What Does the Future Hold for Mark Sanchez?

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What Does the Future Hold for Mark Sanchez?
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
There aren't many different ways Mark Sanchez's career can go at this point.

What a long, strange trip it's been for New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

From the fifth overall pick to two AFC Championship Games to two seasons of turmoil, to say Sanchez's career has been a roller coaster would be an injustice to the extreme highs and lows.

He's gone from sky high to below sea level.

The Jets made the right call by providing themselves insurance in the form of Geno Smith, the talented but troubled quarterback who was once considered the top prospect in the 2013 NFL draft, only to fall into the Jets' laps in the second round.

That being said, the Jets' insurance policy doesn't necessarily bode well for Mark Sanchez. In fact, at this point, there are only a few possible outcomes for Sanchez's 2013 season, and his career beyond that point.

 

Outcome No. 1: Sanchez Wins the Job, Performs Well in the Season

This is a best-case scenario for Sanchez, but it could be considered a worst-case scenario for the Jets, who clearly have designs on Geno Smith as the quarterback of the future.

This is also one of the more unlikely outcomes, given two significant facts:

1. The Jets offense is in rebuild mode.

Chris Ivory is a more explosive running back than Shonn Greene, and his ability to find holes and hit them aggressively is worlds ahead of the Jets' former bell cow, but the Jets made no significant additions at wide receiver and lost their best tight end and both starting guards. Getting Santonio Holmes back could help a bit at receiver, but Holmes won't make Sanchez a good quarterback on his own.

2. Mark Sanchez has never had a passer rating higher than 78.2 in a single season.

That's even with more talented offenses than the one the Jets will field in 2013.

If Sanchez turns it around, it will be because he is well equipped as a quarterback to run the West Coast offense. Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's system is a bit different than the offense Sanchez ran at USC, but the principles are the same.

A successful 2013 campaign could lead to a respectable contract in the 2014 offseason—whether it's with the Jets or another team. 

There's logic behind the idea that Mornhinweg's offense could be what Sanchez needs to get his career back on track, but after struggling consistently for two straight years, seeing is believing with Sanchez.

 

Outcome No. 2: Sanchez Wins the Job, Struggles, Opening the Door for Geno Smith

Sorry, Jets fans, but have you seen the Jets' schedule this year?

In the first nine weeks, the Jets face the Patriots twice, the Falcons, the Bengals, the Steelers and the Saints. The Jets also face the Buccaneers and the Bills, two defenses which many believe will be improved from last season.

Things get a bit easier down the stretch, but if Sanchez hasn't been pulled by the bye week, it will mean he has played well enough against talented teams that the coaching staff remains confident in his ability to lead the team.

Of course, Sanchez's struggles may not end up being entirely his fault. The Jets offensive line allowed its quarterback to be sacked on 8.7 percent of total drop-backs, the second-highest average in the league, just fractions of a percentage point behind the Cardinals' woeful line.

Part of the problem, however, was Sanchez not getting the ball out of his hands quickly enough. According to stats website Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sanchez took 2.6 seconds or longer to throw the ball on 53.2 percent of his drop-backs, the ninth-highest average in the league. 

One of the most important components of the West Coast offense is to get the ball out quickly, so while the system may help alleviate the issue, it's up to Sanchez to follow through by making the quick read and throwing the ball with rhythm.

 

Outcome No. 3: Sanchez Loses the Job to Geno

This is beginning to look more and more like the most logical outcome, at this point.

Geno Smith has looked impressive in camp so far, showcasing his big arm. He has earned praise from his teammates for his talents as well as for his work in the film room and understanding of the offense. If Smith continues to outperform Sanchez, he may force the coaching staff's hand in their decision-making process.

Granted, training-camp stats should be read in the appropriate context, but specifically in Sanchez's case, the turnover differential could be what costs him most dearly. He's already staked a reputation for his lack of ball security and poor decision-making that has led to a league-high 52 turnovers over the past two years. Building on that reputation is not in his best interest if he wants to win the starting job.

In fact, if that continues, it may not be so much about Geno winning the job as it could be about Sanchez losing the job.

Geno was the team's starting quarterback in their "green vs. white" scrimmage, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, but that may be less about him being the front-runner for the job than it is about getting an honest look at him against the best defensive players the Jets have to offer. 

There are reasons to bet against Geno as the starter; the Jets should be careful not to rush Geno's development, especially given that as mentioned above, the Jets offense is rebuilding.

If Geno comes out of camp having proven himself to be head-and-shoulders above Sanchez at quarterback, the Jets cannot in good faith name Sanchez the starter.

That would put Sanchez in a tough situation for the 2014 free-agency period; the last impression anyone will have had of him is the two tumultuous turnover-filled seasons in 2011 and 2012. His job prospects would probably be pretty slim and limited to a situation in which he would be competing for a starting job with another young quarterback.

 

Conclusion

Which scenario do you think will play out?

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If the Jets name Geno Smith the starter, that's pretty much the end of the line for Sanchez, unless Smith gets injured and Sanchez plays well after subbing in. The Jets would be fools to name Smith the starter, only to take the reins away from him after struggling early on.

That ties back into the idea that the Jets must not rush Smith's progression. Perhaps it's in their best interest to roll with Sanchez for one more year while they figure out murky situations at both guard spots, tight end, wide receiver and running back.

Beyond that one year, no one really knows. It will all depend on what happens this season.

What the future holds for Sanchez in the long term remains to be seen and will be determined after the 2013 season when Sanchez becomes a free agent. Unless he gives the Jets reason to believe in him as the long-term starter over Geno Smith, he is not long for New York.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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