Back to the Future as Rex Ryan Names Mark Sanchez as Starter for New York Jets

Peter AlfanoContributor IIDecember 5, 2012

Mark Sanchez will take his place under center again on Sunday for the Jets.
Mark Sanchez will take his place under center again on Sunday for the Jets.Elsa/Getty Images

The last time we saw Mark Sanchez he was staring at the back of his locker like an ostrich with his head in the sand. He was trying to knot his tie as New York Jets coach Rex Ryan consoled his beleaguered quarterback, looking like a parent explaining why he was punishing his child.

Sanchez wasn't defiant or angry at being benched. His feelings were hurt. If you ask me I prefer how Alex Smith reacted when he was told by coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers that Colin Kaepernick was starting at quarterback, even though Smith had recovered from a concussion and was having an outstanding season.

"It sucks," he said. "I don't know what else to say," Smith said.

For reacting like an 11-year-old, Sanchez will get to start Sunday against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. It's clear that Ryan and Sanchez will either recapture the magic of their first two seasons together or both will be gone when this season ends.

Perhaps that is what the Jets want to determine once and for all. Will Sanchez get ticked off and play with more fire and determination? Or did they make a big mistake moving up and taking him with the fifth overall pick in the draft four years ago?

Ryan was coaching defense in Baltimore when Joe Flacco started as a rookie; he used that model to start Sanchez when Ryan became the Jets head coach a year later. Who can blame him for not wanting to put his own future in the hands of Greg McElroy, whose only game action came in relief of Sanchez last week against the Arizona Cardinals.

Jets fans are a fickle bunch. They cheered Sanchez and booed when Tim Tebow entered the game to run the wildcat in the first game of the season when the Jets stomped Buffalo.

Now fans are embracing McElroy, who won a national championship at Alabama under Nick Sabin, one of the top five coaches at any level. McElroy was also a Rhodes Scholar candidate so we know he's smart. But he was drafted in the sixth round because he doesn't have a big arm.

It sounds as if he is the second coming of Chad Pennington, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

McElroy is considered a career backup. Tebow isn't even considered a quarterback, and it is evident that Jets owner Woody Johnson probably forced him on the coaching staff.

Sanchez, meanwhile, has regressed after leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons.

That old adage remains true: If you have three quarterbacks, you have none.

So what do the Jets do if Sanchez doesn't improve his performance Sunday or is only marginally better the rest of the season?

There are a couple of possibilities and neither of them is named Michael Vick. Please, one circus is enough.

How about trading Sanchez and his guaranteed $8.25 million salary for 2013 to the 49ers for Smith, who is due $7.5 million next year. Smith is still only 28 and although he has had a checkered career, he flourished under Harbaugh and was in the midst of his second outstanding season in a row.

He also seems to have more of a fire-in-the-belly attitude than the laid-back Sanchez. Although San Francisco and Los Angeles are worlds apart when it comes to lifestyle, Sanchez would be back on the west coast. He would be Kaepernick's backup and perhaps rejuvenate his career learning a thing or two from Harbaugh, a former quarterback.

Then Sanchez could have an opportunity to win a starting job elsewhere in 2014.

Another possibility is trading Sanchez to Seattle for Matt Flynn. Sanchez would be reunited with Pete Carroll, his college coach at Southern Cal, and be a backup for Russell Wilson.

Granted there wouldn't be as many starlets to date as Sanchez has had in New York, but a year away from public scrutiny would be like hitting the reset button.

Flynn was brought to Seattle from Green Bay where he was Aaron Rogers' understudy. Flynn was expected to start for the Seahawks before Wilson was so impressive during the preseason that Carroll decided to start the rookie instead.

Flynn is on the books for $5.25 million in 2013 and probably would welcome a chance to move on again.

I get it Jets fans: Why trade for Smith or Flynn when both are no longer starting for their own teams? I'm not suggesting that either is an elite franchise quarterback but another season of Sanchez might be more than Jets fans are willing to pay to see.

Look at it this way. Smith or Flynn can't be worse than the way Sanchez has played thus far in 2012.

The best thing that could happen for the Jets, of course, is for Sanchez to seize the moment, grow up and justify the faith and loyalty Ryan has shown him since he was drafted. He needs to get his head out of the locker starting Sunday and be the Sanchize again.