By Kristian Dyer
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It wasn’t a big splash, the big name signing or the hired gun brought in as part of a panic mode. Instead, it was the right move.
The Jets signed Mark Sanchez to a three-year contract extension late on Friday night, a move that was met with a mixed reaction from fans who have waited for more than four decades for something to cheer about. What the move meant, of course, is that the Jets are out of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and that Sanchez is the de facto starter for the foreseeable future.
So to recap, the Jets don’t have Manning and Sanchez is their starter. In other words, nothing has changed about a team that has made the playoffs in two of the past three years (and beat Manning in their last playoff run) and yet there is plenty of hand-wringing in the land of the “Same Olds.” Why?
On and off the field, the Jets have invested too much into the now fourth year quarterback to simply cut ties with Sanchez. A buy-out would be too costly, especially to bring in a player coming off multiple neck surgeries who missed all of last season due to those related injuries. Signing Sanchez was the right thing to do, the smart thing to do. Quite frankly it was the only thing to do.
And the Jets organization as a whole, from general manager Mike Tannenbaum to head coach Rex Ryan, deserve praise for making the deal happen.
While it does smell like a public relations stunt – the jilted team settling for “second best” and hoping to draw attention from their swing and miss with Manning– it was the move that had to be made. It goes without saying that Sanchez isn’t a perfect quarterback and there are plenty of major issues he needs to address in his game. He has a tendency to force feed the ball to disgruntled teammates. And then there is serious work to be done with his progression — not to mention his reading of the game — but to expect the Jets to move hell and high water to pursue Manning is unreasonable and absurd.
The cap hit alone for Manning would have crippled the Jets’ ability to make free agency maneuvers, a necessity for an 8-8 team that has major issues on defense and most likely needs to bring in a star wide receiver in addition to a second running back. Signing Sanchez to the deal they did gives the Jets some wiggle room to make upgrades and infuse both sides of the ball with some new blood. Sign Manning and the Jets might as well clap their hands and call the offseason over.
But beyond the fact that Manning to the Jets was never really in the works, Sanchez needs to be the player under center for this team, flaws and all. It is easy to forget given the disappointment of last year that Sanchez was the quarterback of the Jets for their consecutive AFC Championship game appearances in Ryan’s first two years with the team. He is 26-21 as a starter in the regular season, not bad for a young quarterback, and there is of course that 4-2 record in the playoffs and the multiple game-winning drives that have become a staple of his character.
Plus he’s beaten the New England Patriots three times over the past three seasons, something no other quarterback in the league can claim. Given the right pieces around him – meaning an offensive line that unlike last year actually protects him and a running game that is effective – Sanchez can be effective.
There’s every reason to believe that he will be again.
But more than anything, this was a move about not just the present but the future. Bringing in Manning would have been a short-term solution for the team’s offensive struggles of last year, not a long-term solution. The Jets gave up lots of pieces in the 2009 NFL Draft to move up and trade Sanchez and they need to make this one work. Lessons were learned from the “Brett Favre” quagmire and the Jets have wisely moved in the right direction for continuity’s sake.
Sanchez will have that shot now to prove that he can win, that he can be the man. It won’t be perfect or always pretty but Sanchez can and will make it work.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer
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