Another member of the quarterback class of 2009 has received a lucrative contract extension from his team. The Lions have extended Matthew Stafford's contract. It is a three year extension, but as SB Nation's Lions blog Pride of Detroit notes, when added to his current contract, it essentially gives him a five year, 76.5 million contract with $43 million guaranteed.
As you might remember, the Jets gave Mark Sanchez an extension a year ago. One of the rationalizations we heard at the time was the Jets were locking Sanchez up at a contract that would look like a discount if he had a breakout year. How relevant this discussion is now with the big culprit, Mike Tannenbaum, gone is up for debate, but the Stafford contract offers a pretty good look at the deal the Jets might have had to give a productive Sanchez and how sound this school of thought was.
Sanchez's contract amounted to a 5 year, $58.5 million deal with $20.5 million guaranteed. The first thing that jumps out is Stafford got over double the guaranteed money Sanchez received. This would be very significant under a number of circumstances, but it does not necessarily seem to be the case here. If a team is giving a quarterback a new contract, the team is usually anticipating that guy being around for the duration of that contract and making much more than the guarantees. This is not to totally diminish the amount of guaranteed money, but it is not as significant here as it might have been in another case. You also have to consider when the deal was received. If Sanchez had been productive in 2012, he would have been a safer bet going forward. The guaranteed money would not be a big issue at all.
Looking at the actual figures, Stafford's contract averages $15.3 million annually. Sanchez's averages $11.7 million. That is an annual difference of $3.6 million. There are different things that might pull the actual difference in terms of the cap in one direction or another from year to year, but this is a decent ballpark figure. The NFL's salary cap is $123 million in this coming season. That makes the difference in the annual averages is just a shade under 3% of the cap. That is if it does not go up in future seasons as many expect it to do. Savings of 3% feels like a fairly scant rationale to take a big risk, and even many of the biggest supporters of the extension at the time admitted there was some risk involved. So what we have is a gamble with low upside.
This is before we even consider how low the odds were of Sanchez having a breakout season. The history of the NFL shows that players with three seasons like Sanchez at the start of their careers usually do not drastically improve. There are some success stories, but it is crazy to bet on an outlier as the Jets essentially did. Even worse, Sanchez was on a clear downward trajectory at the time he signed the deal. He was absolutely terrible in the second half of 2011. It wasn't like he had one or two bad games. He completed under 56% of his passes, hit under 6 yards per pass, and had a quarterback rating under 73 in the final eight games of the season. If anything, the numbers fail to do justice to how bad he was. It got so bad that the Jets ran an absurdly simplistic offense for a three game stretch to try and hide Sanchez. They gave passing plays with reads so basic that it looked like a high school playbook at times. That was how much the coaching staff attempted to limit Sanchez's influence on the game. His 2012 meltdown could be seen coming from a mile away in this context. It was really just a continuation of the end of 2011. Sanchez had to both pull himself out of a tailspin and perform at a level he never had reached before to justify the contract. It's bad business to count on these things in any case. The reward if he did? 3% more cap room. Talk about high risk, low reward.
There really are only two things that could have happened here. Either the Jets had absolutely zero concept of risk against reward or Mike Tannenbaum was looking for a quick fix to open up cap space to try and save his job, knowing it would be somebody else's mess if it blew up. Either was probably worthy of the pink slip Tannenbaum received.
Again, rehashing these things does not do a whole lot now. It is simply that Stafford's contract gives us an idea of what the Jets were risking if they waited and Sanchez had a breakout season. The odds of success were low. The results of failure were devastating. We can now surmise that the bounty of success would have been minimal. Decisions like this show why Mike Tannenbaum is representing coaches in negotiations now instead of running the Jets.