Monday, December 26, 2011

Mark Sanchez: Should His Days in New York Be Numbered?

(Photo courtesy of

It took almost three seasons of inconsistent play, but the media is finally starting to question whether the Jets should give up on Mark Sanchez. This is why they shouldn't.

Learning Curve

The quarterback position is the most difficult transition from college to the pros. I've always been an advocate that a quarterback should not start right away and, depending on the player, should sit on the bench for anywhere from half a season to two years.

Thanks to a lack of in-house options, Sanchez was thrown to the wolves right away with the Jets after just one season as a starter at USC. All he did was lead the team to two AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons and while that team was focused on defense and the running game, Sanchez made the plays he needed to make to move the offense and win football games. He saved his best football for the playoffs, when it mattered most.

Most people would agree that the top five quarterbacks in the NFL this season (excluding Peyton Manning, who didn't play) are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. The career progressions of these five quarterbacks shows how steep the learning curve truly is.

Case Study

Rodgers famously sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons until his breakout fourth season when he threw 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. We all know what he's done this season, his fourth as a starter.

Brady sat for one season, but didn't reach the 30-touchdown plateau until his eighth season as a starter. In the three years since, taking away the season he was injured, he has done it twice.

Brees sat for one season but didn't even crack 20 touchdowns until his fourth year in the league. Up until that point, many people were saying he couldn't cut it as an NFL starter.

Roethlisberger is the exception here, posting quarterback ratings over 98 in his first two career seasons as starter. Even he didn't crack 20 touchdowns until his fourth season, however, when he threw 32. His third season was actually the worst of his career with a 75.4 rating, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Manning sat for half a season and, after year three, the New York media was questioning him as well. His third season looks eerily similar to Sanchez's with 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and nine fumbles compared to 30 touchdowns (six rushing), 15 interceptions and 10 fumbles for Sanchez. Actually, Manning's was worse.

My point here is clear: Every one of the quarterbacks on this list got better after their third season in the league and with the exception of Brees, whose numbers jumped in his third year as a starter, none took a quantum leap until their fourth season starting in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers never threw more than 30 touchdowns until this year, his fourth as a starter, and he has a shot at 50. Brady threw 50 in his seventh season; his previous high was 28 and he never totaled 30 touchdowns in a season before that like Sanchez has this season.

It took Manning until year five as a starter to post a quarterback rating over 80. If the Giants gave up on him after year three, they don't win the Super Bowl in year four. If the Chargers gave up on Drew Brees after year three, he may have become a career backup and the Saints wouldn't have a Super Bowl trophy from the 2009 season.

Quarterback is unlike any other position in the NFL where early failures are generally a sign of a busted pick. Some quarterbacks don't hit their full potential until they're close to 30. Sanchez's quarterback rating has risen every year as has his ability to make plays, not to mention he's just 25 years old.

In his first season, he totaled 15 touchdowns. He had 20 in year two and 30 so far this season. Yes, his turnovers are costly at times but he's dropping back almost 35 times per game and the Jets called 64 pass plays against the Giants last week! There are only a handful of NFL quarterbacks who can succeed when put in that situation.

Flawed Coaching Philosophy

One of the keys for the Jets on Saturday was to keep Sanchez effective by establishing the run and working off of play action, where he's one of the league's best. Instead, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called almost 40 more pass plays than run plays against a team full of backup linebackers. What a genius.

Giving up on Sanchez isn't the answer for the Jets. The Peyton Manning trade talk will continue but New York has too many other holes to give up multiple draft picks to get him; they still won't win the Super Bowl (think about Manning's supporting casts in Indianapolis) and when Manning retires and they have no ring, they'll look really bad.

The answer here is firing Schottenheimer, which has been the answer for at least two years. If the Jets keep their embattled offensive coordinator on board, Sanchez will not be an NFL starter when his rookie contract expires in two seasons.

If the team starts fresh and brings somebody in that can play to Sanchez's strengths while developing other parts of his game, he has a chance to be a top 10-12 NFL quarterback considering the dearth of quality quarterbacks in the league today.

Let's take a quick look at the previous two quarterbacks Schottenheimer coached with the Jets. In his final two seasons with New York, Chad Pennington started 24 games and threw 27 touchdowns and 25 interceptions with an 83.8 quarterback rating. The year after when he went to Miami, he threw 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 97.1 quarterback rating and won Comeback Player of the Year.

Brett Favre came to New York with high expectations but he struggled, throwing 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with an 81.0 rating in his one season as a Jet. What did Favre do the following year with Minnesota? He only threw 33 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions and compiled a career-high 107.2 passer rating, the only time in his career he topped 100.

Struggles As a Team

People who say that Sanchez has regressed this season are missing the big picture. The Jets' entire team has regressed while Sanchez has improved, but the team's reliance on him to do more has exposed his flaws that were disguised when the team had a strong running game and an elite defense.

If New York can fill some of their other needs in the offseason, this team can definitely return to the playoffs with Sanchez at quarterback assuming he continues to improve like the majority of quarterbacks do from season three to season four.

I said before the season that 2012, not 2011, would be the year that decides Sanchez's NFL future and I stand by that assessment. If we're having this same discussion at the end of next season, it's probably time for the Jets to move on.

The Jets entire team was built to win over the past three seasons but rather than acquire a veteran quarterback to hold down the ship in 2009, they traded up to draft a rookie. Those are severely conflicting ideals and if the Jets are willing to give up on Sanchez after just three seasons, you have to start questioning their personnel decisions over the past three years more than their choice of quarterback.

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