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Debating the Mark Sanchez Mistake

I thought we had some great Twitter exchanges this afternoon between myself and a number of followers about the handling of Mark Sanchez, his career, and the Jets role in all of it. With that in mind, I felt it might be a nice little topic to write about in more than 140 characters and explain some of my positions on it.

The mistake was drafting Mark Sanchez

This was really the comment that started the discussion. It was said by Mike Francesa today in his daily murder of the Jets organization in regards to benching him admitting that they made a mistake in the draft pick, in particular because they moved up to get him. Itís a statement I disagree with for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if you want to win in the NFL you need a star QB. For the most part if you look at the best of the best QBs they are picked in the first round, and even moreso in the top 11 picks of the draft. Quite frankly teams donít make out with ďdevelopmental prospectsĒ in the NFL. In todays league the only standout players not drafted in those first 32 picks are Tom Brady and Tony Romo. Matt Schaub would be the next tier and he was a 3rd rounder. Pretty much everyone else is a first round player. The last 7 Super Bowls have been won by a QB drafted in those first 32 picks. Tom Bradyís 2004 win was the last accomplished by a developmental QB. The reward is there. This isnít like drafting a defensive tackle or wide receiver which is not only high risk but low reward. The Jets took a chance.

Secondly the cost was not that high. The Jets gave away three spare part players and a 2nd round pick for Sanchez. This was not an organization banking their whole draft on Ricky Williams. This isnít a team giving up two number 1s and a number 2 to get RGIII. The Jets gave up Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff, and Abram Elam and a pick that the Jets have used on the likes of Vlad Ducasse and Kellen Clemens. This wasnít a decision that was going to cripple the organization going forward. They essentially gave up a 2nd round pick for Sanchez.

Financially there was never a point where Sanchez crippled the teams salary cap under his rookie deal. The hit was low in 2009. 2010 was an uncapped year so his cap made no difference to the team. The Jets 2011 cap was never impacted by the presence of Sanchez. In fact the Jets wisely held firm to not go to him for cap relief when many (myself included) looked at it as a strong possibility.

Players bust in the NFL all the time. While its your goal to minimize those chances through your scouting it does happen. You know that going in. The Jets cant look at Sanchez and get cold feet about going back into the draft and picking a QB. It happens. Picking a QB wasnít a mistake. What were the mistakes?

Mistake 1: Having no idea what your team was in 2009

For whatever reason the Jets thought that the 2008 collapse meant that the team needed to start over, which they did when they drafted Sanchez. The problem was after a few weeks they realized they had a championship caliber defense and running game and no QB to run the show. When you invest as you do in a player like Sanchez you have two options if he is going to see the field. You either go with the Matt Stafford/Peyton Manning approach where the guy plays balls out flinging the ball all over the field, taking his lumps and hopefully learning all the way or you go the Joe Flacco/Ben Roethlisberger route of play it safe and steady and never drift from the plan. The Jets had no plan with Sanchez. One week it was to let him try to throw the ball. Another week it was run. Another week it would be to only throw in the most crazy of situations. Finally it culminated in a head coach going to a color coded system to inform his QB when he could and could not take a chance. Iíve never heard of something so silly. Here is the QB of an NFL team trying to earn the respect of his teammates having a head coach looking to hold up flash cards that alert Sanchez to the fact that he has to be safe on a 2nd and 15 inside his own 20. Then you had the debacle of needing to teach him to run. Yes we were bringing in the Yankee baseball coach to teach an NFL QB to slide. It was crazy and has to have a young QBís head spinning.

Things didnít improve in 2010 when Rex would put in these gameplans designed to hide the QB. By mid-season when the receiving corps was all on the field they began to throw until things went south and then they pulled back again. I donít know how a young QB learns in that kind of system. Its not really a learning experience and it is certainly not confidence building.

If the Jets had scouted their own team better in 2009 they would have picked up a stopgap veteran QB to man the QB position in 2009 and made Sanchez watch from the sidelines and absorb everything. Or they would have passed on Sanchez and begged Brett Favre to return to the team. Their approach to winning and development didnít go hand in hand. Those ended up as wasted developmental years and in the long run counterproductive to Sanchez.

Mistake 2: Completely Misreading Mark Sanchez

When the Jets drafted Sanchez in 2009 they had limited interaction with him both on a personal and professional level. You try to hope you get things right in evaluating a player but it doesnít always work out. There is no excuse to miss that way once you have two years to get to know the player and observe the skillset up close and personal.

Lets be honest about Sanchez. He is not a good QB. He has terrible accuracy. His decision making and pocket presence are not great. He is mentally fragile, which in the NFL is bad enough but compounded 100 times more by being in NY. I donít know how the team did not see any of that in those first two years.

When you watched Sanchez develop in those first two years his ultimate upside was Troy Aikman, which of course is pretty good since Aikman is a Hall of Famer. But Aikman is in the Hall of Fame because of the teams success which inflated his stature around the NFL. Like Sanchez he was a terrible decision maker. Like Sanchez he didnít have a coach totally sold on him. Like Sanchez he was all over the field with the football. Youíll never find Aikman throwing 500 times a year for 4000 yards. That wasnít going to be his game and the Cowboys built around that.

Dallas put together this massive offensive line in front of Aikman. It was a brick wall that led the best running game in the NFL. It kept Aikman from getting hit too often. They had nice skill players, but the core of that offense was that line and a running back that took advantage of every hole created for them. The defense was exceptional. Of the glory years that defense ranked top 10 in yards in every season and top 5 in 3 seasons. All 5 years they were in the top 5 in points allowed. It was an environment to succeed. As the pieces got older or the cap forced movement Aikman no longer played like a Hall of Famer. Concussions certainly played a role but his peak was very short, 4 or 5 years, in which he threw for 20 TDs only 1 time.

The Jets had the system in place to run that type of team. It is what you have seen the 49íers run the last two seasons with bust Alex Smith as QB. While Smith was replaced this year after injury he was still capable in that role. For whatever reason the Jets saw something that made them blow that up and put the weight of the team on Marks shoulders. They replaced quality with a journeymen at Right Tackle. They inserted a young Guard onto the line that was going to take time to learn the job. They had running backs that made the least out of whatever was put in front of them. Sure they tried to maintain the defense but even that began to crumble last season. Somehow the Jets thought Mark Sanchez could carry an offensive team on his own.

Not only was there the physical aspect failure of the strategy by the mental aspect of it. At one point in 2011 Ryan got fed up and started demanding they run the ball more. One game he said Sanchez made the dumbest play he had ever seen in his life. Mind you this was during the game. You had Santonio Holmes just abusing the QB behind the scenes and in the huddle about getting him the football. This is a guy that went into 2011 as the man and by game 8 they are trying to do everything they can to make him not the man. Mentally he is not capable of surviving any of it. It had been 3 years of constant pulling and pushing in multiple directions.

Of course it got worse. The Jets made a decision that they needed to pay him more money to improve his confidence. All that did was put more pressure on the shoulders of a QB who was wilting under the pressure. Ryan went on a campaign to state how this was the greatest team he ever had. It didnít matter that it was by far the worst team, Rex is so confident that most of the fanbase and team buys in. The team spent the whole season telling Sanchez about what a rough time Eli Manning had in NY until year 4 when he went out and won the Super Bowl. How do you know the team told him? Because Sanchez would go in interviews and discuss Eli Mannings career path. Could you put any more pressure on someone? You wouldnít think so but they then traded for Tim Tebow.

Did the Jets think of what they were doing to a guy with limited talent and no toughness? As soon as things go bad who gets the blame? The QB. The greatest team Rex had did in fact prove to be the worst. Has to be the QB. Sanchez isnít going to win the Super Bowl. Guess that Eli Manning comparison isnít too valid. Now you may have cap problems and who is at the top of the list? The overpaid bust of a QB. You set the QBs hopes up on these falsehood and they all crumble 1 by 1 and you get the result of the last month.

As I said before Sanchez is bad, but there is a difference between being a bad QB and being a horrific QB. Its not like he has no physical tools, but his confidence is so shot that he doesnít even look like he belongs on a college let alone NFL team.. You saw in it Sanchezí face and the way he carried himself on the field. He was broken and whats worse is it sucked the life out of the team. How the Jets thought he could handle the pressure and how they brought it on him is unbelievable. It makes you wonder what in the world they watched all those weeks because they drove the situation from bad to worse. They created that situation on Sunday in which the crowd revolted against the team.

The Biggest Mistake: The Contract

This was the straw that broke the camels back. Sanchez went from imminently cuttable to a noose around the Jets neck. It was a deal that didnít need to happen and should never have happened. The Jets got almost nothing out of it and as I said before it just made the whole situation and dynamic between Mark and the fans even worse.

If the Jets donít sign that extension with Sanchez there is no doubt he would have been pulled weeks ago in an attempt to salvage the season. I donít know if it would have been for Tim Tebow or Greg McElroy but the Jets needed a spark in that Dolphin game and they should have made a switch during that game especially with the bye on the horizon. The only reason they did not was because Mark has their necks in a noose with his huge cap hit and $8.25 million in guaranteed money in 2013.

Now the team is stuck. They have a QB nobody on that team was playing hard for. They have a QB nobody really believes in. They have a QB who doesnít believe in himself. But there remains a strong option that he will go back in there because the Jets are chasing a cost that they they never should have incurred this past March. It is that move that really defines the mistake that was Mark Sanchez, a mistake we now have to find a way to work around for at least another year on the books.

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