Fans play head coach or general manager during almost every NFL game. Sometimes it’s a small group screaming at the tube from a living room, and at other times it’s a serenade of ‘boos’ as your favorite team leaves the field after a horrible performance. It’s real easy to yell for the benching of one guy and the insertion of another from the comfort of your lounge chair, but when you’re sitting in the front office of a National Football League team, every personnel move is vetted thoroughly. I’m sure Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum hears the Tebow chants during games at Metlife Stadium, and the calls for Mark Sanchez’s benching on talk radio stations and other forms of popular media; it’s his job to weight the options, evaluate the talent and make the hard decision.
When it’s the starting quarterback being scrutinized and his play being called into question, it’s a little harder to make the move than when it’s another player on the team. When a starting quarterback is established, he’s thrust into a leadership role on the team; he becomes the face of the franchise. When the Jets moved up and drafted Sanchez fifth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, the future of the franchise was placed in his hands. After the first two seasons, it looked like the Jets had made the right choice. Sanchez led the team to consecutive AFC Championship games, earning a 4-2 postseason record while accumulating over 1100 yards passing, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Over the last two regular seasons, Sanchez is 11-14… and bloom has apparently fallen off the rose as far as Jets fans are concerned.
With the charismatic yet polarizing Tim Tebow waiting in the wings, supporters of the Jets are asking for change. Some want Tebow in; others are content with Sanchez working out his issues on the field, while some are so desperate for change that they’d rather see third-stringer Greg McElroy get a chance to lead the team. It’s hard for a head coach to change his signal-caller especially for someone the team feels has less ability than the starter. The head coach has a locker room to think about. If Rex Ryan decides to start Tebow or McElroy without them proving on the field that they can do the better job than Sanchez, he has a chance of losing that locker room for the second year in a row. Right now, Sanchez is 30-26 as a starter in the regular season, and the QB on the Jets roster with the most recent playoff victory would be backup Tim Tebow.
After bringing Tebow onboard, the Jets signed Sanchez to an extension and locked him up through the 2016 season. A closer look at the contract would show that it was a little more fiscal restructuring than some big-money payout. In the new deal, the team made his 2012 number of $11.75 million a signing bonus as opposed to an annual salary, which reduced his number against the cap. His 2013 contract, previously non-guaranteed, is now a guaranteed $8.75 million, but years 2014-2016 are all club options. A five-year $58.25 million contract looks good as a headline, but the fine print shows the team is only tied to Sanchez thru 2013, and at only $20.5 million ($11.75 million of which has already been shelled out).
If Sanchez has no future on the Jets, benching him may not be a solution because that may devalue him by making him an overpaid backup. Let’s say GM Mike T. is thinking of moving him after the season, he could bargain from a position of more leverage and squeeze an extra (or higher) draft pick out of an interested party if he’s dealing a starting QB, rather than a QB that flamed-out as a starter. Why make Mark Sanchez less valuable than Matt Flynn? Being beat out by a dynamic rookie is much better than being beaten out by a QB who is limited or a third-stringer, isn’t it?
I’m not saying I want to see Sanchez holding a clipboard on Sunday’s, but something needs to be done to give the Jets offense a much-needed kick in the can! The offensive line needs to be addressed before you throw anybody back there, especially some first-rounder or free agent pickup. Don’t get the QB, and then build the line and improve the running game. Would you buy a brand new sports car, and then look for a garage to park it in? Tebow’s bulked up and lost a
little of his elusiveness, and McElroy hasn’t taken a meaningful snap since college. The Jets have a lot of problems, and I hope the man who made the mess isn’t charged with cleaning it up.
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*** Original publish date 11.14.2012; John Idzik is the new general manager of the New York Jets. ***