I am not sure I can remember a team in recent NFL history that has the quandary at quarterback facing the New York Jets. One may look at certain numbers and assume the Jets have their franchise quarterback for the next 10 years. Frankly, some of the positives are startling and historically impressive. Two AFC Championship games in his first two seasons, in the process becoming only the 4th rookie quarterback to win his first playoff start and one of only two to win their first two playoff games. Sanchez has won 31 games as a 3-year starter for the Jet’s, compare that to Brett Favre, the NFL record holder for wins, who won 28 games in his first three years starting for the Green Bay Packers. Sanchez has compiled a 4-2 record as a playoff starter, all on the road. In his first three years he has orchestrated eleven 4th quarter game winning drives, matching the numbers of Peyton Manning in his first three years with the Indianapolis Colts.
So where’s the quandary, right? Sanchez has never completed 60% of his passes, a benchmark for success when considering a quarterback’s accuracy. He has thrown 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions, not great numbers especially when you consider the run support he enjoys. Those numbers improve moderately as a play action passer and Sanchez is at his best when out of the pocket. I think what surprises me most are his horrific numbers when the Jets attempt to stretch the field. As the 2011 season was winding down Sanchez had completed less than 20% of his passes 15 yards or longer, and that trend did not improve much in the 2012 season. His short passing game isn’t much better. He has the arm strength to make all the throws, but often forces the receiver to slow or adjust to his pass reducing the yards after catch statistic.
Even his intangibles are confusing. He seems to have the support of his teammates. He organizes the Jets West camp in the off season, and by most accounts has the work ethic. But many question his leadership skills. His poor body language as things are going badly is clearly evident. Recent rumors have surfaced since he became a Jet that maybe that work ethic is not really where it needs to be. He isn’t immersing himself in game films as he should be. For a team that is starving for leadership, it would have been an ideal year for Sanchez to offer some, even if just by example.
I am certain most Jets fans would agree that Sanchez’s lack of growth, perhaps even deterioration, can be attributed to several factors. First and foremost the inability of Brian Schottenheimer to give this offense an identity. There were games I wished Rex Ryan’s Dad Buddy Ryan were there to take a poke at Schottenheimer. I was very concerned going into this year that the wholesale changes to the receiving corps while a fragile third year quarterback was still finding his way, was questionable at best. Finally, the offensive line has become increasingly worse with each passing season. Sanchez clearly looked uncomfortable in the pocket this year, more so than in previous seasons.
If you believe everything you hear from Jets camp, Sanchez is their man. He is entering the 4th year of a 5-year contract. I suspect if they go into the 2012 season with Sanchez at the helm, chances are he will eventually sign an extension and he will be the Jets quarterback, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future. The question is, do the powers that be believe what they say? If they make a serious play for Peyton Manning, they should be very certain they can sign him. I doubt it will play out in a similar fashion to the failed courting of Nnamdi Asomugha that lead to the re- signing of Antonio Cromartie. I cannot envision a rosy relationship between the Jets and Sanchez after a failed run at Manning. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that they land Manning. Is the current Jets personnel good enough to ride an aging yet talented quarterback to the promise land? Where would that leave the Jets 3 years from now? No Manning, no Sanchez, and no long term solution at quarterback.
So what’s really missing? It’s simple, another quarterback to come to New York and proclaim “I am better”. Since the day Sanchez was handed control of this franchise he has never looked over his shoulder. He has never known the fear of losing his job. He never had a competitor show up for work at 5AM to study that week’s opponent. To me, it’s almost irrelevant if he has a good or even questionable work ethic; competition will always make you work harder. Perhaps keeping aging veteran Mark Brunell was good for the early development of Sanchez, but it is time to light a fire in his belly. It’s time to find out if he is our long term solution or just another Browning Nagle; but because he wins, hasn’t been exposed as a fraud. The Jets don’t need Manning. What they need is an affordable but crafty quarterback that can start in the NFL. Somebody that puts Sanchez on notice, but doesn’t send him packing just yet.
So if we all know competition makes you better, why doesn’t management make this move? I am not sure Tannenbaum is quite ready to face the truth. The idea of being so close only to find out it was all smoke and mirrors may be more than he is ready to discover. Could you imagine Kyle Orton strolling into camp and thumping Sanchez? While that may not be the best news for Tannenbaum or Jets fans, neither is extending Sanchez’s contract only to learn this is as good as it gets. General Managers are paid to get those answers. We need this answer right now.