The story dominating the news cycle right now is Jets quarterback Geno Smith getting punched by teammate linebacker IK Enemkpali who broke Smith's jaw in multiple places. The aftermath is Smith is out for 6-10 weeks and Enemkpali was cut. The whole thing wreaks of dysfunction on a team that already had a lot of bad press this offseason.
According to those familiar with this situation, the incident was due to a long standing debt Geno Smith had with Enemkpali for a $600 flight that was purchased for a charity event of which Smith backed out at the last minute.
When the reports first came out, Geno Smith said he was "sucker punched" by his now former teammate. But as details continue to come out, it has become fairly obvious this was no sucker punch. That, while there is no defense for Enemkpali's actions, Smith was not simply a victim. Smith had been provoking the attack and at the moment IK hit him, Smith had put his finger in IK's face and said something to the affect "you're not gonna do anything about it."
At some point, this became about more than money. It was the principle of the idea. It was blatant disrespect by Smith. Owing a seemingly small debt to a teammate, refusing to pay him, and then challenging said teammate in his face is pretty much the opposite of what the quarterback and leader of a team does. That goes without saying.
Speaking of hopeful franchise quarterbacks formerly drafted at the top of the second round -- Derek Carr. The Raiders essentially had Carr fall into their laps in last year's draft and with a desperate need at quarterback. The same thing happened the previous year with the Jets and Geno Smith -- who some thought would go at the top of the draft. And yet can you even fathom anything similar to the kind of situation with Geno Smith with Carr and one of his teammates? I can't. His head coach can't either.
"I just can't imagine anybody feeling that way toward Derek," said Jack Del Rio. "So, it's just a shocking thing to see from afar."
Just after Del Rio said that, following practice, we watched as proof of the supreme character of Derek Carr played out as it has daily in training camp. He is always the last guy off the field, signing autographs for whomever asks and taking pictures and shaking hands. I really can't recall a quarterback for this team that was more generous with his time than Derek. It's something to behold.
It starts with high character for Carr and builds from there. Football has been in his life since he was a young child and he was 11-years old when his older brother was drafted into the NFL. You combine that ingrained football acumen with his tremendous character and you have the ideal qualities you want in a quarterback, which in turn fosters the ideal locker room environment.
"I just never think that should happen," Carr said of the Geno Smith incident. "I never thought that would happen. Especially around here. We just try and build a great relationship with everybody to where those kinds of things don't happen. Obviously there's going to be tension sometimes on the football field and things like that. But, there's, you know, we just feel like that shouldn't happen here."
One such relationship that Carr has developed is with Michael Crabtree, who has gotten a bad reputation of being a bit of a diva in his career. The two of them get along fantastically and have become fast friends. The two even went as far as to take pictures together of Crabtree jokingly punching Carr in the face.
"Yeah, oh he's a great guy," Carr said of Crabtree. "I love just being around him. We crack jokes, making fun of each other all the time. Whether it's me trying to dunk on him, or there's a good one today, him punching me in the face. Just being funny. We're always joking around. Doing stuff like that. But, we like to have fun. That's what we like to do, man. With Crabtree, he just wants to have fun and compete, and we just like to do that."
Crabtree's reputation aside, the Raiders have put an emphasis on adding high character players to the team in recent years. It's part of the 'change in culture' from the Raiders of old who focused on finding the most physically gifted players, regardless of character. There haven't even been much in the way of camp scuffles this year, which is just odd.
It's a testament to the leadership on this team with players like Charles Woodson, Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn and the strong character of young players like Amari Cooper and Neiron Ball. And as it often does, it all begins with the quarterback. It's a big reason the Jets are a dysfunctional mess right now and the Raiders look ready to maximize the talent on their roster.