Tim Tebow to Jets: Trade Forces Mark Sanchez to Face Make-or-Break Year in 2012

Louis MustoContributor IIIMarch 24, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Mark Sanchez #6 stands on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium on December 11, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Patience is a virtue—unless you’re the New York Jets.

As if the front office and Jets fans alike have not put enough pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez’s shoulders already, the presence of Tim Tebow surely will.

Sanchez, who is coming off a rough 2011 season cluttered with questionable decision-making, likely thought he was entering his fourth NFL season with an optimistic outlook from the Jets organization after signing a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension with the team after reports surfaced about the team’s interest in future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Such thoughts surely dissipated the moment he learned of the Jets’ acquisition of Tebow and his army of faithful fans.

Sanchez and the Jets went 8-8 in 2011, hampered by numerous questionable offensive play calling, under-performing stars and plenty of locker room drama. Much of the blame for that disappointing finish rests on Sanchez’s shoulders, having completed just 56.7 percent of his passes and throwing an unacceptable 18 interceptions—seven of which came in the final three games of the season, all Jets losses.

Despite his poor performance, Sanchez has shown some great play in his young career and deserves more time to develop at the quarterback position.

He has helped the Jets to two back-to-back AFC Conference Championship games and garnered valuable experience in doing so. His numbers–though certainly not Peyton Manning-esque–have improved each year since being drafted fifth overall in 2009. Keep in mind Manning was awful in his rookie year for the Colts.

While Sanchez’s play has been lackluster, his supporting cast has not helped. He faced consistent pressure, due mostly in part to disappointing offensive lineman Wayne Hunter, and the Jets running game did little to alleviate any struggles for the third-year quarterback.

Vital playmakers such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Santonio Holmes were non-factors as well, leaving Sanchez with few dependable targets.

Unfortunately, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wasn’t impressed with Sanchez in 2011 and needs his star quarterback to improve in 2012. Poor performance early in the 2012 season could signal the beginning of a change of the guard in New York in a similar fashion to the way Tebow attained the starting job in Denver—by popular demand.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan has insisted Mark Sanchez is "their guy," but Gang Green fans are well-known for how brutal they can be with they’re not pleased. Add that to a flock of rallying Tebowmaniacs and even an average start for Sanchez could cost the 25-year-old his job. It has already forced recently signed Drew Stanton out of New York, granted it was at his demand.

Sanchez will have his opportunity to prove his worth in 2012, however. Without a lockout to employ as an excuse, the young quarterback and his offense will have a chance to put some more work in with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and get any kinks or feuds settled before the regular season starts.

It is worth noting, however, that Sparano loves to employ the Wildcat offense. The offense generally utilizes a speedy quarterback with numerous lethal options to confuse the defense. A player of Tebow's caliber may be heavily favored by Sparano in his offensive system, making an even easier transition from the incumbent starter Sanchez.

This won’t be the first time a team has brought in a backup capable of starting, just ask Joe Montana. The difference is Sanchez isn’t Montana, at least not yet, and Montana didn’t have to deal with Tebowmania trying to unseat him. And yes, Tebowmania is a much greater force than Steve Young was at that time.

The Jets have really forced Sanchez’s hand heading into the 2012 NFL season. The former first-round draft pick will have to play his best football if he hopes to hang onto the reins in New York. Otherwise, the Jets could seek a much more intriguing time for their franchise—Tebow Time.