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Mark Sanchez: Stay or Go?

Nick Laham

I pretty much knew Mark Sanchez was not going to have a breakout year the first day of training camp. Driving home from work, I listened to an interview on ESPN Radio. Sanchez was asked what he focused on improving most during the offseason. Given the terrible way he ended 2011, the options seemed limitless. It could be film study. It could be mechanics. There were so many parts of his game broken that he needed work on. He replied that he bulked up over the offseason. The fact he felt the thing he needed to work most on had nothing to do with reading a defense or throwing an accurate ball showed he really did not understand what the problems were or how to fix them. .

That proved to be the case in 2012. He started the season out with a monster game against the Bills. He was seldom competent after that game. Even the games where he played "well" against the Colts and Rams were pretty pedestrian performances.

To succeed as an NFL quarterback, you need to be able to make all of the throws. You need to be big enough and strong enough. You cannot be a good quarterback without the physical tools. Having the physical tools does not make one a good quarterback any more than having a law degree makes one a good lawyer. You could turn into one, but there are no guarantees.

In Sanchez's defense, the Jets created an environment where pretty much any young quarterback would fail. He was given terrible coaching, a revolving door receiving corps, and an offensive line that got worse at time went along. The problem is Sanchez showed plenty that suggests he would not have been very good even had he been groomed ideally.

There were stretches early in his career where the play calling was good and he had the best offensive line in the league, the best run game in the league, the best defense in the league, and one of the deepest receiving corps in the league. He still was not that great. Even when he was "good" in 2010, his numbers really were bottom tier. What people tied themselves to were moments where he showed flashes of greatness. The hope was that he would be able to show them more consistently. In truth, with adequate quarterback play, the Jets are 12-4 in 2009 and 14-2 in 2010. I can name you three games in both seasons where Sanchez single-handedly lost the game. As the talent has depleted, he has been asked to do more and not been up to the task.

As much as you can blame his circumstances, you can't blame the coaching or the supporting cast when four years into his career Sanchez looks baffled by basic coverages, cannot make adjustments at the line, struggles to hit two-thirds of his passes behind the line of scrimmage, leaves the ball exposed, stares down receivers, and runs into his right guard's rear end. The coaching might be the reason he was the worst quarterback in the league this year, but Sanchez himself is the reason he is not a franchise quarterback. When the Jets drafted Mark, he was a difficult guy to project. Even with good coaching, we have seen stuff that is difficult to work around. Sanchez is probably at his peak a functional quarterback who needs everything around him working at a top level to have success. That just is not good enough for what the Jets are paying him and for what the Jets can afford to surround him with.

Even beyond the tangibles, he seems to be a guy who lacks intangibles. We have heard plenty about the leadership void in the locker room the past two years. To some degree, that is always an indictment of the quarterback. Sanchez just does not seem to inspire anybody on the field. It is no accident the most spirited football the Jets played in the second half of the season came in the game he got benched. Mark just cannot shake off a rough start. I have heard from people who know that he has a reputation around the league of being a guy who cannot handle adversity. Hit him early, and he loses all confidence. You cannot have this in a quarterback.

Normally, it would be a simple decision. During his four years Sanchez has shown very little improvement statistically or on film. Unfortunately, Mike Tannenbaum gave Sanchez a crazy extension last year. Had no extension been given, Sanchez could have been a painless cut. Now Sanchez costs almost $13 million against the cap if he is on the team or over $17 million if he is cut. I guess whenever you can pay a guy trending down who has never been an elite quarterback like an elite quarterback, you have to do it. That move made no sense on any level, and now the Jets are paying for it. You may recall Florio fudged the numbers to make it sound like the extension was no big deal. You may also remember, I explained that Florio was fudging the numbers, and the extension was in fact a big deal. It was, and now it is a huge problem.

The Jets clearly do not want Sanchez starting for them next year. That is why Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson would not commit to him in their postseason press conference as they have done in years past. That is why Ryan twice benched Sanchez despite having no viable option behind him. The new offense being installed by Marty Mornhinweg requires the quarterback to carry the load by making smart reads and precise passes, all of which are major Sanchez weaknesses.

The problem is the $4 million cutting Sanchez costs. The Jets are tight enough against the cap as it is. Cutting Sanchez would be a nice sugar high for a second, but it would cost the Jets a chance to put a representative team on the field. Mark has zero trade value. What team would give up anything for a guy who has been a bottom level quarterback for four years and has a huge contract? Even if the Jets are going to take a hit and eat much of the deal, what happens to the $5 million cap hit in dead money next year? Are you really going to big spend time negotiating to get a terrible quarterback? Sanchez is the kind of guy you take a flier on if he is a free agent for the minimum. He is not a guy you seek out and give up anything for while conducting comprehensive negotiations on salary. Your time could be spent better elsewhere. I would be stunned if he was traded.

And let's be honest. Sanchez isn't taking a paycut. You could threaten him that he will ride the bench if he doesn't, but his spot on the roster is guaranteed on this salary.

I think Sanchez should stay around mainly because there is no difference whether the third quarterback inactive on game day is Sanchez or a minimum wage scrub. That really will not affect the team. The extra $4 million in cap space can make a difference. The Jets should bring in quarterbacks better than Sanchez. If they want to make Mark a part of an open competition, that is fine. Once he loses out, he will ride the pine.

I think Sanchez has to stay, but he should not enter training camp as the starting quarterback.