Geno Smith walked through the door for his Giants visit with an eye on his surroundings and with all eyes on him. This was different. This was a New York, New York, spin he never expected.
When he was drafted in the second round in 2013 by the Jets, the Giants’ ominous shadow was there. Both teams have long rivaled for local affection and respect, with the Giants snatching more of both. Smith hoped to be the Jets’ new franchise quarterback to tilt that. Consider it was the Giants who knocked out Mark Sanchez in Smith’s rookie preseason. Consider how that helped force Smith into starting as a rookie quarterback and onto his turbulent four-season track with the Jets.
Now here was Smith in the Giants’ building seeking refuge.
He told them he felt a big difference in the atmosphere — he described it as "night and day." He told them that he was getting a uniform message, hearing everyone speaking the same language, receiving the same direction, and that he was not used to that. He told them he could instantly tell that this was a place where the players came first.
They told him that they were impressed with his humility. They told him that they had studied his video and could see his potential. They told him he was wanted there.
And soon, one New York team’s "trash" became the other New York team’s "treasure."
“We met a different man”
A colorful history exists of Jets and Giants players who have made the New York twist, including Don Maynard, Pepper Johnson, Jumbo Elliott, and Plaxico Burress. It is a captivating tango, ogling the team that you share this prominent city and even a stadium with, switching to green or blue.
Few saw this coming, this Geno Smith New York shuffle. Once the Jets booted him, there was little prudence he would land so near.
Smith did his part in torching his Jets stay, displaying immaturity and a lack of on-field production the Jets sought. The Jets are more to blame, creating a dysfunctional environment and failing to keenly groom this quarterback.
"Geno Smith was developed how?" Super Bowl XXXVI winning coach Jon Gruden asked.
One of Smith’s former Jets teammates offered: "It was tough for him here and he caught a lot of tough breaks. There was no way he should have been judged so harshly for being tossed in as a rookie quarterback without a lot of weapons around him. And you could say that about those first two years, the only two years he got to be the full-time starter."
Once the Jets receiving group improved with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in 2015, Smith was punched in the jaw by a teammate and missed the chance to play with those talented receivers. No matter how much people want to fault Smith for getting punched in the locker room, that is an indicator of a lack of leadership and a faulty environment cultivated from top down. Smith tore his ACL when he finally got a chance to start in Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens last season. In his last two seasons, he played in three games and started one.
That is hardly a body of work to make the declaration that Smith is a bust. In fact, his 30 career starts and 12-18 career record — considering the Jets’ talent and pitiful leadership and tutoring around him — are actually an achievement. This quarterback has been vilified in many New York circles in a personal, nasty, and disrespectful way inside and outside of the Jets. Some call it the "pile on" character of New York. I call it an unethical, illogical, overboard spew of unwarranted venom.
"I’m telling you, we met a different man than what the stories say about him," one Giants coach said. "He was different than we expected. He was very humble. He took responsibility for his mistakes. I don’t think it was just that all that has happened to him was a matter of him now reaching a different level and mindset. It looks to me he is coming out on the other side of some serious torture."
Giants coach Ben McAdoo clicked Smith’s video back and forth and saw upside. McAdoo believes he can get more out of Smith. And this excites him about Smith — he is mobile and can run parts of the offense that Eli Manning cannot. There is an edge game, a movement game in the Giants’ offense that Smith can perform. Besides the strong arm, the size (6’3, 210 pounds), and the youth (age 26), this element of flexibility intrigues McAdoo.
The Giants are clear that Smith will compete for the backup role to Manning. That Smith is in the fold but not even assured a roster spot. He must earn it. Manning has started 211 consecutive games. Smith says he knows he enters as a backup. He says he will be an attentive pupil. He says he will follow Manning’s guidance.
The Giants conduct their own analysis. Their own homework. They were not swayed by the chatter that Smith is a bust who simply blew it. They see hunger. They see a promising attitude. They see un-nurtured talent.
I find it refreshing that Smith did not bolt across the country to discover a fresh start. That he did not scurry from the torment of New York to find blue skies.
He knows — both can be closer than you think.