Looking at Mark Sanchez and his Potential Impact on Others as a Starter


This Monday night will begin one of the more interesting stories in the NFL when Mark Sanchez takes over the quarterbacking duties for the Philadelphia Eagles. I find it fascinating because Sanchez’ performance will likely have consequences far reaching beyond just his own career, impacting the opinions and futures of people  across multiple organizations.

There were certainly high expectations surrounding Sanchez when he came into the NFL as the fifth overall draft pick in 2009. The Jets traded up with the Cleveland Browns to nab Sanchez and by the summer Sanchez was anointed the starter of the team. The Jets were highly successful in Sanchez’ first two seasons in the NFL, earning a trip to two AFC Championship games including road playoff wins against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers.

Though Sanchez was efficient in those games, nobody will argue that he was the catalyst for those wins nor that he was a good player in those years. Like most young players he struggled and the Jets struggled with a balancing act of developing a quarterback while competing for a championship. Still, in this age where playoff success means everything for a QB, Sanchez got almost no credit for his work as a Jet.

Sanchez was immature in his time with the Jets not really understanding how to handle the bright lights of New York and a media ready to pounce on him. It didn’t help that the loudest voice in the NY metro area held a grudge against the Jets and drew added attention to any shortcomings with the team. The hot dog incident, the prepared speech, the numerous women, photo shoots, and on and on…Mark gave critics every reason to hammer him.

The Jets development of Sanchez left a lot to be desired. As a rookie they began using a series of color coded cards to remind him when to be extra careful with the football. They would devise strategies where for weeks he was asked to throw the ball to win and then, when the coach got annoyed, completely abandon the pass. Mark was lost in a sea of voices and unhappy players in 2011.

In 2012 things peaked when the Jets were unsuccessful in getting Manning to sign as a free agent, so they turned around and extended Sanchez.  Though the contract was by no means outlandish (in essence the contract was giving them salary cap relief in 2012 for guaranteed salary in 2013) it was enough to bring fan scrutiny to the highest levels. Then the Jets traded for Tim Tebow and the Tebow circus that followed him. It was a nightmare that culminated with the “butt fumble” and Rex Ryan coming up with a plan to keep Sanchez from playing before a ultra negative home crowd at the end of the season.

Sanchez’ lack of development and crash of 2012 saw GM Mike Tannenbaum fired and replace by John Idzik, who immediately drafted a quarterback, Geno Smith, to eventually replace Sanchez. Sanchez outplayed Smith in the preseason but was told that the competition was ongoing. For some strange reason the Jets decided to put him on the field in garbage time of a preseason game and he injured his shoulder and was done for the year. The Jets would release Sanchez in 2014, letting him twist in the wind for a few weeks while all the NFL jobs dried up. Sanchez signed for pennies with the Eagles to backup Nick Foles for one season.

So now Mark is a few years older and in a new environment. For the first time since 2010 he has a tremendous support system around him. Those voices that rallied against Sanchez in 2012 are now on his side as his doing well just adds more fuel to the dumpster fire that is the Jets 2014 season.

So let’s look at who his play impacts moving forward:

Mark Sanchez– When Mark took the job with the Eagles it was in part to work with someone considered a good offensive coach and in part because the other jobs did not exist. A player of Sanchez’ pedigree at the worst will usually earn a few million in free agency to be a backup. In a league where Andy Dalton makes $16 million a year and people believe Brian Hoyer should earn $10 million a season, Sanchez can earn some big dollars if he is successful. If Sanchez gets back to the playoffs with this team his skillset should translate into a very nice contract.

If he fails?  Well then he has to decide if he wants a career earning the minimum as a backup or calling it quits and falling back on whatever money he banked off his rookie contract with the Jets. Most likely if he fails it gives a strong possibility that he is done with the NFL.

Rex Ryan– The current head coach of the Jets consistently gets a pass because he has never had a quarterback to work with in the NFL. Since he has been the coach of the Jets he has had games started by Sanchez, Smith, Vick, Kellen Clemens, and Greg McElroy.  If you throw Tebow in the mix that’s actually three players selected in the first round (though Vick was selected an eternity ago) and two second rounders, so the argument against Rex is that he gets nothing out of potentially talented players.

For the first time ever fans will get to see if Rex really never had a QB all this time or if he simply failed to develop the talent he had. If Sanchez is successful it would probably be the blackest mark on Ryan’s resume and reinforce the label that he is a great defensive coordinator with limited ability to work with the offense.

Chip Kelly– Right now Kelly is pretty much all the rage in many circles around the league. People love that he is not the traditional system coach and the fact that he avoided a second year collapse has brought his system much more validity than many other flash in the pan coaches. If Kelly can succeed with Sanchez the QB guru/offensive system label is going to stick forever. If Sanchez fails it’s going to be a ding on his record with critics looking more at the talented Eagles roster as a reason for his success rather than Kelly’s ability to get every ounce of talent out of a prospect.

John Idzik– Though Idzik’s mantra has been “competition” since day 1, whatever happened in 2013 did not look like a fair competition and he threw Mark out without any competition in 2014. His replacement, Vick, looked disinterested in even playing while Smith flamed out. Idzik’s rebuilding effort with the Jets has been a disaster and it’s quite possible the best QB he had, he ran out of town without a real opportunity to succeed. Idzik needs Mark to fail to at least fan some of the flames currently surrounding him.

Nick Foles– There have been many that have said Foles 2013 season was more a byproduct of luck and coaching than skill, and if Sanchez succeeds that group will grow larger. Foles had struggled at times this year and may find himself in a position where Sanchez never gives the job back to Foles. Foles inherited the starting job because of injury last year and the head coach had no intention of naming Michael Vick the starter again after that. If Sanchez is successful there would be no need to go back to Foles as Sanchez has a higher upside.

Because Sanchez is on a one year contract Foles would be in a very bad spot if the team signed Sanchez long term following the season as it would likely block him from starting again. For Foles that would be catastrophic in an attempt to cash in as a free agent in 2016. He would then be looked at as, at best, a high end backup, earning $4 million or so a season rather than the double digit APY he may have been looking at on an extension after this season.

Jeremy Maclin– Maclin is having a ridiculous season and is looking to cash in big in free agency this offseason. He was the favorite target of Foles, averaging over 10 targets a game. The big question when it comes to valuing receivers is how much of the production is the QB and how much is the receiver. If Sanchez is successful but spreads the ball around much more it can hurt Maclin’s value. If Sanchez completely bombs then a team should question what benefit the receiver truly brings at those costs. He needs Sanchez to play well with a majority of those passes coming to him to continue to solidify that value.

Mike Tannenbaum– Despite  taking over an old team with salary cap troubles and  finding a way to make the playoffs 3 times in his first 5 years, the big knock on Tannenbaum was that he was not a “football guy” and was never going to be successful long term at picking players. The back to back picks of Vernon Gholston and Sanchez high in the draft pretty much cemented his fate, but he now has a chance to say that the pick of Sanchez wasn’t as bad as people thought. Tannenbaum’s resume does include picking Darrelle Revis, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Muhammad Wilkerson, and David Harris and if Sanchez can do well that’s going to make his top line picks look very impressive to a team considering hiring him as a General Manager.



Mark Sanchez, the Jets, and His Future


The Jets put an end to the Mark Sanchez era when they released their former top draft pick following the signing of QB Michael Vick. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for Sanchez as he certainly made millions with the Jets and did not deliver as anticipated, but the timing of the move shows what can be a very ugly side of football.

I wrote about Sanchez the other week and the leverage that the Jets had with his contract and future. The short version is that the Jets opted to extend Sanchez for salary cap relief back in 2012 where they guaranteed him a 2013 roster spot and in return got him on a moderate cost contract if he proved to be a star caliber player. As a concession for the guaranteed 2013 season, Sanchez would take a late in the offseason roster bonus in 2014 giving the Jets ample time to negotiate a trade or pay cut in the event Sanchez flamed out.

As things turned out it looks as if the Jets never had any intention of keeping Sanchez on the Jets unless an emergency situation arose. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini the Jets never  asked him about a pay cut further indicating that they had no intentions to keep him on the roster.  It seemed as if Sanchez’ fate hinged on a series of events of which the Raiders QB decision was the deciding event. The Raiders either represented a potential trade partner or the landing destination for Vick that would cause the emergency scenario to arise.

The wheels were set in motion when the Tennessee Titans release Ryan Fitzpatrick who quickly signed with the Houston Texans. That move made Texans veteran Matt Schaub immediately available to a trade partner and the Raiders quickly emerged as the trade partner for Schaub. With the Raiders job locked up, the Jets swiftly moved to sign Vick, a move that likely could have been made over a week ago had the Jets drawn a line in the sand about a decision.

While Sanchez twisted in the win, job after job disappeared for him that would give him an opportunity to compete for a starting job: Jacksonville re-signed Chad Henne, Josh McCown went to Tampa Bay, Matt Cassel went back to Minnesota, Charlie Whitehurst ended up in Tennessee, Fitzpatrick signed with Houston, and finally the Raiders grabbed Schaub. Even backup situations were settled with Seattle signing Tarvaris Jackson, the Chargers signing Kellen Clemens, San Francisco trading for Blaine Gabbert, and Cincinnati taking in Jason Campbell.

The Jets had every right to do what they did to try to protect their interests as best as possible but it was only possible due to the date of that bonus. Others on the Jets with earlier bonuses were immediately released.  The situation could not have been pleasing to Sanchez who likely felt the rug was pulled out from under him in New York when the team traded for Tim Tebow in 2012 and then played him for no reason in a meaningless situation in 2013 that saw him get injured and spend the year on injured reserve. Sanchez will likely now have to find a team with an injury risk if he wants to re-start his career. He won’t get an opportunity to compete in the offseason.

My gut feeling is that Sanchez’ career path is probably more David Carr than Rich Gannon in that his upside is veteran backup at the minimum salary, but most do get another shot to compete for a job. Sanchez will only get that if someone else gets hurt in 2014 or will have to put his career on hold until 2015. The salary for a “high end” backup is around $4-$5 million a year for two years, but with free agency so late in the process and a desire to hit free agency in 2015, Sanchez might be best suited to take less money for a better opportunity. Who could be interested?

Cleveland– The Browns are the lone team in the NFL without a player that should be expected to start and would be his one chance to redeem himself in 2014. Their head coach is familiar with Sanchez, though that may not be a positive for Sanchez as the Jets did more to hide him in his time in the NFL because they were fearful of him giving games away. They have the cap space to make a two year commitment where he holds the seat warm for a draft pick.

St. Louis–  The Rams also have an association with Sanchez since current Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer is his former offensive coordinator in New York. The two seemed to get along well in NY and Sam Bradford is both an injury risk and an ineffective pull possibility. If the Rams plan on drafting a QB than Sanchez makes no sense, but for now Bradford is the only guy on the roster.  They have about $9 million in cap room so they could offer the one year lower cost $2-$3 million type contract.

Chicago– Jay Cutler is virtually guaranteed to miss games, failing to reach 16 games in any season after 2009. The Bears have no real backups in place and this is a great opportunity. The team has two incredible receivers and a system that made people think Josh McCown discover how to play the position at a high level in his mid 30’s. The Bears only have $6.6 million in cap room and were unwilling to pay McCown to be a high end backup, but if I am Sanchez I would take this job for close to the minimum because the upside here is tremendous. They should push the Bears for a contract.

Buffalo– This is another injury risk possibility and potential ineffective pull, but with more competition. EJ Manuel is only in his second year in Buffalo and is a first round draft pick. In addition the team likes Thaddeus Lewis who is the low cost backup. I could see interest in Sanchez but the upside might not be there to justify taking the low cost contract they would offer. Last year they paid Kevin Kolb just $1 million guaranteed to try out. Kolb suffered a concussion and was out for the year so he collected $2.75 million.

Green Bay– Aaron Rodgers went down last season and with him so did the Packers season. I wouldn’t see the Packers paying much, but there is always a chance that you get one game to show what you are worth if Rodgers gets hurt or is a healthy scratch. Those few games saw Matt Flynn get paid elsewhere. The negative is if you play poorly in Green Bay there is probably no coming back and they wont hesitate to pull the plug in the summer if the cost is not that much.




What is Going on With Mark Sanchez


Since I keep getting many questions about Mark Sanchez I decided to drop the contract updates for a bit and write up a quick post on Sanchez and the leverage that can be created by certain dates in a contract, since that’s a topic right now with all these contracts with various dates listed in them. Everyone expected Sanchez to be released by now and now I think many Jets fans are realizing what I had talked about for the last few months which is that Sanchez may be a Jet in 2014. Why?

Dates of offseason bonuses and contractual guarantees are very important for players and teams. Early bonuses force a team to make a decision on a player early in the offseason, giving the player the maximum opportunity to find a home. For example look at the situation of former Jet Darrelle Revis. He had a bonus due the 3rd day of the League Year which meant the Buccaneers had to make a decision very quickly on his future. Had Tampa had until April to announce they were cutting him the Patriots may have signed Aqib Talib, the Broncos may have brought back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and other teams may have invested money in other positions. Revis was fortunate to find a team willing to pay him $12 million and it happened because of the contract structure being more player friendly.

The later the date the more time a team has to flex some muscle in creating a contract with more favorable terms. In Sanchez’ case his bonus comes due on March 25, two weeks into free agency. This was likely by design when his extension was first negotiated. Remember that part of the reason behind the Sanchez extension was the need to create cap room in 2012, so there was a good chance that the deal would need to be re-worked in a few seasons. If Mark played well his salary had an opportunity to increase somewhat, but the Jets would still be getting a bargain. If he failed to improve, the Jets wanted to be protected and find a way to bring his salary down or trade him.

When one looks at the list of potential QB’s available in the NFL it’s pretty bleak. The biggest name out there is Michael Vick, who last played 16 games in 2006. Other names include Josh Freeman, who needs to be coached up which will most likely never happen in NY, and Matt Flynn. The field is so bad that the Jaguars paid Chad Henne $5 million to come back rather than risk losing him and having to take one of those other names.  If the Jets don’t necessarily believe in Geno Smith who on that list is better than Mark Sanchez?  Really nobody.

Sanchez is a former 5th overall pick in the draft and to him the most important thing is having an opportunity to jumpstart what has been a stagnant career since the Jets imploded in 2011. That opportunity is likely more important than a million here or there in 2014. By holding on to Sanchez the Jets have limited his landing spots. The Jaguars signed Henne. The Buccaneers signed Josh McCown. The Vikings re-signed Matt Cassel. The Titans brought in Charlie Whitehurst.

The only destinations remaining where Sanchez might get an opportunity to start are Oakland and Cleveland. If the Jets can wait this out a few more days the Raiders may have to make a move, whether it’s Freeman or trying to trade for Matt Schaub, whose future might be linked to the Texans draft options, in Houston. Once Oakland goes off the board the Jets will be in a position to offer perhaps the best only possibility for Sanchez to resurrect a career.

The Jets have wisely avoided naming Smith their starter in 2014. They are doing their best to present this as a situation where any QB has an open opportunity for a job.  The Jets have a reasonably good defense and they just added a capable wide receiver in Eric Decker. It is a much more stable situation than the one in Cleveland where their best receiver is a bad night away from a suspension and the team could fire any coach or front office executive because they just feel like doing so.

The Jets also did something last year that nobody thought they would and that was to pay a player to make him go away under their conditions. That player of course was Revis who had an offseason bonus that was favorable to the player but the Jets opted to pay it to ensure they got a price they wanted. Now Sanchez’ bonus is higher (its $2 million compared to Revis $1 million) but if the Jets want to play a high stakes game of poker they certainly can.

To threaten to hold Mark’s contract until September would be damaging to Sanchez career. While he would earn $2.5 million in offseason money from the Jets he would have to sign on for the league minimum somewhere else with almost no opportunity to play. That is what happened to Matt Leinart when he was a late season release by the Cardinals. Once you fall into the backup trap you turn into David Carr, meaning you get no more opportunities. Sanchez can hold a clipboard for one year in New York and still be looked at as a potential starter somewhere else. If he is holding a clipboard in some other city then the league is going to view that job as his upside.

What the Jets should do here is something similar to what the Eagles did with Vick lasts season. Not because they want to be spiteful or anything else, but simply because Sanchez, as scary as it sounds, is the best option the team has for a second QB. So you pitch to him this opportunity and point out how around the NFL there are no other chances. From there you work on a salary.

Last year Vick was scheduled to earn $15.5 million with the Eagles. Of that $15.5 million, $3 million was guaranteed and $12.5 wasn’t. If we look at Marks roster bonus and workout bonus as “guaranteed” the money is similar- $11.5 million total with $2.5 million guaranteed. The Eagles pitched Vick the opportunity and eventually paid him $7.5 million for the year. They made smart use of their cap surplus by voiding his contract to accelerate any future cap charges into 2013 and also giving them an outside chance at a compensatory pick if Vick signed a big deal with another team. For Vick he was happy to get a chance at free agency combined with an opportunity to start on a team he was familiar with.

Cassel is now the highest earning low-upside starter in the NFL at $5.75 million in payments this year. Offering Mark between $6 and $6.5 puts him as the new high water mark in the NFL. If you void the deal it would put his final cap figure between $10.8 and $11.3 million, which is still a savings of $1.8 million in cap room and you have now rid the books of any and all costs associated with Sanchez.

Is Vick a better QB than Sanchez?  I think that is actually debatable. Vick will make a play or two with his legs and occasionally throw a laser, but he is far from a being a good QB. Vick has played in plenty of QB friendly systems through the years and basically has the same type of completion percentages as Sanchez. Vick also brings an added negative in that if he loses the job to Smith fans will go crazy to get Vick in the games. If Vick wins the competition fans will be equally irate towards Smith when Vick falls apart in week 5 due to damage he takes as the starter and has to head to the bench for a month. Sanchez doesn’t bring either to the table. Nobody is going to scream to bring in Sanchez and he doesn’t present the same kind of injury risk.

The Jets are playing their hand very well here. Even if the eventual decision is to release Sanchez they are doing everything to keep hold of their chips and make the best use of their money to build the team in 2014 and beyond. But their ability to do this was put in place two years ago, long before John Idzik stepped foot into Florham Park. It’s the little things like this that can make a contract stand out as a positive even if it looks like a negative on first glance.




Mark Sanchez Wants to Stay with the New York Jets


I speculated last week that the door was narrowly opening for Mark Sanchez to possibly return to  the Jets in 2014, even though for most people it was a foregone conclusion that he would be released. This week I said it was opening wider. Today Sanchez made some comments to the effect that he wants to remain in New York and lead the team next season. I think some are surprised at how candid he was with that statement since his tenure in New York hasn’t exactly been stellar.

As a rookie Sanchez took over what was a very good team that simply fell apart at the end of the 2008 season due to a number of factors ranging from an injury to Brett Favre to a coach who had difficulty connecting with his players. In 2009 the Jets fielded the best defense of the year and was far and away the best defense of the Rex Ryan era and Sanchez was at the helm as they shocked the world to advance to the AFC Championship game. Sanchez and the Jets would return again in 2010 to the AFC Championship but it was clear that Sanchez was along for the ride.

In 2011 the Jets asked Sanchez to take the next step and carry the team and he failed. He struggled to co-exist with a vocal WR corps. of Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason. Mason was quickly released and Holmes basically thrown out of his own huddle by his teammates during the final game of the season. But in the eyes of the fans Sanchez was damaged goods and a failure. The Jets seemed prepared to move on and felt that they could talk Peyton Manning into putting on the Green and White while Sanchez twisted in the wind.

Manning quickly turned down the Jets which led to the Jets extending Sanchez primarily for salary cap relief but also as a way to show him that they were committed to him after publicly flirting with Manning. The extension put even more pressure on Sanchez because now he had an even higher salary figure attached to him and once that happens the scrutiny becomes even more intense. Craziness ensued after that with Tim Tebow coming to New York, a disaster of a season, and Sanchez probably becoming the most disliked player on the team due to how poorly he played. It all seemed to culminate this summer when the Jets inexplicably inserted him in for mop up duty in a meaningless Preseason game. Sanchez’ season was finished when he was injured playing with all backups.

Perhaps the best thing for Sanchez this season was that injury. Geno Smith was given the starting job by default and has been nothing short of a disaster. Even when winning early in the season Smith failed to captivate the fanbase. Now he has surpassed Sanchez as the Jet considered most responsible for losing football games. If Sanchez had been able to rehab his shoulder and play this season he would now be welcome back with open arms because of how bad the alternative is.

Financially the Jets present the best opportunity for Sanchez. Sanchez is under contract next year for $11.5 million.  That is a figure no other team in the NFL would even come close to approaching. Sanchez’ run in New York was so bad the last few years that at best he would be considered a backup/competing starter. Considering the salaries paid to Matt Moore, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Chad Henne he would likely be looking at earning around $4 million with a new team.

That does not mean the Jets will pay him $11.5 million, but it can at least be a starting point for some discussions on a maximum value. We have seen before with injured players that contracts can often be reworked to give a player an opportunity to earn back some money that he gives up in a renegotiated contract. The Eagles did that this season with Michael Vick. Vick was set to earn $15.5 million and was going to be released from the team. Instead they agreed to guarantee him $3.5 million and give him a $3.5 million base salary if he made the team, bring his total compensation to $7 million. In addition he  could earn $500,000 in roster bonuses, $1.5 million in playtime incentives, and $1 million in playoff incentives. While some of those are high end figures Vick was likely to earn $8 million and could have gotten as high as $10 million. My guess is Mark could earn anywhere between $5.5 million and $7 million from the Jets. That’s more than he would have a chance to earn elsewhere.

This offseason also could present challenges to finding work. It is likely that Mike Vick, Josh Freeman and Matt Schaub will be on the unemployment line in March.  There is an outside chance that Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford will be there as well. I would also imagine that there will be rumors most of the offseason that both Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger can also be had via trade. Enough QB’s can drive down the prices a bit.

I think the Jets also present a good opportunity for playing next season. He has seen Smith fail. He knows the Jets need a starting QB. Not a mentor or an emergency backup. They need an actual starter. That door will be open in July and August to take the job away from Smith. Mark has a relationship with the players on the team and he won’t need to win anyone over. In other cities it will be different. Teams like Jacksonville and Houston will be drafting QB’s relegating Mark to backup status or early season starter status before replacement for the future of the organization. That won’t help him get a job in 2015. Once that happens the door is pretty much shut on him being anything more than David Carr or Rex Grossman- career backups playing for the minimum.

So while it sounds crazy, the Jets just might give Sanchez the best chance to salvage a career and earn the most money in the process. He’s only going to get one more opportunity and the Jets should make the most sense to him. We’ll have to wait and see if they want him or not, but from his perspective this is the best option.



Ca(m)p Position Battles: Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith


2013 Cap Hit – Sanchez: $12,853,125; Smith: $912,655
Amount Remaining on Salary – Sanchez: $40,475,000 ($19,250,000 guaranteed); Smith: $5,019,603 ($3,068,784 guaranteed)

Although this will get plenty of national media coverage, the battle between New York Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith for the starting job may not be the most interesting storyline to a diehard football fan. However, there is much at stake cap-wise. Mark Sanchez, much lamented for his performance as a starter in 2012 (attributed to the “butt-fumble” and beyond), still could be a viable option as a starter this year. While Rex Ryan has shown in past and present press conferences to have an inexplicable fondness for the beleaguered Sanchez, if the Jets wish, they can have him off the books by the end of the season. Why not give him a shot at the beginning of the season to attempt to recreate some of the magic from his back-to-back AFC championship game appearances (2010-2011, albeit surrounded by a more talented roster)?
The Jets can however wait on Geno Smith. Thanks to both the new CBA and Geno’s plummet to the second round in the 2013 NFL Draft, Geno has a very team-friendly contract, so the Jets can afford to let him study the game in a backup role. Additionally, contrary to the wave of young quarterbacks that have set the league on fire in the last few years (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and, to a lesser extent, Andy Dalton), Smith is considerably less polished coming into the league. It does not seem to be beneficial to throw him under fire amidst the circus that is the New York Jets. In my opinion, the Jets should give him time to study and observe from the sideline. For the time being, keep Sanchez on the field until it becomes unbearable (I would say at least 5 weeks). It could not go worse than it did last year. Sorry Jets fans, that’s as optimistic as I could get.

Due to the impatience of the Jets’ fan base and organization, however, Geno Smith could start as soon as Week One. Rex Ryan could be, after all, coaching for his job.


Extending Early or Waiting Until Free Agency Begins?


With so many QB’s being extension possibilities over the next year I wanted to look at some of the things that maybe should be considered when weighing the option of extending a young player early or letting him play out his contract and dealing with him as he is ready to enter free agency.

The agent for Joe Flacco, Joe Linta, recently called the Baltimore Ravens “dumb” for not extending Flacco sooner. Flacco is likely going to be become the poster child for extending a contract early. According to Linta the Ravens had an offer on the table for about $16 million a year which they turned down and instead chose to roll the dice on Flacco continuing a rocky career with highs and lows that most likely would have seen his salary settle somewhere in the Jay Cutler region of like $13-14 million a season. Flacco’s financial future completely changed when the Denver Broncos inexplicably failed to defend almost the only type of play the Ravens could run in desperation time and the Ravens then advanced to the Super Bowl, where they held off a late charge by the 49’ers. Flacco, who has never had a 4,000 yard season, ended up earning over $20 million a season based on the Super Bowl win and now the Ravens have to hope that he makes the same turn that Eli Manning made following his first Super Bowl.  Baltimore’s cap situation only complicated matters as they had no real possibility of franchising Flacco only to watch him sign a contract with the Cleveland Browns that their cap did not allow them to match. They gambled and lost.

But the situation can work both ways. The New York Jets decided to extend their young QB Mark Sanchez in 2012 to a 3 year extension worth $13.491 million a season. Sanchez was a higher pick than Flacco and, like Flacco, had some postseason success, going to two conference championship games in the first two seasons he played in the NFL. Statistically Sanchez was not a good QB, far worse than Flacco, but had a higher pedigree.  The Jets thought process may have been a bit convoluted with Sanchez, as reports were that team officials felt the extension would motivate him to improve (plus the Jets needed salary cap relief), but in essence they gambled on extending the young QB early and getting what they felt were cap friendly terms over the long haul. The Jets seemed married to this idea that something magic happens with QB’s in year 4 because of Manning (trust me that was never going to be the case) and locked in an asset at a low cost. Sanchez’ contract isn’t a cap killer- his highest cap charge is $15.6 million in 2015 and there is minimal dead money to cut him in the future-, which is the benefit of the move, but he regressed so badly he is not worth 10 cents and the Jets cant cut him now because he is in that early guaranteed portion of the extension. If you flip the script and Sanchez wins a Super Bowl the Jets won big time because Sanchez would have earned $21 million a year heading into free agency. But he didn’t and the Jets look like fools. They gambled and lost.

Those are the two examples of the bad that the move can be, but there is plenty of good as well. The Packers took a bet on Aaron Rodgers at a pretty early point in time and locked up an MVP for under $13 million a season, which has driven the effective cost of his current contract down well below the stated $22 million figure. The Steelers extended their star QB, Ben Roethlisberger, early in his career to a deal that is worth under $15 million a year, an absolute bargain in the NFL, again with an effective value much lower than the extension amount. On the other side of the spectrum the Minnesota Vikings waited on Daunte Culpepper, who suffered a terrible injury, and he became the Dolphins contract headache. It works both ways.

There are a number of factors that have to go into the decision to extend early, a decision that is going to face many teams over the coming year. The biggest ones are Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman, three first round draft picks whose contracts are governed under the old NFL CBA, and Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick, all picks signed under the new CBA who will be eligible for extensions after the 2013 NFL season. Let’s look at the factors that a team should consider in making the decision:

1.       Other Options

I’ll start with the non-financial aspects here. Remember when discussing a QB there are very limited options in free agency.  Drew Brees is the one lone young star that really hit free agency and even that was off injury. Occasionally the older star becomes available such as Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Teams have traded (and paid a hefty price for) Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, and Matt Cassel.   As you look at the present day NFL the starters that will come from outside the organization at most will number 8. The names include Brees and Manning at the top followed by Schaub, Cutler, Vick, Palmer, Kolb, and Hoyer.

Most likely if the concern is inconsistency, which is going to be a factor for Freeman and Stafford and potentially Kaepernick who has no track record yet, it is not as if there will be a be a significantly better option in free agency. If you view yourself as a win now team will bringing in a Cutler, who will likely be the “hot” veteran in the 2014 offseason, bring you that much better of a chance?  Probably not. Most likely your options are to start a low draft pick you made, trade for a teams “high upside” low draft pick (Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, etc…) or pick up a garbage player who flopped with his original team (Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert, etc…).  If these options do not appeal to you or are not going to exist by all means you should enter the negotiating room. The longer you wait the more apparent it becomes to an agent that you have no other options at the position.

2.       Quality of Team

This goes hand in hand a little with the above category, but for two reasons. The first is what I would call the Sanchez syndrome and I would think could apply to Freeman this season as well as Dalton and perhaps Kaepernick depending on how things go now that teams have film to study. A QB is linked with a teams’ success and failures far beyond the true point of correlation. If you have a good football team that is capable of making a run to the playoffs it makes the QB more valuable that he statistically is.  “All he does is win”.  It sounds crazy, but it is what happens. If Flacco doesn’t win that Super Bowl he isn’t a 20 million dollar player. If Sanchez doesn’t get to the playoffs those two seasons he is not on the Jets. One or two games should not make a $5 million dollar difference but it does in the NFL. So if you have that quality team, you should know that the players’ value is most likely only going to go up by waiting.  Atlanta, with a terrific shot at the Super Bowl, has almost zero to gain by waiting on Ryan.

The second reason is that the quality of your team often dictates what you can do year after year. We saw that list of free agents leading teams. It’s not exactly murders row. Brees was really the lone anomaly and he was a somewhat unique situation. Nobody else has won a championship nor come close. Favre had the one year with the Vikings and lost out to Brees. He was done the next year and the Vikings had to reset their team. The last QB to win prior to Brees that was not drafted by his team was Brad Johnson in 2002. The reality is a team should be prepared to go back into the draft and re-build rather than going into free agency/trade. Players agents should know this and know it leaves teams little options. If you as a GM are not ready to pull the plug on the team as constituted there is little benefit to waiting on a player who is capable of being a quality NFL QB. You just end up paying more for a player and make escaping that contract take more time in the event he doesn’t get better.

3. Market Movers

One of the most dangerous occurrences for a team in the NFL is the “market mover” contract. While many think the market is capped out with Rodgers making $22 million Im not sure. Rodgers took a contract that was significantly lower than I (and I think many others) projected. Part of it is doing business with the Packers and players may point to that when discussing options with other teams. There are a few names who worry me. One is Stafford. Stafford has never won a playoff game. He has only once had a winning record. He is inconsistent despite big numbers and throws to the best receiver in the NFL. His team is lousy and always playing catch up allowing for numbers to grow that are not meaningful.

But the Lions are one of the worst run front offices in the NFL, a team littered with insane cap charges, poor positional dollar allocations, huge dead money void years, and no cap space. One of the reasons is because of Stafford who is set to count for around $20 million in cap room each of the next two years. Quite frankly the Lions are going to get backed into a corner with him and that can lead to a tremendously overblown contract. Even if he fails to surpass Rodgers, just coming close opens the floodgates for Newton and especially Ryan.  Roethlisberger and Manning both will be up for new deals soon and there is always a chance they jump Rodgers as well. Roethlisberger has cap advantages on his side to force the Steelers into a high priced deal while Manning plays in the big market and is a two time Super Bowl MVP. The Giants already made him the highest paid player once and I could see them doing it again. Every new deal pushes everyone below it. Teams have to be aware of the situations and how it could affect contracts.

4. Cap Constraints

This really applied with Flacco in that the Ravens were completely hamstrung due to the salary cap when his contract was set to expire. The Ravens’ options with Flacco were to apply the Franchise tag or the Exclusive Franchise Tag. The regular tag is cheaper but allows the player to test free agency and you get the option of first refusal on a contract. The exclusive tag is more expensive but blocks movement. The issue here was that the Ravens cap was so tight that placing the exclusive tag on Flacco was unrealistic. They could not carry that salary cap number and function. They could carry him on the regular tag but were going to be capped out in the event a team signed him a frontloaded offer sheet. Teams like the Browns had so much cap room they could have afforded to take on a cap charge of $30 million in year 1 and $15 million in year 2 with no problems. The Ravens could never match that. Their cap forced them to sign him to a deal with low cap hits at the early end and deal with a leveraged restructure three years down the line. This is clearly an issue for the Lions and potentially, but to a far lesser extent than Flacco, for the Falcons. It could be an issue for the Panthers but they have other options which we will discuss in our next factor.

 5. Cap Management

Of course in all of this the biggest factors often come down to salary cap. A team has multiple options with these players. For players drafted under the old CBA the franchise tag designations are a viable mechanism to protect their interest. For Kaepernick and Dalton the franchise tag is also an option. For Newton the Panthers hold a low cost option for the fifth season. Each scenario and player is different. For Stafford, due to his high cap charges the Lions need to consider a tag value and cap fee of $23.18 million to tag him. Ryan would be looking at a tag of $18.9 million on the exclusive tender assuming the Cowboys restructure the contract of Tony Romo. Freeman would probably be around $15 million as would Kaepernick and Dalton a year later. Newton’s one time tag value looks right now to be around $17.5 million.

Teams have to consider that tagging a player serves almost no purpose if you see a long term future with the player. Playing out the franchise tag means no proration. It means no accounting of guarantees. It’s really just a 1 year contract that is delaying the inevitable extension which will come the next year. Tagging the player does nothing but compromise your cap. It should only be used, IMO, on a veteran player on a win now team and has no business even being considered other than for negotiating tactics for a young player at this position, unless you just want one more try with the player rather than blowing it up by drafting a young talent.

When you lock a player up early one of the major benefits is the accounting benefits you get. Flacco’s deal is pure $20.1 million a year.  In some way, shape, or form the Ravens need to account for $120.6 million over the next 6 seasons. He is really uncuttable until 2018 and in all likelihood will get another lucrative extension in 2016 just due to cap issues. Rodgers $22 million dollar deal is worth in real terms $18.68 million a year. That leads to a team having ways to manipulate the cap that benefit the team much moreso than the player.

While Rodgers will carry higher cap hits than Flacco the next three seasons the Packers are essentially insulated from cap issues on the backend because of their decision to extend early. Rodgers carries no dead money in 2018 and 2019 when he will be 35 and 36 years old. If his play nosedives they will survive without problem. In the event he plays great they could have a bargain since there is no early contract prorated money to account for in those seasons. Its pure pay for performance at that point.

Flacco’s last two seasons have dead money charges of $15.3 and $4.75 million. There is a lot sunk in the backend of his contract. He doenst have to perform to earn those backend salaries. Even if the Ravens restructure they are stuck with at least $10.55 million in prorated money  in 2016 and 2017, meaning there is little for Baltimore to do to get anything resembling a low cap season out of Flacco at this point. Rodgers would only have $7 million in prorations with none at the end of the deal, simply because the Packers are able to manipulate the cap.

So organizationally if you are a team that sees future potential for big dollars needed to maintain free agents it is likely in the best interest of the team to extend early on. If you are a team that may be headed the young player route with the QB as the only ultra high priced talent you may be able to wait it out, but remember the longer you wait the more it impacts your ability to maintain high end players that make the turn off their rookie contracts.


While I used the QB as the prime example here I think many of these options also apply to other positions as well. While they may not compromise the cap as much they are integral part of the cap. Cap management cant be based on a philosophy of 53 individual contracts. Cap management must be based on a portfolio of 53 assets that complement each other so that a team can get the most team value and best on field performance for the money spent. What you do with Matt Stafford doesn’t just impact one player- it impacts what you can do with 52 other players.

So what would we do with our group?  While normally I would put numeric grades down on a scale of 1-10 I think for this a quick qualitative chart will suffice.  Freeman is the only player from the old CBA worth waiting on and I would let Dalton play his deal out too unless he did something miraculous this season. For the young guys they cant be extended until after the season so opinions will change though I think I have seen enough of Newton to say he is worth extending early barring injury.

PlayerOther OptionsTeam QualityMarket Cap issuesCap mgmtDecision


My take on what the Jets should do with Mark Sanchez (if he’s not the starting QB)


Since I started writing posts here on OverTheCap.com, I have rarely, if ever, written about my beloved New York Jets. Jason does an incredible job covering every move the team makes, so there is never anything to add. However, with the Jets set to entertain a quarterback controversy (…again), I want to take a minute and write about a scenario the Jets may be facing, the question of what to do with Mark Sanchez if he isn’t the starting quarterback next year.

As we all know, the Jets quarterback situation isn’t exactly stellar and so the team is set to host a competition for the starting job come training camp. With the abrupt retirement of David Gerrard, we are left with two realistic options to win the job, incumbent Mark Sanchez and touted rookie Geno Smith (no, I don’t count Greg McElroy). In terms of skill, the competition could go either way. Nobody quite knows what the Jets have in Smith just yet, and there’s an argument to be made new Jets coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s offense is as best a fit for Sanchez as any scheme he’s been in since entering the league in 2009. It wouldn’t shock me if either one outperformed the other come camp. For purposes of this post, let’s assume Geno Smith wins the job and is under center against Revis and company on September 8th. At this point, you’d have voices screaming from every direction as to how handle Sanchez.

There are really two ways the team could go here. The first option is to keep Sanchez on the roster as Smith’s backup. Many would say he’s a better backup then the free agent scrap heaps that remain, and that’s certainly a fair statement. But, if Sanchez remained on the roster all year and wasn’t the starting quarterback, it could create a headache that no one needs. If Smith succeeds, we’re sure to get many camera shots of Sanchez looking glum on the sidelines during games. If Smith struggles, we’ll certainly read a ton of stories about Sanchez looking over Smith’s back, ready to pounce on the job before Smith could truly grab it. I’m sure we’ll even hear how Sanchez looks like a new man in practice, much like we heard during camp last season. This is not the route I would take, but you can certainly understand where people are coming from who would argue Sanchez is the best option as a backup QB. The other option would be to release (or potentially trade) Sanchez prior to the season’s commencement and either sign a new backup or roll with McElroy or someone else competing during camp. I feel confident in saying thiis the choice many Jets fans would prefer. However, whenever you hear talk of Sanchez’ release, you always hear the cap “experts” on TV say it’s, “not a possibility based on the Jets cap situation.”

If you were to listen only to the folks on ESPN, it would quite honestly be a reasonable assumption that the Jets were doomed to go 1-15 next year (hell, let’s say 0-16 for the next decade, just for fun) solely due to cap issues. However, if you’re a reader of this website, you know that the Jets cap issues were vastly overstated.  If you want to argue the Jets aren’t a good team based on talent issues, that’s fine. But to say the team is in “cap hell” shows a lack of homework on the part of the speaker. The team made the no-brainer moves of releasing unproductive players that yielded high cap savings, guys such as Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith. Of course these savings were not contemplated by the people reporting these issues. These releases saved the team nearly $30 million in cap room (Jason Smith saved $12 million alone!).

Back to Sanchez. Again, we are assuming Geno Smith is the team’s starting quarterback at this point and the team wants to release or trade Sanchez. What are the cap implications? Well, let’s say he’s released out of the blue today. The Jets would suffer a dead money hit on their 2013 salary cap of $17,653,125.  This consists of his guaranteed base salary, workout bonuses, and accelerated signing bonus prorations. However, it’s currently May 20th, Smith hasn’t done anything except look decent in rookie minicamp and Sanchez remains on the roster. It is very doubtful right now that Sanchez is getting released prior to June 1st, so lets look at the implications if he’s released after June 1st. As Jason has thoroughly explained on the site before, a June 1st cut spreads out the dead money hit Sanchez would cost the team. If Sanchez were cut after June 1st, the Jets would suffer a 2013 cap hit of $12,853,125 from his guaranteed base salary, 2013 signing bonus proration and $500k workout bonus. The Jets would then suffer a $4.8 million dead money hit in 2014 due to the acceleration of his bonus proration in 2015 and 2016 (on top his 2014 proration). Either way, the Jets are suffering the same cap hit, it’s just a matter of when.

Now, let’s just go back to the Jets salary cap for a second. The team has an estimated $11,743,505 in cap space for 2013 (which includes Sanchez’ 2013 hit of $12,853,125). Additionally, this includes those draft pickss that are signed, but does not include the estimates for those who remain unsigned (The Jets 2013 cap number for all draft picks is an estimated $6,916,58). If the Jets cut Sanchez today, another chunk of $4.8 million eats into that space (that $4.8 million is from his accelerated bonus proration). So, could the Jets release Sanchez today and absorb the full hit? Yes, they could. It wouldn’t leave them with much room at all though, and they still need to account for signing a new backup (if they don’t stick with McElroy or someone else on the roster) and any injury replacements. It would be tough to swallow, but it’s theoretically possible. As mentioned above though, if the Jets do release Sanchez, it would likely be as a June 1st cut where his cap hit would be spread over this year and next. If this happens, the estimated cap space listed above wouldn’t change; Sanchez’ 2013 hit would be the same as if he were here (the Jets would then just suffer the $4.8 million hit in 2014).No matter which way you look at it, the cap situation isn’t 100% stopping the Jets from making the move.

Many people would scream, “Why would the Jets suffer a 2013 cap hit to release Sanchez that’s at the very least, equal to the amount the Jets would suffer if Sanchez were on the roster?” Very reasonable question. It’s definitely not the most financially prudent move in the world. But, the benefits from other places may outweigh the negatives suffered from the financial imprudence. Despite all the numbers and cap figures thrown around, this is still, you know, a football team (I know, hard to believe sometimes). There are other considerations besides those numbers and cap figures. It’s not going to be financially sound regardless of what the Jets decide to do. Aside from the options I listed above regarding his release, Sanchez will either be an extremely high-paid backup that will be a constant distraction (through no fault of his own – Sanchez likely would play the good soldier), or, if traded, the Jets suffer a hit on their cap anyway due to covering part of his salary AND for the bonus proration that would accelerate into 2013 (similar to Revis’ prorated bonus amounts accelerating in 2013 due to the trade). There is simply no escaping a significant salary cap commitment to Mark Sanchez right now, but there IS escaping the media and locker room headache that comes with it. The Jets are clearly not sold on Sanchez progressing to where they need him to be, they wouldn’t have spent a second round pick on a quarterback if they were. There are available ways out of the Sanchez situation, we’ll see if the team decides to take any.

Twitter: AndrewOTC

Check out Mark Sanchez’ contract page here.