Is the Jets QB Competition the Worst in Recent Memory?

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIMarch 25, 2013

Coming off his worst season as a pro and failing to make any progress in four seasons as a starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez will battle David Garrard for the right to pilot what was a 6-10 team in 2012.

As the saying goes:  “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”

I’m no economist, but the idea of a former top-five pick losing his starting job to a 35-year-old veteran who has not thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2011 is not exactly a formula to win games and move season tickets.

Quarterback battles seldom take place on winning teams—last year’s controversy in San Francisco between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick is a rarity. Most quarterback battles take the form of a younger, overpaid, hot mess of a player against a veteran trying to squeeze one last season out of his dying arm.

They look ugly, can lead to divided locker rooms and delay the inevitable for both players involved but they are usually necessary growing pains for teams not fortunate enough to land themselves an Andrew Luck to restart their franchise.

Sanchez versus Garrard is sure to be a doozy, but is it the worst battle in modern Jets history?

First, we need to take a look at some of the other battles that have recently taken place in Florham Park.


Sanchez vs. Clemens

Prior to this upcoming battle, this was the only season (2009) in which Sanchez was not handed a starting job outright. As a rookie, he had to beat out former second-round prospect Kellen Clemens, who, despite showing flashes of potential during the Jets' 4-12 2007 season, was kicked to the curb when the Brett Favre train came to town the following year.

With all due respect to Kellen Clemens, if Sanchez, a player the Jets traded up to draft fifth overall, could not beat out a player the Jets have seemingly been trying to replace ever since he arrived on campus, they had bigger issues on their hands than trying to win the next game.

Looking back on this battle in hindsight, it is easy to assume that Sanchez was handed the job, but that was far from the case. Rex Ryan was going to start the best player on the roster and started training camp with Kellen Clemens as his top quarterback.

After what was a rather close battle, Rex gave Sanchez the job more because of the fact that he was going to eventually be the long-term starter and wanted to get him as much experience as possible. As the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2008, Rex Ryan watched Joe Flacco take his team to the AFC Championship game as a rookie and believed Sanchez could do the same (spoiler: he did).

While a 2013 Sanchez versus Clemens rematch would probably wind up getting someone fired, Sanchez was still an unknown commodity as a rookie—for all we knew at the time, Kellen Clemens was beat out by the next Joe Namath.

Without the benefit of hindsight, this was a necessary and important battle that went a long way in determining both the immediate and long-term the future of the Jets.


Chad Pennington vs. Vinny Testaverde

While he won’t be getting a bust in Canton anytime soon, Vinny Testaverde was one of the better quarterbacks in Jets history. He took the team to the AFC Championship in 1998 and may have had a chance to win a Super Bowl the following season if he did not rupture his Achilles tendon in the opener.

Most importantly, he was most responsible for the one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against the Miami Dolphins, which is now known as the “Monday Night Miracle.”

However, in 2002, the Jets were trying to get the young gun they drafted in 2000, Chad Pennington, into the mix despite the fact that the Jets were coming off a playoff appearance in 2001. Pennington had the both the arm and the smarts—the Jets just needed justification to get him on the field.

After a 1-3 start, the Jets had their excuse to put Pennington in the game, and they took it.

Pennington made the playoffs that year, and the Jets looked brilliant for making a bold change at the game’s most important position.

Pennington went on to have a solid career in New York, but he simply could not stay healthy with multiple injuries to his throwing shoulder, which would eventually lead to another messy quarterback battle under new head coach Eric Mangini.

While neither player was able to get the Jets to their first Super Bowl since 1969, both players had solid careers and flashed brilliance. In their primes, Pennington and Testaverde were upper-tier quarterbacks who spent few Januarys playing golf.

This was a one of the best quarterback situations you could ask for; it was the Jets' version of the Favre-Rodgers situation but handled with much more class from both players.


Chad Pennington vs. Brooks Bollinger vs. Patrick Ramsey vs. Kellen Clemens

As Pennington’s injury rate worsened with every season, it became clear that Pennington was not going to survive another generation of Jets football.

New general manager Mike Tannenbaum had to speed up the team’s process of finding and developing a young quarterback, which included using a second-round pick on Kellen Clemens. In true Eric Mangini fashion, it was difficult to determine who was going to be the day one starter for the Jets, which was complicated by the fact that Pennington was usually limited in practice.

Ultimately, the Jets made the right short-term decision to start Pennington, who won the Comeback Player of the Year award and took the Jets to another playoff appearance. Pennington started all 16 games for the first time in his career. He had career highs in completions, passing attempts, and passing yardage with 3,352 yards.

No matter what the Jets said (or refused to say), this was probably less of an actual competition and more about the team keeping its options open in case Pennington’s heath became an issue. A new regime was also going to give their second-round rookie project a chance to compete and get a healthy amount of reps.


Mark Sanchez vs. David Garrard

It is no secret that the Jets are entering a rebuilding phase of their operation under new general manager John Idzik. The Jets are set to enter next season with a staggering 11 new starters on offense and defense (12 if Sanchez loses his job).

With rumors swirling about the Jets shopping their best player in Darrelle Revis, whoever wins this year’s quarterback battle is almost a moot point—barring an unprecedented miraculous run and a blessing of terrific billing of health, Jets fans are in for another season of losing, no matter who wins this pillow fight of a quarterback battle.

Is either player going to be a starter for much longer? Unless Sanchez makes an unprecedented turnaround in his game or Garrard get his hands on a time machine? No.

The only reason Mark Sanchez is still on this roster is because of the fact that cutting him would put the Jets in cap jail with a $17 million hit. Otherwise, a general manager that had no business in drafting a backup-level quarterback fifth overall would have no qualms about starting fresh at the position.

If neither player is going to be the team’s long-term solution, then Idzik (and all those in the front office interested in the team’s long-term health) has nothing to gain from this ordeal.

Simply put, this is one of the ugliest quarterback situations in Jets history—and it is only going to get worse before it gets better.

Why then, is Idzik even bothering with this competition?

Idzik, a former executive for the Seattle Seahawks, is a graduate of the Pete Carroll school of intense and never-ending competition.

In fact, Carroll’s philosophy has rubbed on just about everyone in the organization, including his former defensive coordinator and new Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley (taking fan questions through the Jaguars twitter account):

Under the previous regime, players were generally given starting jobs based on their draft position and salaries, with a few exceptions (Vladimir Ducasse). This is hardly a rare practice in the money-driven NFL, but college coaches like Carroll are more interested in playing the best players to win games.

After all, Carroll’s theory of constant competition paved the way for Russell Wilson to start in 2012—there are plenty of organizations that would have started Matt Flynn for the sake of getting their money’s worth.

By giving Sanchez competition, Idzik is sending a message throughout the organization that no player should be satisfied with their play over the past two seasons, no matter where they were drafted. Everyone is going to have to prove their worth again.

This may not make people comfortable, but competition is a catalyst for results—no matter how bad the quarterbacks involved are.


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