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Playing Jets backup QB Geno Smith in finale doesn't add up unless ...

Does Geno Smith fit on a Jets roster with three other quarterbacks? John Jones/Icon Sportswire

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Geno Smith may play on Thursday night in the final preseason game.

Break out the tea leaves, and let's start reading.

Coach Todd Bowles dropped the nugget on Monday, saying, "I haven't decided whether I want to play three or play two" quarterbacks against the Philadelphia Eagles. The three would be Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, Bowles confirmed. Presumably, it would be Petty and Hackenberg if it's only two.

It makes little sense to play Smith, the presumptive No. 2, in a meaningless game, exposing him to potential injury. Most teams use the fourth game to rest their starters and key backups, and the No. 2 quarterback is the most important backup on the team.

Unless Smith isn't the No. 2 quarterback. Maybe, just maybe, the Jets still are mulling options.

Ostensibly, the only reason to play Smith would be to showcase him for a possible trade, clearing the way for a Ryan Fitzpatrick-Petty-Hackenberg depth chart. Sure, Smith could use some work after playing only two series last week (and only 47 snaps over three games), but the reward doesn't justify the risk.

If the coaches need to see a solid outing by Smith before committing to him as the No. 2, it would indicate a rather significant slip. Remember, the organization was buzzing about Smith during Fitzpatrick's contract dispute, saying they'd be comfortable with Geno if they encountered life without Fitz.

Yeah, right. There's so much faith in Smith that they coughed up a few extra million to sign Fitzpatrick on the eve of training camp. If there were doubts then, they probably haven't disappeared because Smith hasn't looked good in the preseason.

The Jets have one of the most compelling quarterback situations in the NFL -- four quarterbacks and only three spots. It might be four spots, but no team has opened the season with four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster since 2013. If the Jets keep four, it would stun veteran talent evaluators around the league.

"You can't keep four, no way," a longtime personnel executive said. "Nobody can do that. Nobody gets any reps and atrophy sets in. You don't have enough chairs in the room. Somebody would be pissed off. It retards the development of all the backups. It's not good. The way I look at it, you want to learn from history, you don't want to make it."

The Jets say they're "willing" to keep four quarterbacks. On the surface, it seems like a ridiculous idea, but Smith is their only backup with experience and Petty hasn't shown enough in the preseason to be the No. 2. This is what you call a quarterback riddle.

Could it be Bowles was spit-balling ideas in front of reporters when he mentioned the possibility of playing Smith? Doubt it. Bowles doesn't spit ball in public. If Smith plays, it means something is brewing.