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.
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.