When Mark Sanchez finally is released by the New York Jets after this season, with the $8 million that forestalled their divorce in his pocket and his labrum repaired by surgery, the quarterback's tenure in Gotham will be summed up with a series of shocking highs and astounding lows, of dating starlets and being booed by Knicks fans, bookended by two consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances and a butt-fumble.
The Snoopy Trophy, after all, is why the Jets coach put Sanchez into an Aug. 24 preseason game against the New York Giants, after Geno Smith essentially had played his way out of the starting job with a miserable performance that looked a lot like the one he put together this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. MetLife annually awards the hardware to the winner of the preseason bout between the two tenants of the stadium bearing the insurance company's name. And Ryan inexplicably inserted Sanchez into the second half of that preseason game, behind second- and third-string offensive linemen who would not even make the Jets' roster, against defensive players desperate to make an impact.
The Jets never have admitted it was a mistake to put Sanchez into that situation -- they were trying to win the game, Ryan laughably insisted -- but Ryan's shell-shocked visage that night, with Snoopy bearing witness, told the real tale. That was the night Ryan turned sideways during his news conference, but he knew by then that his season had just been turned upside down. His rookie quarterback wasn't ready, his veteran had suffered a significant injury and he was stuck with a mess of the Jets' own creation with his job on the line.
Would this team have gone to the Super Bowl with Sanchez under center? No. But make no mistake: Sanchez almost certainly was going to be the starter after Smith melted down in that preseason game, and you don't need an MRI to read the results of the Jets' confounding decision-making now that the season is a month old. The Jets barely have escaped with victories against similarly limitedand undisciplined teams. When they took a step up in class, facing off against the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, they lost -- the latter in humiliating fashion Sunday in Nashville.
Maybe Sanchez wouldn't have done any better. In the preseason, after all, he still was a quarterback who made the same mind-numbing mistakes at times. But let's think about the bigger picture here. A clearly perturbed Ryan gave Smith a limited vote of confidence Monday when asked if he was considering benching the rookie -- "It's not a thought at this point right now," he said -- and sticking with Smith is the right decision. But wouldn't it be nice to at least have a viable option besides inexperienced Matt Simms and too-new-to-know-the-playbook Brady Quinn if Smith doesn't improve and his confidence is in peril? Now that Sanchez is going ahead with the surgery to repair his shoulder, the options officially are erased -- there will be no return from injured reserve, after all -- and so, too, is the marriage between first-round draft pick and the team he was supposed to rescue.
Sanchez has let the Jets off the hook by taking the high road since suffering the injury -- actually, he's done that throughout the past few seasons. He didn't blast the team last season when it acquired Tim Tebow and his circus, and remained mum about his feelings this season. Josh Freeman could learn something about behaving like a professional from Sanchez; it is ironic that Freeman and Sanchez -- two of the three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft (Matthew Stafford was the first) -- will both enter free agency as highly damaged goods next year.
For almost a year, it has seemed obvious that Sanchez probably would benefit from a fresh start somewhere else, just as the Jets would have been better off had they been able to make a clean break last offseason. The dumbfounding contract extension that former general manager Mike Tannenbaum gave Sanchez as a kiss-and-make-up present after the team's unrequited flirtation with Peyton Manning tied the two together, like cement shoes to a franchise that wanted to swim away from its tortured past.
Instead, Sanchez and the Jets are sinking at the same time. It seems fitting that a cartoon was the impetus for it all.