Mike Maccagnan steered the conversation away from the elephant in the room.
The Jets' quarterback conundrum was the last thing the first-time general manager wanted to discuss Friday. But as the NFL Draft approaches, the question of who will start at quarterback in 2015 is the biggest issue facing his revamped roster.
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In one corner is Geno Smith, their embattled starter of the past two years. For all his physical attributes and ability, Smith's biggest obstacle appears to be in his own head. Despite flashes of quality quarterback play, he is 11-18 as a starter with a .575 career completion percentage. Smith has the second-lowest QBR (35.7) since 2010 (with a minimum of 30 games). Only Tim Tebow (33.4) is worse.
In the other corner is potential and possibility. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are the undisputed headliners of this year's quarterback class and likely will get drafted first and second. But as Maccagnan pointed out, the draft is wrought with potential land mines for teams trying to predict "the risk and return" of college kids.
The Jets, who have the No. 6 pick, had been linked to Oregon quarterback Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. But in recent days, draft experts have said Mariota won't last past the Titans at No. 2, just one spot behind Winston, the consensus No. 1 pick. And if that happens, the Jets may be left with one card to play: making a case for keeping Smith as their starter.
But can he be salvaged? ESPN analyst Jon Gruden thinks so.
"Geno Smith, as polarizing as he is to most of the people that I hear talk about him, he is getting better, he is showing some progress," Gruden said on a recent conference call. "And they are adding some players around him. [Wide receiver] Brandon Marshall comes to town and can potentially give him a go-to target. I think [Jace] Amaro, the young tight end, has a chance to be a factor in the passing game. Maybe another offensive lineman, maybe another year of really spending time with Geno with a solid backup like [Ryan] Fitzpatrick will be beneficial.
"I'd be surprised if the Jets pulled the plug on Geno because I see, as painful as it is for some Jets fans, I see some progress."
But do Maccagnan and first-time coach Todd Bowles see those same signs of progress?
"I have my opinions on what our roster is but I don't want to comment, per se, on where we feel our needs are only because it's sort of a competitive advantage," Maccagnan said Friday when asked if he views the quarterback position as an area of need. "So in fairness, I don't want to get into our situation. I'm very excited about kind of seeing our team and I've been so focused on the draft, I've seen a little bit of the OTA stuff, but I don't really want to get into our needs, quite frankly, at this point in time."
While many remain skeptical that Smith can be a franchise quarterback, he spent the offseason fine-tuning his game in California with quarterback guru Tom House. On a conference call with reporters, Smith said he was "very pleased in the work that we were able to do and the progress I made."
He also sidestepped the speculation that the Jets are interested in drafting Mariota. "Well, whoever we draft is going to, obviously, be someone who's going to help out this team," Smith said.
But if Mariota is, in fact, the Jets' Day 1 target, Smith's days as a starter likely are numbered.