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.
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.