It is not easy being Mark Sanchez.
To make matters worse, Jets quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh pummeled him in The Daily News, citing his poor decision-making and speculating that the former first-round pick allowed himself to grow complacent because of his early success.
So much for being coddled, huh?
Sanchez had enough to deal with during his first three seasons after the Jets traded up to the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL draft to select the USC quarterback.
Non-stop locker room drama and an egotistical head coach have kept consistent pressure on the 25-year-old’s shoulders and, after two consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010, the burden finally caught up to him in the form of those aforementioned poorly-made decisions—a fifth-worst 18 interceptions and a guilty hand in the Jets’ 8-8 finish.
His play has not been what you might expect from a first-round draft pick, but is the harsh criticism he has received from nearly every direction warranted?
Despite the never-ending soap opera that is life as a member of Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, Sanchez has always been able to keep a level head and, through both ups and downs, has acted as a leader willing to take the blame for his team’s faults—which are certainly not all for him to be blamed.
Sanchez has improved his completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating each season, despite a shoddy, unprotective offensive line, prima donna receivers unable to live up to their own expectations and a running game that has not performed up to par. He boasts a 28-20 record in the regular season and what was an NFL-record four postseason victories on the road.
The young quarterback has not evolved into the superstar quarterback Jets fans were hoping he would be by now, and his late-season struggles in 2011 are an understandable concern. However, most players do not become the type of overnight sensation Cam Newton or Matt Ryan have been able to quickly become.
Sanchez does not deserve the brutal criticism he has received, but that tends to be the price for playing in New York. Beloved Tebow’s presence may have placed a heaping pile of pressure upon the Jets incumbent starter’s back, or perhaps—no pun intended—he is a blessing in disguise.
With the media desperate to cover everything that is Tebowmania, perhaps Sanchez can find the breathing space to focus on developing his game and evolving into the quarterback he can certainly be.
Or maybe—and more likely—Sanchez’s opportunity will come to an end prematurely at the hands of unreasonable, insurmountable criticism and an unstoppable demand to see No. 15 behind center.
For Sanchez, that may be for the better.
Louis Musto is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.