QB and Mr. T

Mike Tannenbaum has taken alot of heat here at GGN for the way he has built this team. In particular, the decision in 2009 to trade up from the #17 slot to the #5 slot to take Mark Sanchez has been criticized. In a vacuum, this criticism makes plenty of sense. Mark has not played at a level befitting a #5 overall draft pick. For long stretches, he has barely played at a level befitting a starting NFL QB. However, Mr. T and other GMs around the league do not have the luxury of operating in a vacuum, nor of operating with 20/20 hindsight. So, the question I want to explore is, under the circumstances presented at the time, and considering our other options over the last 4 years, was the drafting of Mark in 2009 really a terrible decision?

Before delving into that question, some parameters of this analysis. First, this is NOT intended to be a critique of all things Tanny. The broader discussion of Mr. T's general performance as a GM is something others have taken on at great length. I hope to add my 2 cents at some point in a later post, but this is NOT that post. This post is limited to one decision - the decision to draft Mark Sanchez. Second, my own prejudices. Many analysts put a great deal of stock in analyzing who could have been taken instead of who we actually picked, based on hindsight evaluations of who was left on the board at the time. While I will do a little of that type of analysis here, in fact I put almost zero value in it in general. I believe that is cherrypicking based on 20/20 hindsight. You inevitably focus on the 2 or 3 names who happened to hit it big after the fact, while completely ignoring the 20 or 30 other guys who rival GMs valued highly yet never amounted to much.

So, on to the question at hand. Was trading up for the #5 pick and taking Mark Sanchez a mistake, given the situation the Jets faced at the time? To begin to answer that question, let's start with a review of the actual situation we faced. 2009 brought with it the winds of change in Jet land. Out went Eric Mangini, banished to the Browns. In came Rex I-Didn't-Come-Here-To-Kiss-Belichick's-Rings Ryan. Out went Brett Favre, lost to his 1,329th 3rd retirement, which conveniently ended a few months later when the Vikings came calling. That left us with the All Star cast of Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff at QB. I don't think it is a stretch to say we could get by without a new QB the way we can get by without food. Sure, for a few days, no big deal; but give it a month, and you are on your deathbed.

At this point a quick aside is justified on why we found ourselves in this position. Legitimate criticism can be leveled at Mr. T for ever going after Favre in the first place. After all, we knew he would not be here more than a year or two, and for that we banished Pennington, who led the Fins to a division title in 2008. It's a fair point, but I do not believe we made the wrong decision with Favre. Having suffered through 40 years at that point w/o sniffing a Super Bowl, I believed then, as I do now, that ANY time you think you are 1 player away from being legit Super Bowl contenders, you roll the dice and take your shot, future ramifications be damned. It is SOOO difficult to get there, and there is no way to know what the future may hold, so if you think you've got a shot, you take it, no regrets. Whether we stuck with Chad for one more year or rolled the dice with Favre, given Chad's injury history either way it was likely a short term deal. So the real question then was, who gave us the better shot to win it all, a 3 time MVP and a SB champion with a rocket arm coming off a 13-3 year, or noodle armed Chad who never seemed to be able to get past 10-6 and an early playoff exit? To me the answer was obvious - go for all the marbles, take your best shot, sign Favre. And though we might forget it now, for 11 glorious weeks it looked like the correct decision. At the end of Week 11 we stood atop the AFC, having just beaten NE, our hated rivals, and Tennessee, a team that finished 13-3 and at the time looked like the best team in the AFC, both wins coming on the road. At that moment in time, it looked like the NY Jets were headed to the Super Bowl. Then disaster struck. Unbeknownst to anyone, Favre hurts his arm, and we go into a death spiral, losing 4 of our last 5. But that was the luck of the draw. Until his injury, the Favre decision looked like the right decision, and we looked like legit Super Bowl contenders. I'll take that any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Now, back to Sanchez. 2009 found us in dire straits at the QB position. We had 3 options. We could sign a stopgap type veteran QB, a hold the fort guy, say somebody like David Garrard. We could trade for somebody's backup QB. Or we could try to find our QB for the next 10 years via the draft. In retrospect, finding a stopgap veteran might have been enough to get us to the Super Bowl in 2009, when our Defense was unbelievably dominant, but was anyone thinking that at the time? I doubt even Rex thought we'd contend in Year 1 of his regime. So that leaves us with trading for somebody else's backup, a strategy which, with the exception of Schaub, never seems to work, or trying to find our QB in the draft. Again, for me, the answer was obvious. If you find somebody in the draft you like, go get him.

Now let's look at our options in 2009. Here are the QBs drafted, with their draft rounds:

Matthew Stafford, Rd 1, pick 1

Mark Sanchez, Rd 1, pick 5

Josh Freeman, Rd 1. pick 17

Pat White, Rd 2

Stephen McGee, Rd 4

Rhett Bomar, Rd 5

Nate Davis, Rd 5

Tom Brandstater, Rd 6

Mike Teel, Rd 6

Keith Null, Rd 6

Curtis Painter, Rd 6

As you can see, after Round 1, the QB class was atrocious. We had the #17 pick that year. To try and trade up for Stafford would have taken a minimum of 3 #1s and a #3, according to the NFL draft value chart. We didn't have those assets, so unless we were willing to trade away our #1 pick for the next 4 years (picks decline in value the farther out in time they go, so we would need more than 3 1s and a 3 with future picks), Stafford was out of reach. We could have sat tight and picked Freeman, but there was no way to know he would last through pick 17, and is anyone really upset we got Sanchez instead of Freeman? We traded away our #17and #52 picks, along with Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff and Abram Elam to get the #5 pick. Does anyone really miss any of those players? The lone place where we could second guess Tanny here is in trading away that #2. The pick ended up being used on LB David Veikune, a nonentity, so no big loss there. However, the very next pick was LeSean McCoy, who most would agree we could use, bigtime. Here, however, is where we run into the problem with the coulda woulda shoulda argument. Yes, we could have had Josh Freeman and Lesean McCoy. But it is also true that we had no way whatsoever to know those players would be available in those slots. Nor could we be sure what they would become. The 10 players picked immediately prior to McCoy (and thus viewed as better picks than McCoy by multiple NFL GMs) were as follows:

Everett Brown

Pat White

Clint Sintim

Connor Barwin

Michael Mitchell

Darcel McBath

Max Unger

Mohamed Massaquoi

Andy Levitre

David Veikune

This illustrates the cherry picking nature of the look-who-we-could-have-gotten criticisms. All ten GMs picking immediately prior to #53 in 2009 could've had McCoy, and instead picked those guys. NE had 3 picks in the 2nd round prior to #53 and chose Patrick Chung, Ron Brace and Darius Butler. So yes, in perfect hindsight we could have stood pat and wound up with McCoy. We could also have wound up with a dozen other duds that other GMs liked in the same neighborhood and picked ahead of McCoy. Such is the hit and miss quality of the NFL draft.

So, as far as 2009 is concerned, trading up for Sanchez does not look like such a bad decision, given our situation and our options at the time. Ah, you say, but what about a different strategy? What about standing pat for 2009 and rolling with Clemens, then finding our franchise QB in a later draft? Well, let's look at that strategy. Let's say we roll with Clemens for 2009. As bad as Clemens is, he would not have been much worse than Sanchez in 2009. Sanchez literally cost us at least 4 or 5 games that year with unspeakably bad QB play. Clemens might not have pulled out some of the games Sanchez did at the last minute, but he likely also would not have come up with many of the 3, 4 and 5 turnover games which doomed us in other games. All in all, call it a wash. Say we finish 9-7 and something like the 20th pick. Who could we have picked up in the 2010 draft? Here is a list of the QBs taken in 2010, with their draft rounds:

Sam Bradford, Rd 1, pick 1

Tim Tebow, rd 1, pick 25

Jimmy Clausen, Rd 2

Colt McCoy, Rd 3

Mike Kafka, Rd 4

John Skelton, Rd 5

Jonathan Crompton, Rd 5

Rusty Smith, Rd 6

Dan LeFevour, Rd 6

Tony Pike, Rd 6

Levi Brown, Rd 7

Sean Canfield, Rd 7

Zac Robinson, Rd 7

Again, outside of Bradford, who we would have had no shot at in any event, an atrocious cast of characters. No other QB is even starting in the NFL. If you're a Tebowite you're saying we should have waited and picked him; otherwise, the Sanchez decision is starting to look pretty good.

Well, we could have waited yet ANOTHER year, you say. First, realistically how likely is it we would have waited until 2011 to make our move at QB? Fans would've been screaming for Tanny's hide to be tanned if we did, and rightly so. But let's look at it anyway. Here's the 2011 QB draft class:

Cam Newton, Rd 1, pick 1

Jake Locker, Rd 1, pick 8

Christian Ponder, Rd 1, pick 12

Andy Dalton, Rd 2

Colin Kaepernick Rd 2

Ryan Mallett Rd 3

T. J. Yates, Rd 5

Nathan Enderle Rd 5

Tyrod Taylor Rd 6

Greg McElroy Rd 7

Finally we come to a QB draft class with some quality and depth. But remember, in 2010 we were loaded. It's unlikely we would have been drafting any better than 15th or so. That puts Newton, Locker and Ponder out of reach. We're left with only Dalton as a realistic possibility who most would agree would have been a better choice than Sanchez. But waiting for 3 years before pulling the trigger would have required not only impossible foresight as to the prospects for the 2011 draft class, but also superhuman patience as draft after draft goes by and we fail to make a move.

All in all, looking back at the situation we faced in 2009 and our realistic options, I do not think moving up to take Sanchez was a mistake, nor do I hold it against Tanny today. Given what was possible to know at the time, Tanny took his best shot at obtaining a franchise QB. He made a bold move which cost us relatively little to move up to #5. He filled a giant gaping hole at QB which, had he waited to fill it or filled it with a journeyman for 2 years, GGN would have risen up as one, howling for Tanny's hide. It has not worked out as well as hoped, but Tanny took his shot at the bras ring. He swung for the fences. It's the only way to go in my book. And given the relatively unappealing alternatives available to him, it was the right move. No regrets. Now it's time to evaluate over the rest of the year whether 2013 should bring another move along the same lines.

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