking away with Lombardis and rings as well. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady spring immediately to mind.

Just this week ESPN treated us to a "30 for 30" walk down memory lane where we were reminded that none other than Dan Marino plummeted, going behind Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien and Tony Eason. It was a pre-green room era but experiencing being passed on by his hometown team in the privacy of his own place did not make it feel OK.

Things worked out all right, just as for Rodgers. He, too, spent a long night being gawked at on TV. In a classy move, Rodgers tweeted:

Who knows if Goodell had such a line planned for Geno on Thursday.

There really needs to be a mercy rule at the NFL Draft. If a player falls below a certain number, they stop cutting away to him playing on his phone in the green room. There came a point Thursday when even I felt guilty about my snarky tweets about the only person calling Geno was Manti Te’o’s girlfriend pretending to be a GM. The league certainly should spare these guys the walk of shame of coming back for Day 2.

But it will be Geno’s first step on his journey to trying to be a good NFL quarterback, and there is no shame in that.