I can’t recall a more polarizing decision to extend a starting quarterbacks contract in recent memory. Mike Tannenbaum opened Mr. Johnson’s vault and ensured Mark Sanchez’ would, regardless of how he performs on the field, walk away a very wealthy football player. Fans and New York Jet beat writers alike have very fervent opinions on the move. Many question the prudence of rewarding a young quarterback coming off his weakest season as a starter with such a lucrative contract. With Sanchez previously locked up through 2013, conventional wisdom would suggest to give him the 2012 season to see how he grows under new coordinator Tony Sparano and hopefully a revamped offensive line. If there is improvement, work out the extension. If not, release him from his non-guaranteed last year of contract and move forward.
So if we look at this from the standpoint of a fan, what has really changed? Not much. Sure, a boat load of the money Sanchez makes is now guaranteed. But do you really think the New York Jets brain trust is going to put Sanchez out there in 2013 if he has a miserable 2012 season? He is now under contract through the 2016 but only the first 2 years are guaranteed money. I am 100% certain management will eat that 2013 salary to move on from Sanchez and find a franchise caliber starting quarterback if 2012 yields no playoffs.
Here’s the reality. The Jets have no viable solution for quarterback this year. It was by no coincidence that this signing came on the heels of Peyton Manning’s release by the Indianapolis Colts. By all accounts Manning told the inquiring Jets not to hold their breath. Perhaps it was sharing the spotlight with his brother, or the reports of a broken Jets locker room, but Gang Green was not on his short list. With no sure thing out there in free agency, this move makes perfect sense. With the window closing on their chances to be a relevant playoff football team, it was time to bank it all on the 2012 season. We have all read the articles spelling out the cap room they now have to throw around in the free agent market. They should announce the extension of big run stopper Sione Pouha sometime very soon. They are also working on Dustin Keller’s future as a Jet, something I am less excited about. Unfortunately there are just too many pressing needs to have the luxury of an upgrade at tight end.
This deal has to be looked at from two angles. First and foremost, what kind of starter is the 2012 version of Sanchez? That’s obvious. But how Tannebaum spends this new found cap room is almost as vital to how all of this plays out. If he can address safety and pass rush along with improving both the effectiveness and depth of the offensive line, this all could start to make perfect sense. Add a viable back up running back and more targets for Sanchez to throw to, and suddenly The New York Jets could find themselves back in the playoff mix. With a new run first offense and an effective play action passing game, Sanchez could settle into a nice year.
I already know what you are thinking. Is this guy kidding me? Is he even a Jets fan? Does he not realize this franchise has personified Murphy’s Law for the better part of a half century? So let’s examine worst case scenario. Sanchez proves that 2011 was not just a bad year, but it’s what he is as a quarterback. This is as good as it gets. What’s changed? Unless you truly believe Sanchez will be back under center in 2013 because of guaranteed money, nothing’s changed. The moment Manning said thanks, but no thanks, Sanchez was going to be the man for 2012. There is just no way around that reality. But if this team can continue to improve in other areas, they will not allow Sanchez to hold them hostage. If they see they are a bonafide starting quarterback away from a Super Bowl run in 2013, Tannenbaum will overturn every stone to find one. So what do we care if the only change in the future of this franchise is a few bucks out of Mr. Johnson’s substantial bank roll? We are Jet fans. If the worst thing this move subjects us too is a frustrating 2012, we can handle that with one hand tied behind our backs. We are Jets fans, we have seen it all.