This was during the last week of the 2014 season. Geno Smith was standing at his locker a few days before the finale of a 4-12 season.
“The perception of me is definitely not accurate,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the reason is, but a lot of things get misunderstood, and then once it’s out there, it’s out there, and you can’t get it back. I’m not going to fight those battles.”
Smith did not know his image problems only would get worse eight months later when IK Enemkpali punched him in the summer of 2015, breaking his jaw and forever changing Smith’s future and that of the Jets.
The punch basically ended Smith’s run with the Jets. Yes, he still was around for two more seasons and played in three more games, but nothing ever was the same for Smith with the Jets. Fitzmagic was born for better (in 2015) or worse (in 2016), and Smith started just one more game for the Jets.
Now, he gets a chance to push the reset button. He agreed to a deal with the Giants on Friday that will become official once he passes a physical this weekend and signs the contract Monday.
It feels like the perfect situation for Smith to get his career back on track and work on changing that perception of him. Smith, who is coming off of ACL surgery, can spend this year rehabbing his knee with no pressure to play. Eli Manning is an iron man who never comes off the field. If Smith is playing, something has gone terribly wrong for the Giants.
But Smith can sit in a meeting room with Manning, learning not just Xs and Os but how Manning conducts himself. One of the biggest problems Smith has when it comes to the perception of him was how he dealt with the media, which shaped that image. Smith could be short and defensive with reporters, which never is a good idea.
That is not to say Smith does not bear some of the blame for those image problems. Smith made some bad decisions with the Jets that are well documented. He had maturity issues and was under a very bright spotlight — not a good combination. But Smith is not a bad guy, just someone who made some bad decisions. He showed maturity in 2015 when Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced him after the broken jaw. Smith did not complain about losing his job to injury because the team was winning. He also handled last offseason well, when he was the starter until Fitzpatrick signed on the eve of training camp.
Smith gives the Giants a capable backup should something happen to Manning. The frustrating part for Jets fans is Smith leaves as an unanswered question. The 2013 second-round pick showed flashes of brilliance — an upset on that Monday night in Atlanta and a perfect passer rating in his last full game as Jets starter in 2014 in Miami. Smith was the starter on two bad Jets teams with little talent around him. It would have been nice to see him get extended time with the combination of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker at wide receiver in Chan Gailey’s offense.
Smith won’t get the chance in green-and-white to show if he has grown as a quarterback since 2014. Will that chance come in blue-and-red? We’ll see.
This feels like a perfect second chance for Smith. East Rutherford is only 31 miles away from Florham Park, but it is a much different place. The Giants have more stability than the Jets do, and the change should be a good one for Smith.