Less than a week after the New York Jets picked Geno Smith in the second round of the NFL draft, the quarterback is still under great scrutiny in league circles.
Reports surfaced Tuesday that Smith fired agents Jeff Nalley and Eric Burkhardt of Select Sports Group. While Smith has publicly denied that it had anything to do with his falling out of the draft's first round last week, there are indications to the contrary.
On April 23, Smith, his agents, some family members and several friends gathered for dinner in New York in advance of the draft, a gathering confirmed by a family member. At one point, everyone around the table stood to give a toast to celebrate the evening.
Smith went last, thanking everyone and declaring that entire group – his agents included – were a "family" that would stay together his entire career, if not the rest of his life, the sources said. Smith, who at one point was expecting to be the No. 1 overall pick and at least a top 10 selection, has big plans for his career. Smith, according to the sources, hopes to emulate players such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, putting himself cut above the rest of the quarterback fray.
The problem is that NFL types see a guy who, right now, doesn't understand how to get there.
"His biggest problem is that he doesn't know what he doesn't know," said a league executive, who spent extensive time assessing Smith before the draft. "I'm not sure he knows how to take instruction because he pretty much wouldn't listen or talk to our coaches … he's talented. He can sling it, he can fit it into tight spots, he can do a lot of things and I think he wants to be good. But you can't tell him anything right now. He's tuned out because he thinks he's got it all down."
When Smith was asked on a radio show Tuesday about firing his agents, he claimed the decision wasn't based on when he was drafted. When pressed, however, he didn't give a reason.
"I don't want to shed too much light on it," Smith told SiriusXM NFL Radio. "The thing that I can tell you is that it's not because of the whole draft experience. It's not because of one particular incident. There's a number of things. And that story, you know, that battle will be fought on a different day. As of right now I don't feel too comfortable talking about all the details of it."
Smith did not respond to Yahoo! Sports' attempt to get a comment on the situation.
As for Select Sports, the firm issued a statement defending its work and wishing Smith well.
"We worked tirelessly for Geno Smith and all of our draft prospects," the firm said in its statement. "The NFL draft is unpredictable, and we prepared Geno and all of our draft prospects, as we do every year, about what can happen during the draft.
"Not only did we tell him that what transpired on the first day of the draft was possible, the question of whether Geno would be a first- or second-round pick was arguably the most talked about subject in the three months leading up to the draft. We wish Geno the best."
One possible factor in Smith dropping to the second round is a concern about leadership.
"He doesn't have much presence, not much of a leader," said another league executive, who spent a great deal of time studying Smith before the draft. "I don't think he's a bad person, but that's not enough to be a quarterback in this league."
Two sources indicated that when Smith went on some visits to teams, rather than interact with coaches and front-office people, he would spend much of his time on his cell phone. Instead of being engaged with team officials, he would be texting friends or reading Twitter or a number of other distracting activities.
"All these other players who were in there were talking to the coaches, trying to get to know people and he was over there by himself," one of the sources said. "That's not what you want out of your quarterback."
Both sources indicated that Florida State's E.J. Manuel, who was selected ahead of Smith at No. 16 overall by Buffalo, was far more impressive in terms of his personality and maturity.
"Manuel gets it, he gets the whole big picture of what it takes to lead a team," one of the league executives said.
Smith opened himself up to criticism when he told ESPN last Thursday that he wasn't sticking around for Friday's second round after getting bypassed in the first. Smith then changed his mind, saying Friday that he returned after his "supporters" convinced him to stay.
By Sunday, Smith was being convinced by other friends that it was the fault of his agents that he slipped so much in the draft, according to one of the sources.
"Right now, he's blaming everybody but himself and he has some buddies around him who are telling him that same thing," the source said.
Two of the sources said how Smith reacts to things could be a major factor for him as he tries to take over for Mark Sanchez in New York. The Jets clearly want to move on after four years with Sanchez, including a league-leading 52 turnovers over the past two seasons.
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