New York Jets  

 

Jets re-up Sanchez: the good, the bad and the ugly

So I wanted to throw up Friday night. Not when I saw the $40.5 million contract extension Mark Sanchez received, but because I was a Twitter Warrior after I found out. I was driving through the mountains on a 2½ hour car trip and couldn't stay away from it. After so many twists and turns on our ride (just like the Jets' season), I had to stop tweeting because I had a headache and felt nauseous (again, just like during the Jets' season).

I love being NFL.com's go-to-guy on the Jets. After all, it's my team. Was the Sanchez contract good for the organization? Yes, it was. Was it bad for them? Yes, it was. Did my dad have the best line of the night? ("You know, the Mets could have used that money more than Sanchez.") Yes, he did.

So let me spell out two schools of thought on this, and you decide which angle you want to side with.

Why the extension was good

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As much as they wanted to be, the Jets were never in the Peyton Derby. When the next best quarterback who's going to be available to you is Jason Campbell, you're better off making it work with what you currently have.

First off, you have to repair your relationship with Sanchez after the Manning flirtation -- he was nothing to me, I only love you -- and nothing does that better than a big pile of cash. But it does something else. It elevates Sanchez to where he almost demands respect because of the commitment the team made to him.

Now, instead of laying low with Chad Pennington learning Tony Sparano's offense ("Hey Chad, how come all these great drives end in field goals?"), Sanchez no longer needs to be as camera-shy as Blue Ivy this offseason and can get vocal and make it his team. Because nothing says "listen to me" more than a big pile of cash. (Ah-ah-ah, Santonio. Hand down. We'll have time for questions at the end.)

What else has the extension done? Did Jets players wonder whose team it was at the end of the season? If they did, they don't anymore. Did the team see itself in a rebuilding mode? Not anymore it doesn't. Were free agents wondering if the Jets were lacking direction? Were they coming in to play with a lame-duck quarterback? Not anymore they're not. The Jets basically said, "all of you suck it up, because we believe in him."

And hey, if Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan are all comfortable with giving Sanchez that money, they know something we don't. And those are some pretty good football minds.

Say you could pick any quarterback who's currently in the league for your team right now. Who would you go with? I played that game with myself on my car ride and I had Sanchez 12th.

Wait, 12th? That high? Yes. Because it's not about absolutes in who's the best, but you have to take everything into consideration. Ahead of Sanchez, I had Brady, Roethlisberger, Schaub, Rivers, Eli, Rodgers, Stafford, Cutler, Brees, Ryan, Newton. So not bad to come after those guys.

He's ahead of Vick (age and injury), Romo, Flacco and Freeman (inconsistency), Tebow, Dalton and Bradford (we still don't know enough about these guys). In three years, he's accomplished more in the playoffs than anyone in this paragraph. Once Peyton proves he's healthy he'll knock Sanchez down to 13th on the list -- but that's OK, because in theory, you can get to a Super Bowl with that level of quarterback.

Remember, Eli was a periphery top 15 passer when he got to the Super Bowl in 2007, as was Matt Hasselbeck in '06, Rex Grossman in '05 and Jake Delhomme in '03. Okay, I was generous on the Grossman part of it, but you get my drift. A quarterback is a gut feel. You have to keep someone like Sanchez and hope he's on the Eli Manning path of showing you glimpses, but it just takes a little longer than normal for him to become elite.

Why the extension was bad

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Giving $40.5 million to Sanchez? Wasn't the whole point of the offseason to get some competition to try to get Sanchez to raise his game?

Campbell or Henne were supposed to do that. Good luck getting them to sign, now that they know they have no chance to start. Greg McElroy's the one to help Sanchez fight off complacency?

What's happened in the last two months that's made the Jets think "we don't have to do that anymore"? Has he Freaky-Fridayed brains with Joe Montana? It's like New York had this plan in place for the quarterback position and then turned 180 degrees from it.

How has this Sanchez extension made the Jets better? They still have the same issues that plagued them down the stretch. Just because Sanchez got paid doesn't mean everything gets fixed and he doesn't turn the ball over 26 times next season. He's still in a "show-me" situation. And if he doesn't? How can you still go forward with him?

Suppose the Jets have a bad 2012, and Sanchez is largely the guy he's been so far. Then you can't keep on with him as your starter. The fans, media -- and most importantly, the team -- would be looking for a new signal-caller. It's easy to cut ties and reload when your incumbent only has one year left on his contract, but now you're locked in until 2016? Look at the bright side -- at least those Sanchez jerseys won't be out of date anytime soon.

Because I can't ignore it anymore -- oh my God, do you remember how 2011 ended? With no leadership? With Sanchez disappearing rather than grabbing Holmes or anyone else by the shoulder pads and throwing them up against the wall and saying "enough." With unnamed Jets questioning Mark's work ethic and how he's babied by the coaching staff? Perception is reality. And whether or not Sanchez has a great work ethic or not, or he's babied or he isn't, there's a big perception on the team that those things are true.

It's hard to throw that all away and say "yes, I will now ride into battle with you." Won't the money he got make some veterans blanche because all they see is him backing into the end zone for a safety against the Giants? Throwing pick sixes? And THIS guy gets 40 million dollars? Won't they question the coaching staff and front office for this decision?

Sanchez right now is, at best, the 12th- or 13th-best quarterback in the game. And while that's nice, considering how the position has evolved, you need to be the elite-ist of the elite to win it all. Look at the signal-callers who have won Super Bowls the last eight years -- Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger. Is Sanchez even close to that group?

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The rule of thumb in the NFL says you never pay someone until you have to. The Jets didn't have to do this. It's a gamble of Biblical proportions (thanks, Bill Walton), hoping this move will light a fire under Sanchez and turn him into a star.

After three years in the league, this is the player you are. That normally doesn't change. If the Jets were to let Sanchez go tomorrow, how many teams would pick him up and make him their starter? One? Two? And it would be a bottom-feeder team. He'd get a two-year, $12 million deal. The team would dream he could blossom, but in reality, they'd just hope he'd be decent enough to be a bridge until they could find a franchise quarterback?

So there it is. Is the glass half-full, or is it half-empty for the Jets? I'm just hoping the glass isn't broken. Or that there still IS a glass.

Submitted for your approval.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith on NFL.com. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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