I think it would be difficult to argue that the Jets' decision to move on from Mark Sanchez was a bad decision. His production simply did not come close to matching his salary. He never developed into anything resembling what the Jets were ho ping he would become. It just did not work out. Still, it feels like we are closing out an important period of Jets history today. In good times and bad, Mark Sanchez's time with the Jets will always be memorable.
Jets fans have been tortured for decades. One of the big reasons is our team has not had a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. We have put our hope in a number of players only to be let down. Then came Draft day 2009. The Jets made a bold move trading up to take Sanchez with the fifth pick. It felt like we had finally hit the jackpot. We had landed a coveted prospect. He had the physical tools to succeed, but it was more than that. He hit all of the checkpoints a New York quarterback needs to have. He had thrived in a high profile environment in Los Angeles. He was cool. He was good looking. More than that, he actually wanted to be a Jet. Remember that video scene in his house on Draft day of his genuine enthusiasm? Sanchez was excited to come to New York and to be part of the Jets. Nobody wanted to be a Jet. We were the little brother of New York, the laughingstock of the league with a tortured history. Now we had hit the jackpot. We had this New York franchise quarterback out of central casting who actually wanted to be the savior of this franchise.
Then he played great out of the gate as the Jets started 3-0 his rookie year. After that he was probably the worst quarterback in the league, but we could look the other way. The team made the Playoffs. There were troubling signs, but he was only a rookie. He wasn't stopping the team with the best run game and defense in the league from winning and making the Playoffs. So we clung to flashes of promise. His second year he showed some improvement. He was barely average with arguably the best supporting cast in the league, including defense, but who cared? He was clutch. He kept delivering game-winning drives so we could look past the fact the Jets in many instances never would have needed a game-winning drive had the quarterback been better earlier in the game. The Jets won four Playoff games in those first two years. Sanchez played well. We pointed to things like his quarterback rating over 90 and tried to ignore these effectively quarterbacked games were not exactly mind-blowing, never more than 18 completions, never over 200 yards in the wins. Who cared? He performed when it mattered just like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning did early in their careers. Surely Sanchez would eventually grow into a guy who could carry the load just like these guys did.
Then it didn't happen. The Jets couldn't afford to keep all of their talent. No team could have in the salary cap era. Instead of raising his game and carrying more of the load, Sanchez was collapsing without the top level talent to prop him up. Suddenly we couldn't look the other way. We couldn't make excuses. Some people stopped making excuses early for Sanchez in 2009 and 2010. Others still believe he is a franchise quarterback. Most of us came to the realization he was not the Jets' savior at some point in 2011 or 2012. It was a painful realization. We had pinned so many of our hopes to this guy. We had wanted to believe. We put our stock in the promise we saw, not in the warning signs that only with hindsight we realize were there all. He was supposed to be an elite talent. He loved the Jets. He was a likable guy. Very few have a bad word to say about him.
Instead, among NFL fans Sanchez will likely be remembered for one blunder on the biggest stage possible, Thanksgiving Night 2012, on national television when he slid into his right guard's rear end and fumbled the ball, resulting in a touchdown. In some ways, it is a shame that such a cartoonish play will be his legacy. The substance of that play, however, was in many ways a microcosm of Sanchez's failures as a quarterback. The Jets trailed 14-0 to the Patriots at that point. It was not a great spot, but it was not a death knell. They were aided on the road to that deficit by a bad Sanchez interception in scoring range. No worries, though. One good drive, and the Jets would be right back in the game. Instead Sanchez forgot the play that was called. He turned the wrong way on a handoff and busted the play. He then made the problem so much worse by failing to protect the ball. These were the sins on that play, not the fact he hit Brandon Moore's posterior, and these sins of mental lapses and not protecting the ball were as big as any of the reasons his time in New York did not work out.
So even though there is little doubt the Jets made the right move today, I cannot help but think to 2009 and feel sad that all of the hope we had was for naught. Mark will be just fine. He got to live a dream. Few football players get to live the dream of making the NFL. Mark got to start for four years and play in big games. He has gotten to date celebrities and has made enough money to take care of his future and that of his children. The heat he took from the fan base and in the media doesn't sound so bad by comparison, does it? All we have left to look at is an era that seemed to have so much promise but went very wrong.