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.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.