When the New York Jets selected West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, there was immediate speculation regarding the future of Mark Sanchez, but the Jets would be wise to keep him around for at least one more season.
It is no secret that Sanchez has struggled mightily over the past couple of years, as have the Jets as a team. After leading the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, Sanchez took noticeable steps back in both 2011 and 2012. Last season was particularly agonizing for him in many respects.
Sanchez had an awful quarterback rating of 66.9, he threw for less than 3,000 yards, he tossed a mere 13 touchdowns and he turned the ball over 20 times. The Jets weren't talented enough to make a multitude of mistakes last season, but with Sanchez at the helm, it was a comedy of errors at MetLife Stadium.
While it may seem like Sanchez is done for, he is still just 26 yards old and has an opportunity to bounce back. He did manage to make it to the AFC Championship Game twice and threw for 26 touchdowns in 2011, so perhaps there is just one missing component that will suddenly click in 2013. It isn't likely, but there is no incentive to get rid of him right now.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Sanchez counts for $12.85 million against the salary cap, so the Jets would take a $12.85 million hit this year and a $4.8 million hit next year if they were to cut him. Also, they would have to pay Sanchez $8.25 million in real dollars, so releasing Sanchez would essentially be more costly than keeping him when taking everything into consideration.
The Jets are in no position to be paying players who aren't even on the team, so they would be smart to keep Sanchez for one more season. The issue is that there are far too many quarterbacks on the roster as Smith, Tim Tebow, David Garrard, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms are all property of the Jets at the moment.
It's fair to say that the only guy among them who is guaranteed to make the team is Smith. Simms is a certain cut and potential practice squad guy, while Tebow's days in New York appear to be numbered as well. The Jets seem to like McElroy, but he's nothing special, so perhaps he is a guy who can be stashed on the practice squad if need be.
Ultimately, the Jets should go with Sanchez, Smith and Garrard at quarterback. It's the perfect mix as Sanchez can be the starter out of the gate and Garrard can take over if he struggles. The Jets offense is a mess, so that isn't a situation that Smith should be thrown into. Garrard is a veteran guy who can handle himself, though, so he could serve as the primary backup and a mentor for Smith.
Who should be the Jets' starting quarterback in 2013?
While second-round quarterbacks have been able to step in as rookies and succeed, with Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller Andy Dalton being a recent example, Smith is in no position to play right away. Not only does his game need a lot of polish, but there are very few capable skill players on the Jets roster right now, so opposing defenses would be able to tee off on him.
Rather than going with Smith or using a quarterback like Garrard who has no real future, the best option by default is Sanchez. If he is absolutely putrid once again in 2013, then the Jets can cut him during the offseason at a greatly-reduced penalty. If he improves and shows flashes of greatness, however, then maybe a team would actually be willing to trade assets for either him or Smith.
Things were ugly for Sanchez and the Jets last season, and Jets fans are probably ill over the thought of another year with Sanchez at the helm. Financially and logically speaking, however, it wouldn't make much sense to dump Sanchez now.
Even if Sanchez is ultimately a lame duck, it's better for him to be the sacrificial lamb than Smith. The Jets have to wait until they actually have some weapons for Smith to utilize, and Sanchez is the ideal bridge between this season and next.
Cutting Sanchez would be a rash and emotional decision on the Jets' part. He may not be very good and he may very well be elsewhere in 2014, but the Jets don't have as many options this season as their myriad of quarterbacks would suggest. Sanchez is somehow the best among them and must remain a Jet in 2013.
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