New York Jets  

 

Rex Ryan's New York Jets already at a crossroads in 2013 season

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For a while, this has felt like a season of transition for the New York Jets, who have a new general manager, the same head coach, familiar mistake-prone play at the quarterback position and a penchant -- still -- for being the most talked-about team in the league for mostly the wrong reasons.

We figured the 2013 season would reach a crossroads. But who knew it would arrive in preseason, before Labor Day, before a kickoff that counts and after Saturday's bizarre postgame press conference?

A press conference. We're talking about a press conference.

By now, you've seen it: While answering questions about a quarterback competition gone awry, Rex Ryan literally turned backward then pivoted sideways to illustrate the "beauty" of freedom of speech and how it enables him to reply in any way he sees fit.

"We'll make the announcement," Ryan said of naming a starting QB, "when I think it's the appropriate time." He echoed the same sentiment when addressing the media Monday.

With the regular season closing in, "appropriate" does come with a deadline -- and now, with mitigating circumstances, as a defining moment in this quarterback derby came with 5:51 to play in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 24-21 win over the New York Giants. Big Blue defensive tackle Marvin Austin -- whose 312 pounds were unimpeded by the Jets' backup offensive line -- collided with the right shoulder of Sanchez, who writhed on the ground and appeared to be in considerable pain.

It was a curious decision, at least, to insert Sanchez -- who became more valuable as Geno Smith's subpar outing went along -- into that game at that point.

"It was very unfortunate that Mark was injured," Ryan said. "When we had a chance to put Mark in, I wanted to play Mark. It's my decision. We're going to compete and watch that (quarterback) competition."

The only announcement from the Jets on Sunday was this: Sanchez is day-to-day and will not play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. Furthermore, Ryan said Monday that Sanchez wouldn't practice all week either.

"I understand being second-guessed when an injury happens," Ryan said Saturday night, "but that's football."

For a while, the competition between Sanchez and Smith had only the predictable drama. Sanchez, a fifth-year veteran, should have won this job over a rookie, even if he can't erase the memory of his 52 turnovers over the past two seasons. Trouble is, he's been unable to shake the habit of throwing an interception at exactly the wrong time this preseason -- in the end zone, to a defensive lineman -- leaving his job status unsettled.

For all his physical gifts, Smith has struggled with a sprained ankle -- which kept him from playing in the second preseason game -- and slogged through three quarters against the Giants, lofting three interceptions and taking an inexplicable safety. The second-round pick isn't NFL-ready. Not yet, anyway.

So, at this moment, the Jets are exactly where they were in January and April and June: They don't have a starting quarterback.

Particularly after David Garrard packed his bags and left Florham Park in May, there was a danger all along in this quarterback competition, in keeping Sanchez on the roster because he is owed a guaranteed $8.25 million this season. For all of Ryan's talk about this year representing "a fresh start," retaining the coach and the quarterback does not exactly meet that standard.

John Idzik's arrival as the new general manager has signaled a new dawn for the franchise in terms of day-to-day operations. There is a serious tone -- mostly -- and messages are often guarded. For example, no details of Sanchez's injury were divulged over the weekend.

In his first year at the helm, Idzik is predictably taking the long view, cleaning up a strained salary cap and envisioning the future. It would make sense if he wanted his quarterback -- Smith, the only one on the roster selected by the new GM -- to win the job. After all, Idzik was with the Seattle Seahawks last year and had a front-row seat for Russell Wilson's magical rookie season. But after Saturday, even Idzik has to have reservations about Smith's readiness.

Ryan is coaching for his job. While Ryan has tired of turnovers, he has to know that right now Sanchez is the best quarterback on his roster. And now Sanchez is injured, thanks to a hit in the waning minutes in regulation of a preseason game that Ryan vowed he was determined to win.

By season's end, Idzik will consult with owner Woody Johnson regarding Ryan's future. In January, Johnson said: "I think Rex Ryan is perfect for the New York Jets." Later that month, Idzik inherited Ryan.

There have been strong indications that Idzik and Ryan get along well, that Ryan will have every chance to keep his job. But before the Jets even play a game, they already have waded into dangerous waters, without conviction at the position on the field that matters most.

We are reminded of a picturesque day back in June, when quarterbacks coach David Lee met the media at the Jets practice facility and summarized his most important message to Sanchez as this: "Avoid disaster plays."

That might be a mantra for the Jets organization at this point. Avoid disaster plays. It would be a start.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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