NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Joe Namath made a bold prediction Tuesday, saying he believes Geno Smith will be the Jets’ starting quarterback this season even if Ryan Fitzpatrick is re-signed.

The Hall of Famer made the comments while being honored, along with Vice President Joe Biden, at the Father of the Year Awards luncheon at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.

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“He was ahead of Fitz last year athletically,” Namath said of Smith, according to Newsday. “Geno has grown. He’s filling out stronger, and [he’s] more mature.”

In three seasons, Smith has played in 31 games, starting 29. He has passed for 5,836 yards with 27 touchdowns and 35 interceptions.

Smith lost his starting job to Fitzpatrick during training camp last season after then-teammate IK Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw in a locker room fight.

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Fitzpatrick passed for 3,905 yards and a team-record 31 touchdowns en route to leading the Jets to a 10-6 record, although the team missed the playoffs.

Now a free agent, Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a stalemate in contract talks for months. The team has reportedly offered him a three-year, $24 million deal that would pay him $12 million this season.

“We talk about Fitzpatrick not signing a contract with the Jets,” Namath said Tuesday. “Well, you got to figure as smart as he is, he just doesn’t recognize that it’s important to play with a good team. Last year was the first time he played with a good team in his career, and he excelled.

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“His contract came up this year. I really believe Fitzpatrick wanted to sign, but I believe his agent was trying to get a number that the Jets wouldn’t give. And I also believe Geno Smith is the quarterback this year.”