Geno Smith warms up before a game against the Carolina...

Geno Smith warms up before a game against the Carolina Panthers. (Dec. 15, 2013) Credit: Getty

Joe Namath liked what he saw from rookie Geno Smith in 2013 and was impressed by the Jets' 8-8 season. But the greatest quarterback in franchise history isn't sold on Smith as the Jets' quarterback of the future just yet. And he thinks Mark Sanchez, who missed the season with a shoulder injury, deserves a chance to start again -- if not here, then somewhere else.

"What we saw with Geno and what he went through, there were a lot of ups and downs that hopefully he can learn from and play better next year," Namath said. "I'm still one of those animals that says you have to prove you deserve to start every time. Peyton Manning did it. Drew Brees did it. Tom Brady did it. They go out there every time, so I don't think Geno is quite yet in a position to say, 'This is my job. It's guaranteed.' No, not yet.

"Give Geno some help and we'll see a different thing as well. Give him more help with the offense, receivers and more consistent play with the offensive line and he'll be better."

Namath said Smith did a nice job toward the end of the season after recovering from a slump that prompted his benching at halftime of a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins on Dec. 1, but not enough to guarantee him the starting job heading into next season. And not enough to preclude the Jets from drafting another quarterback, bringing back Sanchez to compete for the No. 1 job or both.

"[General manager John] Idzik and Mornhinweg have to decide that, and I don't know how strongly they feel in-house about Matt Simms or what they're going to do with Sanchez," Namath said. "I would be looking [in the draft], let's put it that way. I'm not 100 percent sure the answer is there [with Smith]. Watching some of those all-star [college] games and bowl games, I saw some dudes out there that looked pretty damn impressive [at quarterback].''

As for Sanchez, Namath said he still believes in him. And if the Jets can find a way to bring him back with a manageable salary-cap number -- Sanchez has a $9-million base salary and a $2-million roster bonus due in March -- Namath says it's a good idea.

Yes, he still believes Sanchez can be a quality starter. He also thinks Sanchez has gotten a raw deal with the Jets in the last two seasons. And it's not the fact that Sanchez got hurt playing with backups in the third preseason game against the Giants in August.

"Sanchez would have been starting for me last year if he didn't get hurt from what I saw in the preseason," Namath said. "I still think he can be a very good quarterback. It's a team-oriented sport, you have to have the help around you. He had a couple of rough seasons, but I still think he has the physical ability, certainly the heart and the mental approach to the game. He's going to be around for another 10, 12 years, believe me, as long as he wants to play."

Should he stay with the Jets? Sanchez has indicated he wants to be with the team. Namath said the lack of offensive weapons in 2012 made it nearly impossible for Sanchez to win.

"I'd have been out of there if I was Sanchez because of the treatment he got," Namath said. "I would have been angry, as opposed to the way Mark handled things, and I applaud him for being very understanding and all. As poorly as he played at times, he got more blame than he deserves. It's a team sport. I learned it a long time ago, and I also know quarterbacks get a lot of credit and blame. That comes with the position. I would have probably lived up to my contract, but I'd have probably been [ticked] off."

Namath likes what he sees from the Jets moving forward. He also believes Idzik has the makings of a good GM who can bring in quality players.

"Before the season, I wasn't one of those guys putting limitations on the guys," said Namath, who is now in the food business, selling his new Namath Rapid Cooker portable oven as well as Namath Steaks. "I'm a believer in the phrase, 'Argue for your limitations, and they're yours.' I like the direction they're going in. [Idzik] is a football man. That's his life. Let's see what kind of players they get in, how they handle themselves, whether they're disciplined or undisciplined, if they're self-controlled or not."

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