In the end, the punch that broke Geno Smith's jaw and sent shockwaves through the Jets' locker room and reverberated around the NFL might be the best thing to happen to the team. It's a theory that many pundits have put forth, and one that former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason agrees on.
But with an interesting and unexpected twist: In Esiason's mind, the biggest beneficiary might be Smith himself.
"Is it a blessing in disguise? The way I look at it - and not the way everybody else looks at it - yes it is," Esiason said of the punch delivered by linebacker I.K. Enempkali on Aug. 11 that forced Smith out of the lineup for up to 10 weeks.
Here's where Esiason's counterintuitive line of reason comes in. While many observers believe the Jets are better off with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter because he is much more careful with the ball than the turnover-prone Smith has shown in his first two seasons, Boomer believes there could be a scenario that emerges in which Smith can eventually re-establish himself as the starter.
Here's how it works: Fitzpatrick plays the first few weeks of the season, does not put up the kind of numbers the Jets were hoping for and then . . .
"If Fitzpatrick has any problems or they don't get off to a decent start, Geno can actually come back to be their hero," said Esiason, who appeared Tuesday at a CBS preseason media session. "He could come back in, infuse energy, throw the ball down the field, run with the ball, play with his legs."
It's a smart theory, even if it's not a very popular one, given the level of frustration Smith has created. Smith, of course, didn't deserve to be punched. No one should reasonably expect to be slugged if he doesn't settle a $600 score for an airline ticket that Enemkpali was demanding. But the quarterback deserves at least a share of the responsibility for not defusing the situation before Enemkpali snapped.
But think about it: If Fitzpatrick does struggle - and there's a reasonable expectation he will, considering he has bounced around the NFL since his best days with the Bills - then it's as good an opportunity for Smith to be in a position he hasn't previously enjoyed: the savior.
That's not to say he would automatically jump-start the offense. Smith still has to overcome a turnover problem. But that scenario does offer a more pressure-free environment that can benefit him.
"What I think he's capable of doing is going like 19-for-28, 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception," Esiason said of Fitzpatrick. "That to me is a winning quarterback for the Jets, because of what you'd like to think their defense is going to be."
But . . .
"If Fitzpatrick goes out there and throw a couple interceptions, there are no big plays coming and guys like Brandon Marshall are frustrated, people are going to be clamoring for Geno to come back in there and throw the ball down the field," he said. "While I get what everybody is saying that the Jets are better off because Geno got punched, it relieves some of the pressure on him early on. So if they get off to a bad start offensively, he can come in, reclaim his job and now he can re-establish himself."
It makes complete sense if that's how the early-season situation plays out.
So Smith, who has returned to the team to attend meetings and practice, and do some light exercise, needs to be prepared to get his next opportunity. In this league, unless you are a franchise quarterback with the complete backing and trust of your organization, you are interchangeable based on performance. Which is why the chances are good that Smith's second chance will come sooner rather than later.
That's the football side of it, and Esiason is convinced Smith will have the opportunity to play again. Now for the more complicated part - the part about acting more like the quarterback you're supposed to be. For that, there is a long, long way to go.
Boomer knows. He's been there. He's done the right thing. And Smith should pay attention to what the one-time NFL MVP has to say.
"The leadership part, the managing the locker room, understanding what your role is above and beyond throwing the ball down the field," Esiason said. "The way you carry yourself, the way you treat your teammates, the expectations you have not only for yourself, but how you prepare yourself and bring yourself to the field of play. The other guys are looking at you, and they know what you're doing."
Compare that to Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, the second overall pick of this year's draft, who is already winning over Tennessee's locker room.
"I already see an acceptance and a respect that is given to that kid from all that's being said about him," Esiason said of Mariota. "Geno is in his third year and gets punched in the face by a teammate. That's ridiculous. Marcus has been down there for, what, six weeks? And he's already got the entire fan base and team and coaching staff all excited about his initial growth. Geno took a major step back two weeks ago."
Did he deserve it?
"Nobody likes blaming the victim, but in this case, from a man who's walked a mile in those shoes, I know exactly what happened," Esiason said. "Bottom line is you as a quarterback have to be good to your teammates. It's just a part of it. Whether it be going down to South Carolina for a football camp in the middle of summer for one of my teammates, or for the fifth defensive back or the third offensive tackle, you've got to do it."
Smith was unable to attend Enemkpali's football camp because of a death in the family, leaving the linebacker with a $600 plane ticket. What should Smith have done?
"You have to pay him back," Esiason said. "Just take care of the guys. I always did a lot of those things, golf tournaments, fundraisers, camps, whatever it was. I always said to myself, 'In Week 10, I'm going to throw three interceptions, and there are going to be a lot of people in this locker room who are going to be really pissed off at me, except those guys that I supported in the offseason, going to their home town, playing in their golf tournaments, showing up at a high school that they are being honored at.' Whatever it is, you just have to do it. I think some kids don't get that."
Smith is one of them, although there's still time for a second chance.
"I think there could be an opportunity for him," Esiason said. "Hopefully he'll take advantage of it."