The Jets' on-again, off-again courting and seeking of additional talent at quarterback wasn't the greatest vote of confidence to give Sanchez, no matter how the Jets want to spin it.
But there's one thing Sanchez can do to remove all doubt: play at the level at which everyone in New York wants him to play.
What has to change, and can it change, for Sanchez to become that quarterback?
This is the mystifying issue, because we don't even know if it's really an issue at all.
By some accounts, he's "lazy," as an unnamed source told the New York Daily News.
"We have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice," said one player. "He’s lazy and content because he knows he’s not going to be benched."
"There’s a lot of things you can say about Mark Sanchez, but to call him lazy is a bit much," Tomlinson said. "This is a guy that has worked very hard off the field, in the film room. I’ve seen it—in the weight room, putting in extra time with the coaches early in the morning, after practice when everybody is gone. He’s putting in time, so he’s not lazy."
Whether this is actually an issue for Sanchez or not, it appears the Jets have taken the appropriate measure to address it by sending a solid message to Mark that if he doesn't continue to improve, he can be replaced.
The most recent issue to be aired in the media is Sanchez's erratic decision making. It was one of many factors behind the Jets' three-game skid to close out the regular season, during which time Sanchez turned the ball over nine times.
Per the Daily News:
"There were turnovers that were not his fault that were credited to him," Cavanaugh told the Daily News in his first public comments since the Jets missed the playoffs at 8-8 last season. "But there were enough that playing that position he needs to cut some of those down. Most of them came from just poor decision-making.
"So I spent a lot of time with him talking about 'Let's get focused on managing the game,'" Cavanaugh added. "Taking the big plays when they're there (and) understanding that... even though it's drawn up to be a touchdown, not every play has to be a touchdown. Not every play has to be a completion. Sometimes throwing it away is a good thing. Sometimes taking a sack is better than throwing an interception."
Sanchez knows that interceptions are an issue, having told Michael Kay of ESPN New York, "Obviously, you throw more interceptions with more attempts, that's natural, but at the same time, (the interceptions) kind of spiked more than we needed it to, and three in the last game didn't help."
One thing Sanchez glossed over is that not only did the volume of his interceptions go up, but the rate at which he threw them also rose, though not by much (from 2.6 percent in 2010 to 3.3 in 2011).
His coaching staff will be drilling the decision making into his head this offseason, but who else could he learn from? That's right: Tim Tebow.
While Tebow rarely did much to put his team in a comfortable position to win, he rarely made the kind of mistakes that cost his team the game. Of course, he wasn't perfect as a decision maker, but he made a lot of heads-up plays, understands smart football and could give Sanchez a pointer or two in the art of playing well at key moments in the game.
It always seemed like Tebow came up big just when they needed him to, and not a moment sooner.
That being said, this is one of the more difficult areas for a quarterback to improve, and while Cavanaugh, Tebow and the Jets coaching staff can provide the mentoring, it's up to Sanchez to utilize the wealth of knowledge at his disposal. It's also up to him to carry out that mentoring on the field.
This goes hand in hand with decision making, but there are times when Sanchez throws a pick or an incompletion that you just have to wonder exactly what he saw.
I could point to more than a few plays, but one prime example came in Week 1 against the Cowboys. Sanchez was trying to engineer a comeback and threw to tight end Dustin Keller, who ran an in route across the field from right to left.
One minor detail: Sanchez didn't see Sean Lee, who was standing directly in the trajectory of the pass. Yes, Lee had to make a pretty outstanding play on the ball to intercept it, but he has proven capable of making those plays in the past, and it would have likely been incomplete even if Lee were a lesser athlete.
Some of Sanchez's issues in that sense should be attributed to his lack of protection, specifically from the right tackle spot. That hurt him two ways: With open-side pressure coming, Sanchez immediately took his eyes off his receivers and fixated on the pressure; also, it took away one of Sanchez's best weapons, which is the naked bootleg.
If the Jets could find a way to get Sanchez out into space, they could allow him to make the hi-lo reads that he made so frequently in his first and second years; it helps simplify the reads while taking advantage of Sanchez's above-average athleticism.
But at some point, you have to be able to see the field and make the reads from the pocket. There have been too many times throughout the course of his career where he's just proven unable to do so. Giving him a more simplistic offense under Tony Sparano could help, but again, it will all come down to Sanchez's ability to play within the offense and take the coaching in stride and build on it.
Sanchez's mental toughness, or lack thereof, has been the topic of much discussion in New York this offseason. According to the Daily News, however, it's been an issue for a lot longer than that.
It won't fix the issues he has with mental toughness, though.
A source close to the team pointed out that Sanchez’s inability to handle mounting criticism prompted him to unfollow every Jets beat writer on Twitter earlier this season.
"So that should tell you everything," the source said. "He just doesn't have the mental toughness to be great... especially in New York."
To be honest, this one will be very hard to change. We're all a little insecure, but it's when that insecurity spills over into your everyday life and takes over that it becomes an issue. Has it reached that point for the Jets?
The issue became abundantly clear in 2011; whenever the Jets were playing well, Sanchez played well, too. When things got tough, though, it meant the Jets would lose at least two games (they never lost just one game in 2011).
That got put under a microscope during the aforementioned nine-turnovers-in-three-games stretch to end the season.
The best-case scenario for the Jets is that they never have to find out; that Sanchez performs well enough for the duration of the season to maintain his status as the starter and to lead the Jets to victory.
But a football season is never perfect, and neither is Sanchez, so he'll have to fight through some struggles at some point. His ability to do so could determine whether the Jets fly high or crash land in 2012.
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