By Kristian Dyer
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Twice now in the past month, the Jets have had the cause and reason to bench starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Twice in the past month they would have been justified in doing so. Twice in the past month, Sanchez’s erratic performances have seen the crowds at MetLife Stadium turn ugly and boo him lustily.
Twice in the past month the coaching staff would have benched Sanchez if his backup was Greg McElroy — but he’s not. Instead, Sanchez is backed up by none other than Tim Tebow. And if Tebow is put in the game for extended snaps, he’s not coming out for the rest of the season.
That’s why Sanchez remains.
The Jets — from general manager Mike Tannenbaum to head coach Rex Ryan to offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — know that if Sanchez is yanked and Tebow is put in, well, there’s no going back. Benching Sanchez is the right thing to do based off his performances, but it won’t happen anytime soon. And none of the reasons stem from a perceived lack of performance by Tebow or anything that Sanchez is doing right.
Instead, it’s about ego and bad decisions in the past.
The Jets are going to stick with Sanchez because they still need to justify Sanchez being on this team in the first place.
In April 2009, the Jets moved a number of pieces including players and draft picks to Cleveland to trade up in the draft and select Sanchez with the No. 5 overall pick. Tannenbaum and Ryan had become enamored with Sanchez and his pedigree, and he was the big splash pick that the Jets had become famous for making. No matter that Sanchez didn’t put up tremendous numbers at the NFL combine or that he had just 16 starts at USC with a body of work that was rather solid, but by no means worthy of such a high selection.
None of that mattered as the Jets found a quarterback with the look they wanted and they reached with the pick. They outsmarted themselves, and for the first two years of the Sanchez experiment it seemed like a success as a veteran team masked their quarterback’s deficiencies and his lack of development. But last year and now this year with much of that veteran base now gone, Sanchez has struggled and failed to take a full step in his development.
In fact he might be regressing.
Now midway through his fourth season in the league, it has become apparent who and what Sanchez is: a rather ordinary quarterback who probably isn’t middle of the pack among NFL starting quarterbacks on any given Sunday. He can manage the offense and limit mistakes for the most part, but he can’t win games on his own.
All that he can really be asked to do is not lose games, but a Jets team that took him so early in the draft nearly four years ago can’t look at their fans and say that they wasted a top draft pick on a game manager. They also have to validate giving him a three-year extension this offseason after rather mediocre improvements the season before. It doesn’t add up, and that’s why they can’t start Tebow – they have to hope that Sanchez steps up.
Say what you want about Tebow. He has his flaws and his detractors certainly have some solid ground to stand on, but can he possibly be worse than Sanchez at this point? Ryan said he’s with Sanchez because he’s proven that he’s a winner, but at 3-5 this year and 11-13 since the start of last season, is that really the case?
Sanchez isn’t a winner right now, he’s just under center and managing a bad team, contributing to their problems with poor decisions as he throws into double and triple coverage and he is showing a lack of presence on the field. The problems for the Jets are deeper than just their quarterback but here in lies the problem: Sanchez can’t dig them out.
Enter Tebow, a raw and unconventional quarterback with a mystifying technique and an even more mystifying penchant for winning. If the Jets say they want to go with the winner then Tebow and his renowned exploits clearly have to be in the picture.
But Tebow won’t be asked to take over the offense because he wasn’t a high draft pick of the Jets and because inserting him into the game or starting him would mean that Tannenbaum and company erred when they drafted Sanchez and then rewarded a middling quarterback with a long-term contract. Sanchez must be validated at all costs even if Tebow can win the Jets some games.
Is Tebow the answer? He could be. But more than anything, it’s becoming clear that Sanchez is only just a question mark.
Almost any coaching staff in the league would have benched Sanchez this past Sunday during the Jets’ 30-9 home loss to the Dolphins, or in Week 4 when the visiting 49ers ran roughshod over the Jets by a 34-0 score line. Those are the opportunities to put in the backup in games like those to stay sharp and help his development in the offense. Tebow won’t get those snaps because the Jets are afraid that he might succeed, even in that limited window, and then they might have to play him next week.
That’s what happened in Denver and Tebow showed enough to start the last 11 games for the Broncos, leading them to the division and the playoffs.
And that would only draw more attention to the bad choices the Jets made with Sanchez the past four years.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and can be followed for news, insight and snarky comments @KristianRDyer.
Do you think it’s time to pull the trigger on a switch? Be heard in the comments below?