The New York Jets' starting quarterback will miss the next six to 10 weeks with a broken jaw suffered after being "sucker-punched" in the locker room, coach Todd Bowles announced Tuesday in an impromptu news conference. The Jets quickly released linebacker IK Enemkpali, who was the one who punched Smith. NFL Media's Albert Breer reported the fight was over money, according to a team source.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Smith's jaw was broken in two places and Bowles confirmed Smith will undergo surgery.
"There was an altercation in the locker room," Bowles said. "It had nothing to do with football. It was something very childish. He got cold-cocked, sucker-punched, whatever you want to call it. ... You can't tolerate that. When you have a team and a bunch of side issues you can't tolerate that."
Jets fans are used to calamity happening to their team at the quarterback position, but this is a new one. Smith was one of our candidates to improve this season as a starter, largely because of how well he fits in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played for Gailey in Buffalo, will be expected take over as the Jets starter in the meantime. Rookie Bryce Petty is also on the roster. Smith sent out a message on Instagram that he'll "be back," but timeline of the injury indicates that Smith is likely to miss the start of the regular season.
Rapoport reported that Enemkpali had arranged for Geno to show up at his football camp, and it was advertised that way. Enemkpali bought him a plane ticket there for $600. Smith didn't show up for the camp and eventually told Enemkpali that Smith's brother broke his arm and ribs in a bike accident and Smith had gone to the hospital to visit him.
Smith was supposed to repay Enemkpali when camp started, and the altercation got out of hand when Smith put his hand in Enemkpali's face.
"It's something very childish that sixth-graders could have talked about," Bowles said. "If they want to tell you what happened they'll tell you what happened. I told them I wouldn't say anything."
Enemkpali was a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 and played only 40 snaps as a rookie. He was suspended from the Louisiana Tech team in 2011 following an arrest for punching an off-duty police officer. He issued a statement later Tuesday after his release.
"I apologize to the Jets organization, coaches, teammates, and fans. Geno and I let our frustration get the best of us, but i should have just walked away from the situation. I deeply regret and apologize for my actions. It was never my intention to harm anyone. I appreciate the opportunity I had with the Jets," Enemkpali wrote in a statement released by his representative.
The news continues a rough couple of weeks for the Jets. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was charged for resisting arrest and could face an extended suspension to start the year. Their second-round pick, receiver Devin Smith, suffered punctured lungs and broken ribs, putting his status for the season in doubt. Former first-round pick, cornerback Dee Milliner, is out six to eight weeks following wrist surgery.
The presence of Fitzpatrick lessens the damage to the Jets' offense. He can keep the team afloat, but it's a devastating moment for Smith. He needed the next month to learn Gailey's offense, play preseason games and get ready for a make-or-break season. Instead, he'll be recovering from an injury that is almost without precedent in NFL history, even for the Jets.