- Smith to miss 6 to 10 weeks after having surgery to repair jaw
- Ryan Fitzpatrick to take over as Jets' starting quarterback
A locker room dispute over $600 left New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith with a broken jaw and linebacker IK Enemkpali out of a job.
Smith will have surgery and be out at least six to 10 weeks after being “sucker-punched” before Tuesday’s National Football League practice by teammate Enemkpali, who was released by rookie coach Todd Bowles.
“As an organization, as a team, we may have taken a step back,” said offensive lineman Willie Colon. “Our quarterback is sitting at home with a broken jaw, we have an outside linebacker that isn’t with us anymore. It’s a loss.”
Smith will be replaced by former Harvard University quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will probably start at least the first three to six games of the regular season. If the Jets get off to a good start under Fitzpatrick, Bowles said Smith might not get his job back when he returns.
“If he’s playing great and the ship is going the right way, you don’t make a move,” Bowles, who was hired in January after Rex Ryan was fired, said at a news conference.
The incident occurred two days before the Jets’ first preseason game at Detroit on Thursday and was precipitated by a $600 debt Enemkpali believed Smith owed him, ESPN said, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.
Enemkpali bought a plane ticket for Smith to attend his football camp in Texas last month, according to ESPN. The quarterback didn’t attend after a friend was killed in a motorcycle accident days before the camp and Enemkpali demanded to be repaid for the unused plane ticket, the network reported. The assault occurred after Enemkpali confronted Smith, who hadn’t reimbursed the money as he said he would, ESPN said.
Enemkpali, a 2014 sixth-round pick of the Jets who was set to earn a salary of $510,000 this season, was let go after the incident and apologized to the team and its fans.
“Geno and I let our frustration get the best of us, but I should have just walked away from the situation,” Enemkpali said in a statement. “I deeply regret and apologize for my actions. It was never my intention to harm anyone.”
The 6-foot-1, 261-pound Enemkpali, who played collegiately at Louisiana Tech, was arrested in April 2011 for disturbing the peace and battery of a police officer after an off-campus incident in Ruston, Louisiana.
Bowles said it was a “stupid” situation and the team will now have to suffer the consequences. Smith didn’t throw any punches and several Jets players intervened.
“This is something that sixth graders could have talked about,” Bowles said. “It had no reason to happen.”
Bowles said the consequences, for Smith, could include losing his spot as the starting quarterback.
A second-round pick in 2013, the 24-year-old Smith has an 11-18 record as a starter over the past two years. If he’s out for six weeks, he could be able to return for a Week 3 regular-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 27. Missing 10 weeks would keep Smith out until a Week 7 game against the New England Patriots on Oct. 25.
“If the other guy’s playing well and the boat’s going right, and there are no waves, and we’re 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-0, yeah, you’re not coming back to start,” Bowles said.
Jets center Nick Mangold was among the players to express anger and disappointment.
“This puts us behind the 8-ball,” Mangold told reporters following Tuesday’s practice. “I thought Geno was having a great camp coming into this. I don’t know what led up to it, but you’ve got to be smarter than that.”
Smith had no visible injuries in a photo posted to his Instagram account after the incident that included the caption “ILL BE BACK!”
Yet former Jets coach Herm Edwards, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, was among those who questioned whether the “embarrassing” incident could signal the end of Smith’s career in New York because he has yet to prove himself and won’t be able to compete for the job. Former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason said Smith hasn’t been able to gain the confidence from many in the locker room and wasn’t surprised he was slugged by a teammate.
“This situation, maybe it’s the best thing to happen to the Jets,” said Esiason, who’s now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. “Going into the season, the Jets had the 32nd-worst quarterback situation in the league. I don’t think this makes it any worse than it already was and maybe it actually makes it better now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned starter.”
Fitzpatrick, 32, has a 33-55-1 record as a starter for five different NFL teams. He started 12 games for the Houston Texans last season and from 2010-12 played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, where Jets new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was then the team’s head coach.
Fitzpatrick is followed on the depth chart by rookies Bryce Petty and Jake Heaps. Bowles said it hasn’t been decided whether the Jets, who have missed the playoffs the past four years, will add another quarterback.
“Things like this can become a cancer,” Colon said. “Whether the locker room becomes divided, it’s up to the veteran guys, like myself, and the coaching staff to let it be known that this is not how you handle situations. Coach Bowles did an honorable thing and handled it the best way he could. He let it be known, ‘Hey, if you put your hand on another man, you’re going to be out of here.”’