By Ernie Palladino
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The news out of the recently concluded NFL Combine indicated that the Jets may well have to go with Geno Smith as their offensive leader in 2015.
Note that the earth did not open up and swallow the team's Florham Park training complex. Having Smith at quarterback, while certainly not ideal, does not signal the end of Todd Bowles' world, either. Expectations for success stand at low ebb, so what's another potentially lost season while GM Mike Maccagnan waits for a real franchise guy to become available next season?
This represents a clear shift in thinking in this space, but a necessary one. With Florida State's Jameis Winston all but securing his spot as the draft's top quarterback with strong interviews and a powerful physical showing -- outside of conflicting reports of shoulder weakness -- he is almost sure to land with the Bucs at No. 1.
And Marcus Mariota can't be the immediate answer because of the type of game he plays.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay told the media Monday that he assessed Winston as the second-best best passing prospect behind Andrew Luck in the past decade. So, theoretically, no way Winston lasts until the Jets pick at No. 6. Besides, a few good interviews in Indianapolis should not eradicate totally the red flags on his personality. If Winston does fall to the Jets, which he won't, they'd have to think long and hard about taking on the shoplifting and conduct baggage.
That leaves the second-best quarterback, Mariota, a fast, strong-armed kid more suited to a read-option system than the pro-style setup Winston excelled in. New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is not a read-option guy.
Taking Mariota would necessarily force Smith into the starting lineup, anyway, as Mariota gradually learns to throw out of the pocket.
According to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, about the only place the Oregon product would immediately fit in is with the rapid-fire offense former Ducks coach Chip Kelly runs in Philadelphia. That's the source of all the rumors of a Nick Foles-to-Jets draft-day trade that would move the Eagles from No. 20 into Mariota position.
Actually pulling the trigger on that trade wouldn't be a bad thing on Maccagnan's end. He'd be getting an experienced quarterback who would seamlessly shuffle Smith into a backup role. Though coming off a shortened season, Foles could be one of those hold-the-fort types as the Jets wait for something more permanent to come along.
But here's the problem. Reports out of Philadelphia indicate Kelly became enamored with UCLA's Brett Hundley, who put up a solid 4.63 40-yard dash time. The Eagles could just stay put and reach for the projected second-rounder at No. 20. Or, should Mariota drop that far, they could simply make a decision then.
Such falls are not unheard of. Aaron Rodgers, a projected top 10 pick in 2005, plummeted all the way to No. 24 as draft-day cameras recorded Rodgers' every uncomfortable body movement during the fall.
Most likely, though, the Foles trade won't happen. It's questionable whether the Eagles would want to give up the four picks (firsts and seconds this year and next) plus Foles to jump 14 spots.
On the Jets' end, Foles is due to become an unrestricted free agent after 2015. But then, as already stated, he'd just be a placeholder until a real franchise quarterback comes along.
At this point, it is just as likely that the Jets would pass on a quarterback entirely and fill an alternative need like wide receiver. They seemed to like West Virginia's Kevin White, who blazed a 4.35 40 at Lucas Oil Stadium, good for third among a strong crop of pass catchers.
They probably won't have a shot at the draft's premier receiver, Alabama's Amari Cooper.
A lot will happen before Roger Goodell starts the draft clock April 30. Prospects will rise and fall. Opinions will vary, smokescreens will shield every team's real intentions.
This much is clear. Short of a trade for a veteran quarterback, the Jets will have to put up with Smith for at least part of 2015.
That's not the worst thing in the world. But it's not ideal, either.
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