When it comes to the New York Jets or beyond, no matter what happens in their respective careers – whether they become superstars or flame out – the names Geno Smith and IK Enemkpali will always be linked. The interesting component of the altercation over $600 between the two draft picks from the John Idzik era is that while Enemkpali’s actions were deplorable (to say the least), questions regarding Geno’s character, as well as the reactions (or lack thereof) from members of the Jets and the media alike regarding the situation leave us to wonder exactly what Geno’s role was in this altercation.
Was he really “sucker punched” per se, or was he the antagonist in an ongoing locker room drama where his actions ultimately led to a violent conclusion? Smith’s base salary exceeds $1 million, which leads me to believe that he had the funds available to pay his debt to IK. The one thing you never toy with is another man’s money. Maybe some of the Jets players realized that, and reports such as these from Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post could clue us into the dynamic of the situation:
STORY: Geno Smith nemesis IK Enemkpali speaks, says he got a lot of post-punch support from former Jets teammates. http://t.co/dPkmFmxmY6
— Bart Hubbuch (@BartHubbuch) August 15, 2015
Nobody has outwardly come to the QB’s defense, while reports swirl regarding IK’s personal support crew composed of former teammates. It makes you wonder if anyone in the organization really believed in Smith after all. Who is in Geno’s corner? Who’s willing to stand on the proverbial soapbox and make their support of Geno known?
There have been no company lines like “Geno is our leader” or “We believe in Geno” or “He’s a natural leader” that would make anyone think that there really was any support for Geno in the first place. In fact, when considering how he would handle a potential quandary at the position if current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick plays well, head coach Todd Bowles said the following, as Dan Hanzus from NFL.com reported:
"“That’s a conversation we have to have when he comes back…If anybody’s playing great, you lose your spot by injury, you lose your spot by a bunch of things, so if he’s playing great and the ship is going the right way, you don’t make a move. But we’ll see as we go.”"
Aug 4, 2014; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali (51) walks out to the field prior to the start of training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of your first string quarterback. Generally when a situation (besides a boxing/UFC/MMA fight) results in something as immature as a punch being thrown, it is a result of a race to see who can stoop to the lowest levels of human interaction first.
Enemkpali won that race, but Geno finished a close second. Who was the last quarterback to get into a fight with one of his teammates in the locker room? Quarterbacks are supposed to be stewards of leadership, accountability and overall good behavior.
A career second string linebacker does not traditionally have this type of role. That is why Geno’s actions may have bigger implications on the trajectory of his career as IK’s. As reported in the New York Post by Brian Costello, the argument over $600 blew up in the following way:
"One source described Smith as “taunting” Enemkpali over it. Enemkpali challenged Smith to say it to his face. Smith did and pointed his finger in Enemkpali’s face, which then led to Enemkpali punching Smith and breaking his jaw."
Enemkpali was immediately scooped up by none other than Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. He may actually come out of this relatively unscathed as the story dies down and he slides into his role as a second string linebacker, while Geno will have to deal with the questions in a much more public setting: as quarterback of the Jets.
This situation should leave the Jets wondering if the man they have been grooming to be their quarterback is only a quarterback, and not a leader. For years, the Jets have been longing for a leader worthy of the New York sports market. Geno has shown in flashes that he has the tools to succeed, but the intangibles that come with the position appear to be lacking.
Either the coaching staff has some serious work to do, or they may find themselves looking for a quarterback yet again.