By Kristian Dyer
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Don’t run Mark Sanchez out of town just yet, Jets fans.
As far as the fans and many in the media go, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Sanchez will not return to the Jets for a sixth season.
And yet it may not be that simple. Nor, frankly, should it be. He might be the best option out there.
Permit me if you will, to offer a bit of logic when it comes to Sanchez and his future.
The excuse last year for rookie quarterback Geno Smith always was that while he still had a steep learning curve, he could have been much better if he had actual weapons around him. But in 2011, Sanchez was blamed for all the struggles of the Jets offense – this despite a horrid offensive line and a similarly bad, if not worse, array of “weapons.”
Yet Jets fans want to run Sanchez out of town for his struggles (and, yes, he certainly had some forgettable games) and anoint Smith for the future. They can excuse Smith because of a lack of weapons, yet they are unwilling to give Sanchez the same slack. Smith gets a free pass for his interceptions because he didn’t have good talent around him, while Sanchez is lambasted despite having equally poor targets, a worse offensive line, and a nonexistent running game.
There was a time when the “Sanchise” wasn’t a joke, when the fans saw his potential.
In 2011, Sanchez threw for nearly 3,500 yards, had 26 passing touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns. And while it’s true he did turn the ball over 26 times, he was carrying an offense that lacked a running game, something that had been the Jets’ bread and butter the previous two seasons.
The wheels came off in a comedy of errors the following offseason. From the hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator to the trade for Tim Tebow to a lack of addressing the need for weapons on offense, the 2012 season was doomed from the start.
Things could have turned out differently for Sanchez last season had he not be injured in a preseason game that he had no business playing in. At the time, he was ahead in the quarterback competition and was having a good training camp.
But now, all these months later, the Jets’ fan base is ready to give Smith a pass for the types of things they couldn’t wait to tar and feather Sanchez for.
In Sanchez, the Jets certainly don’t have an ideal situation. He is owed $13.1 million this season and if cut, the dead money would be “only” $4.8 million. However, by drafting Smith in the second round last year, the team really shouldn’t utilize another top pick on a rookie quarterback. And with the free agent market thin, the Jets likely won’t be able to find a proven veteran quarterback at a reasonable price to either push or beat out Smith.
So that leaves Sanchez and the possibility of a restructure.
The team and representatives for Sanchez met this past week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine to discuss his future. They walked away with no deal in place as the Jets seem content to bide their time and see how his shoulder injury continues to heal.
But Sanchez at a reduced salary might present the Jets their best option. Many in the fan base are clamoring for Josh McCown, but he doesn’t seem to fit general manager John Idzik’s thinking, mostly because he’s going to want to be paid significantly off his eight-game heroics last season with the Chicago Bears. Michael Vick and Matt Schaub aren’t healthy enough anymore to be anything more than a veteran presence. Sanchez may indeed be better than any free agent the Jets could target — that is, if the Jets are really serious about competition.
Provided Sanchez takes a stiff pay cut and is 100 percent healthy, he could offer Smith a stiff challenge in training camp, something he was certainly doing before that preseason game against the Giants.
The money he should get potentially starting in New York would likely be comparable to what he would earn as a backup in any other NFL city, and with the Jets he’d have a better shot to win the job then almost anywhere else. Sanchez is still the quarterback who led the Jets to within a game of the Super Bowl twice in his first two seasons in the league. He is also the one who is just two seasons removed from one of the best statistical passing seasons in franchise history.
It might not be the most popular of ideas, but Sanchez can be a starting quarterback in this league. If the Jets see the light and Sanchez is willing to take a lot less money, he could very well be an answer instead of a problem heading into the season.
Just when you thought the “Sanchize” was gone, the Jets, if they are smart, could pull him right back in.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York. Follow him on Twitter at @KristianRDyer
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