It’s official, Mark Sanchez is an Eagle. He heads down the I-95 to Philadelphia for greener pastures. The last two tumultuous years with the Jets are fading in the rear view mirror. I speculated previously that Sanchez would probably want to stay and try to regain his job in New York. Sanchez’s college coach Pete Carroll appears to back that take. But Sanchez was never going to start again in New York.
The Sanchez fatigue among the fan base and GM John Idzik’s ego would never allow it. Why do I say that? Check out any Jets fan site or the comments on any article about Sanchez. In between posts by reasonable people, those able to view Sanchez’s Jets career in the context of the entire team and organization, are an army of haters whose vitriol can be shocking. I guess that’s the high cost of being a pro athlete in today’s interconnected world.
The Jets are John Idzik’s team now. And his hand-picked choice at quarterback is Geno Smith (full disclosure, I have never been a fan). While he had success at West Virginia, I never thought he was ready to start at the pro level. He needed at least a year on the sidelines, watching and learning. Don’t believe me? Watch his whiteboard interview with Steve Mariucci.
I’ve always maintained that Idzik thought Smith would be his Russell Wilson. I don’t see it happening, but Idzik is committed and now we have ego involved. Sanchez was inherited from the previous regime—Smith is Idzik’s guy.
The received wisdom is that new “backup” quarterback and former Eagle Michael Vick will be his perfect mentor. Maybe. But to think that Vick will just fade quietly into the background and not challenge Smith for the starting job is naïve. Sure, Vick was a model citizen in Philly last year after he got hurt and Nick Foles became the full time starter. But Vick is healthy now and you cannot tell me that any quarterback, all of whom have competition and pride hardwired into their DNA, wouldn't try to seriously challenge Smith.
In this contest Vick has every advantage. He’s got more NFL experience, he knows offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s system inside and out and he is likely nearing the twilight of his NFL career. He’s also on a one-year deal. One year deals tend to highly motivate players.
Meanwhile, Mornhinweg is also coaching for his future and maybe another shot at a head coaching job. I am convinced he thinks Vick gives the Jets the best chance to win. He must have been crucial in talking up Vick coming to the Jets. Geno Smith will again be battling for the starting job this offseason, but he does have one thing going for him: Idzik surely wants him to win it.
All this does is set up another circus in Cortland this summer. Recall, the organization wanted Smith to start last year, but all the reports coming out of camp were that Sanchez was thriving in Mornhinweg’s offense and had beaten out Smith for the starting role. And just like that, Rex Ryan ruined Sanchez’s season by inserting him into a preseason game where he suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder.
That was the tipping point. It was time to move on.
And it really is the best thing for Sanchez. Initially, I feared he would view going to Philadelphia to be a backup as a demotion. But now that I’ve seen his introductory press conference, I’ve completely changed my mind. As a veteran Sanchez watcher, I haven’t seen him this happy and enthusiastic since those first two years in New York.
It appears that everyone on Team Sanchez, including the man himself, recognizes what a tremendous opportunity this is for him.
First of all, it seems to me that the Eagles, under the direction of head coach Chip Kelly, appear to have their organizational act together. As an example, they have already publicly stated that Nick Foles is the starting QB. There will be no drama—that’s a good sign. It keeps unnecessary distractions for the team and in the media to a minimum.
It also means that Sanchez can continue to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder out of the spotlight’s glare. About that shoulder: It should tell you something that the Eagles pounced in spite of it. Chip Kelly saw something in Sanchez. Maybe it had to do with the 44-10 beatdown that Sanchez and the USC Trojans administered to Oregon back in 2008. Kelly had a front row seat for that as the Ducks' offensive coordinator.
That one of the most dynamic and creative thinkers in the NFL wanted Sanchez, with no ambivalence about the injury, sends a clear signal: Sanchez is not washed up. Kelly has an eye for quality players.
I’ve maintained all along that Sanchez has physical talent—what he needed was development. He couldn’t be in a better spot for that with a head coach who prizes offense and knows how to nurture young quarterbacks. In his press conference, Sanchez spoke of how much he was looking forward to the entire Eagles program, from the nutrition to creative thinking on offense to the playmakers in the locker room.
That last part, especially, stood out. I am sure that it was not Sanchez’s intention to criticize the Jets' lack of firepower; his gracious comments about his time in New York indicate that. As an observer, though, it is obvious that Sanchez opted for Philly because of the offensive potential, both with playmakers and with Chip Kelly leading the way. To me, it underscores the anemic offense that has existed in New York the last two years. Chip Kelly is smart enough to see past the tabloid sensationalism and poor team record and view Sanchez for what he can be.
I have no doubt that he has reviewed all the film from 2009 and 2010. The last couple of years, the Jets have made no use of what Sanchez does best. What is that, you ask? He is fantastic off play action. He thrives in the hurry up. For Sanchez, fast is good and it has the added benefit of tiring your opponents—that’s when you can go for the deep strike.
It appears that the only way he'll start in Philly is if Foles is injured. Obviously, no one wishes for injury—that’s terrible karma. But the fact remains that quarterbacks do get injured and you’d better have a quality backup or you could find yourself out of a job. Ask Bill Polian.
Sanchez is a great one-year insurance policy for the Eagles. The one-year deal, here analyzed by ESPN's Rich Cimini, is critical. It means that by the end of next season, Sanchez will only be 28 and in control his destiny. Maybe he goes elsewhere as a starter. Maybe he gets traded midseason to a contender who needs a starter. Either way, Sanchez is about to enroll in a master class in offensive football. Judging by his demeanor at his press conference, he looks thrilled and ready to get started.
The Jets, however, are another matter. Regardless of whatever narrative the front office is selling, to me this team looks like another .500 squad. The defensive secondary is a mess, which is a huge problem for a Rex Ryan team. Vick versus Smith will go on all summer, fueled by the insatiable New York media. Idzik has yet to prove his drafting prowess, especially offensively. And as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in New England, this team is playing for a wild card.
However, I think even that is a reach right now. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but I’m not holding my breath. There is a year’s worth of film on Geno Smith; opponents can scout him. Vick has a long history of being unable to stay on the field because of injury. Unless the defense, particularly at corner, can get shored up, this Jets team is in a precarious spot.
Maybe Mark Sanchez got out just in time. It won’t be long before we all find out.