Just four short years ago on a late April afternoon, Mark Sanchez was pumping his fists while he donned a New York Jets hat for the first time. The Jets moved heaven and earth to move up and select their next franchise player that they hoped would take him to a place they had not been to since the late 1960’s.
If you told the Jets that this would be a quote directly from the team in four years’ time, they may have thought twice about making the ultimate gamble on a quarterback.
Prominent member of organization on Sanchez: "Home or away... I don't care where game is being played. There's no way he starts vs Chargers"— Manish Mehta(@MMehtaNYDN) December 18, 2012
A franchise just a few years removed from a promising future is now in complete disarray mostly because of their quarterback play, but Sanchez is not the one who should bear the majority of the blame.
Yes, Sanchez deserved to get benched after his performance on Monday night, but it is the Jets who turned a quarterback who was once a young, confident player into a broken, lost quarterback.
Think back to Sanchez’s first few starts as a rookie, when the Jets raced to a 3-0 start. Sanchez was such a confident player that he flirted with arrogance. There was a time when Sanchez was viewed as a player that was at his best when the Jets needed it most, and the Jets rode his confidence to two-straight playoff runs.
That was a different Sanchez.
Since the end of the 2010 season, the Jets have done everything possible to break down Sanchez as a quarterback.
It started with how they continued to tinker with the receiving corps, assuming that Sanchez would magically develop into the next Tom Brady and adapt to his ever-changing surroundings. Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum handed Santonio Holmes, an immature character who undermined Sanchez’s leadership, a huge contract extension. Head Coach Rex Ryan only made him feel more entitled by handing him the captain's role.
Not only did Ryan make Holmes a captain, but he forced Sanchez into a leadership role before he actually became a leader. Veteran players can see right through forced leadership, and the move resulted in a locker room in disarray.
Sanchez was no longer the role-playing quarterback that would pick his run-first team up from time-to-time to win games. He was thrown into a role that he was not ready for. Blame Sanchez for not answering the call and taking over the team, but it’s not easy to win games when your right tackle is a human turnstile and your top receiver is a locker room cancer.
After a disappointing 8-8 season, the Jets were left with plenty of holes, especially on offense. What do they do? Bring in the most polarizing player in modern American sports to get two-yard gains on vaunted wildcat plays.
Holmes may have a big mouth, but he speaks the truth. He was right when he said Sanchez was “rattled” by the Tim Tebow trade. No other quarterback in the NFL has to deal with coming out of the game in the middle of promising drives. It is only human nature that Sanchez feels slighted every time he has to go and sit on the sideline in favor of a glorified fullback, when there are inferior quarterbacks around the league that do not have to put up with the same kind of nonsense.
Sanchez’s benching was inevitable and his performance was inexcusable, but the Jets could not have expected different results. Ryan determined before the game that Tebow was going to get the third series of the game, no matter what.
It’s one thing to script plays and have a plan to use Tebow, but Sanchez was playing decent football until the Jets inserted Tebow. To take out a hot-handed quarterback because you predetermined when a player is “scheduled” (a quarterback, nonetheless) to go in is nothing short asinine and irresponsible, and it may have cost the team their season.
Sanchez was clearly irked about the whole concept of taking him out of the game in his postgame presser. “I have no idea,” Sanchez said. He added, “Ask coach.”
In the NFL, you don’t develop quarterbacks by using gimmick plays and packages. Using those plays once or twice a game is acceptable for generating big plays when the regular offense is struggling, but using it in the base offense stunts a quarterbacks development.
This is the NFL. You don’t win championships with option-reads. You win by executing a professional passing game with precision that is developed over time. Over the last two years, the Jets have done everything they could to ensure that they would never develop a NFL-caliber passing attack.
Where the Jets have ultimately failed is not in how they moved up to draft Sanchez, or giving him an extension in March. Even giving flawed characters like Holmes big extensions were well-intended moves.
Where the Jets have ultimately failed is how they refused to build a team by developing talent to provide depth when players like Holmes and Darrelle Revis go down. They failed to have a consistent philosophy in team-building and offensive philosophy.
Worst of all, they undermined their quarterback over and over to the point where they have actually made him a worse player than when he was a rookie.
Now, this certainly does not absolve all blame from Sanchez entirely. He has lost the right to be a starting quarterback in the NFL after essentially being handed a job when he was a rookie. Good quarterbacks overcome change and adversity. Sanchez simply is not good enough to do that.
There is no one specific to blame for the entire situation. Every decision maker, from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff, has played a role in Sanchez’s demise.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Jets plan on eating Sanchez’s remaining guaranteed dollars next year, but Sanchez is a man beyond repair at this point. Few quarterbacks would have been able to survive the situation he was put in this year. The only quarterbacks that can play at a high level through that much change are going to the Hall of Fame, and those teams are not bringing in wildcat quarterbacks to take them off the field.
The Jets have created a situation where they have a bad quarterback that is nearly impossible to trade and too expensive to cut. And they have no one to blame but themselves.