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.



The Questions Woody Johnson Must Ask About Idzik, Rex, and the Jets


With another lackluster loss in the books for the Jets I wanted to look at some of the decisions that the team will need to make in the future regarding their current front office. The decisions in this case need to come from the top, and that lies with the owner Woody Johnson making some very difficult decisions about the team that he must be firm on.

The Jets have had a different way of dealing with some of their front office decisions than most (not necessarily all, but most) teams in the NFL. When the Jets hired John Idzik to run the franchise in 2013 it was with the condition that Rex Ryan be retained as head coach. That’s not a foreign concept. The Bears and Panthers both hired General Managers where the coaches were retained from the prior regime. The one difference is that it was made clear to those GM’s that they had autonomy to make the decision the next year on who would run the team. Idzik did not seem to have the same power, a position reinforced by a recent tweet by Ian Rapoport that indicated Ryan was safe for 2015, but Idzik could be in danger. That’s a strange way to run a franchise.

If the organization if to make a turn for the better Johnson has to ask himself a few questions and understand all the variables about draft picks, free agency, rebuilding phiosophies, coaching strengths and weakneeses to try to stabilize a ship that seems to be taking on more and more water by the week.

1. What direction is the franchise taking?

The answers to all questions really build off of this one. While the GM, in theory, ultimately decides the direction, ownership needs to be on board with what has to be done. If ownership is not 100% behind the plan it is doomed to failure the minute a bump in the road is hit. In many ways I feel this is a problem for the current Jets as their decision making seems to pull the team in a few different directions at once. It just feels like two wasted years.

The Jets need to define a clear path of action for the organization. Is this a competitive team?  Is it a rebuilding team?  If it is a rebuilding team how major is the rebuild and how do you want to rebuild. Do you want to rebuild in the manner of the Buccaneers (major signings in free agency hoping for a quick solution), Raiders (clear the cap, grab all moderate cost questionable vets in free agency, maintain cap space over long term), or Packers (forego free agency, develop within and pay when they hit). What are you willing to risk with each plan and can you stick with the plan for three years without wanting answers after one season?

If you plan on being competitive immediately map out a path as to why its the case and how will you get there. What do you see on the roster that nobody else does that makes you think you can compete quickly. Cleveland and Houston are two short term successes this year that likely had to make that same call in 2014.  Carolina looks to have done the same and may be sustaining it over two years. Do the Jets have the talent base in place to do this? It’s important that the owner understands and is comfortable with whatever the GM is proposing before the GM is hired/retained. They cant try to alter whatever path the GM has once it gets started.

2. Is John Idzik the man for the job?

No matter what angle you want to take with Idzik, the bottom line is the Jets are in no better shape than when he took over. When you look for young building blocks on the team there are few- DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DE/DT Sheldon Richardson. Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro may be good players, but I don’t consider those positions to be those you build an organization around. There are a few situational pieces like Damon Harrison, Demario Davis and Leger Douzable who will certainly have a role on a decent team.

The team still has no quarterback and the offensive line is fading fast to the point where it looks as if it may need to be totally rebuilt in the near term. The secondary has gone from a strength to a weakness. The wide receivers remain poor. Basically the Jets have shifted the talent base from the offensive to the defensive line and gotten younger, but worse, in the secondary.

Idzik’s moves into the free agent marketplace have been up and down.  Mike Vick and Chris Johnson look like wastes of dollars. Mike Goodson and Dimitri Patterson ended up leaving the team the butt of jokes. Chris Ivory can give the team some identity when he is clicking. Erik Decker gives the Jets a professional receiver, while Dawan Landry and Willie Colon are decent fill in the gap veterans. There are clearly no home runs but he wasn’t swinging for the fences either.

The biggest misses for Idzik have come in the draft. The one thing that gave Tannenbaum leeway early on was that he hit a home run in his first two drafts with the Jets. In his first draft he focused on building block pieces (a tackle and center with his first two picks then a QB in round 2) and fixing the depth on the team. Out of that first draft he ended up with two Pro Bowl offensive lineman and four players who would contribute to the team in some manner over the next 5 years.

Because of the success of the first draft, “Trader Mike” was born in draft number two, where he focused on perceived quality over quantity. Tannenbaum would draft all world cornerback Darrelle Revis and a solid linebacker in David Harris. Though the QB flopped, in two years he came out with two starting lineman, a cornerback, and inside linebacker, and a contributing running back, safety, kick returner, and cornerback. That allowed him to go an add in free agency since he had a cheap talent pool locked up through 2009/10.

Idzik has hit a foul ball in his two drafts. Richardson is a building block player, though the Jets are going to have to coach him in handling frustrating times as he seems to be struggling with being on a losing team in such a big market. He found a guard and a fullback who may contribute, but those are not really positions where it’s impactful unless you are a top line player and neither player is. This year they had 12 picks and it looks like they may have a tight end and safety. Even if those two pan out very rarely do you build a team by “hitting” at those two positions.

After two years it is human nature to question the ability of the man in charge when the results have been so unimpressive. One can point fingers at the coaching staff and their inability to develop players (those same fingers could have been pointed when the last man was fired), but after seeing this result it is difficult to look at Idzik in as positive a light as when he took the job.

3. Do you trust Idzik with another three years?

The Jets are likely going to be in a very strong position in the draft and in free agency due to large unused cap space. These are defining moments for a franchise. When you select in the top 5 in the draft you could be selecting your franchise QB. Even if you do not get the QB you are likley going to find a piece that is supposed to anchor you for a decade, whether it is a pass rusher or an offensive lineman.

If Johnson wants to fast track the plan and go the route of a team like the Miami Dolphins, who had a similar roster a few years ago as the current Jets and decided to go wild in free agency, it pretty much locks in the roster for the next three years.  It’s locked in for that time because the GM will either need to guarantee large amounts of salary or prepay large bonuses that make it difficult to release such players before the three year window expires. At best you have to hold them on the roster for two seasons and on the salary cap for three.

The Jets are going to have a decision to make on a head coach. If you are going outside the room it is going to be a commitment financially for three years at a minimum. You would be bringing in a new head coach and new coordinators and assistants. They may change the base defense you run. They may have different philosophies on offense. Maybe they do not want an aging Nick Mangold on the team. Maybe they do not feel Wilkerson is the best fit for their defense. Jet fans will remember when Eric Mangini was hired to coach the Jets it essentially meant the team needed to punt John Abraham and Jon Vilma because there was no way for them to fit. Coaching decisions can alter a franchise.

These are franchise defining decisions.  If Idzik is on a short leash, meaning he makes the playoffs in 2015 or he goes, then how can you let him make these big decisions.  What absolutely can not happen in 2015 is to let a general manager you have no faith in go out and hire a new coaching staff just so you can give him a “fair shake”.  You cant have him sign ridiculous contracts for players that nobody else wants.

This is really why the answer to the first question has to be a resounding yes if you want to keep Idzik. You can not allow Idzik to go and draft another QB with a high pick, bring in a new system, sign vets to long term deals, and then saddle a new GM with a lame duck coach and QB he never wanted in the first place. That will just send the franchise into further turmoil when the inevitable happens in 2016 and you are bringing in another GM with another lame duck coach/QB combo. Its just going to lead to a repeat of the last two years except the names will be different.

In this regard draft position and draft class quality should weigh heavily on the determination of what to do with Idzik if there is any hesitation from ownership on his future. The owner will also need to be active in setting a budget and contract parameters in this case. This is obviously what happened in Oakland this past year. While I don’t think that is the correct path for any organization to take it is the only path one can take if there is limited faith in the GM. You have to block them from determining the future, but rather allow them to just take an approach for the short term while you further decide their future.

4. Is Rex Ryan the right man for the job?

I think if we look back at Ryan’s tenure the big picture item is that he is a good coach of veterans and not as successful with young talent. When Ryan took over the 2009 Jets they were a team that was already strong in fundamentals from either Mangini or other coaches around the NFL. Whatever Ryan’s shortcomings may have been as a teacher/calming influence were more than made up by the wealth of experience that was brought and could be shared by Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, and others. Rex was great at getting things out of players who felt they had been given up on (Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes) and motivating everyone else to give 120%. It seemed infectious to even mediocre players who he found roles for and challenged them to succeed in.

But as the roster turned over and the veterans were released the message started to get lost. When you talked with players in 2009 and 2010 they talked about how they would jump off a building if Rex wanted them to.  Now when they ask players about Rex it’s more the usual lip service about how they like the coach. The veterans who the players in part leaned on about how to handle adversity are all gone. Now after every loss Ryan just seems perplexed that they can’t win and the situation is not getting better.

I firmly believe that if the 49ers moved in a different direction and let go of Harbaugh and brought in Rex Ryan they would be a lock for the championship game. The same might occur in Atlanta if they upgraded their defensive personnel a bit. That’s where Ryan is most effective. Veteran teams. Veteran players. Getting some momentum going and letting everyone feed off it.

That is not the Jets, at least not right now. If Johnson is fully on board with a complete rebuilding of the franchise you can not keep Rex Ryan as coach. It really should be that simple. If the draft picks are not being coached up properly then you have wasted two years by forcing pieces to work together that simply do not mesh. Don’t waste a third year of development if you have faith in who Idzik is drafting and are giving Idzik the long term to fix this mess.

Woody can not make this about his belief in Rex and that he is a good coach. It is about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of an individual. Rex may very well be a great coach in a certain situation. If that situation no longer applies you are not saying Rex is a bad coach, its just saying he is a bad fit for your situation.

If you have a different outlook on how to build the squad and the situation is going to change, Rex might be the guy for a free agent type of team. The fact is this is a decision that should have been made when Idzik first took the job and proposed trading Darrelle Revis and letting a number of veterans walk to build up draft pick quantity. The owner can not continue to protect his coach if he is going to have a team built from the ground floor. It is not Rex’s strength and it just dragged everyone down.

If Johnson is so enamored with Ryan that he is deemed untouchable then he needs to confer with Ryan as to who he would like to work with in the future. One of the reasons he and Tannenbaum worked so well together is because Mike took a lot of what Rex said and tried to implement it in his building of the team. While things fell apart at the end that is the type of relationship a powerful coach must have with his GM.  Again I don’t like this idea, but you have to be honest with yourself if you are the decision maker and if this is the road you are going to travel than you must play to the coaches strengths and make the best decision possible under the circumstances.

Too often teams fail in sports because of decisions that come down from far above the GM. It’s one of the problems on the Jets that has led to a pretty dreadful outlook on the future. The Idzik/Ryan pairing has seemed poor from the start and the team has probably wasted two years trying to find a way to make it work for both sides. Two guys with very different personalities and very different philosophies  trying to find a common ground to keep both sides happy and the Jets relevant. With potential franchise defining decisions just months away for the Jets, their owner needs to set a firm direction for the team and give whomever is in charge, whether its Idzik, Rex, or someone else the authority to put their stamp on the team and not be hindered by “suggestions” that come from ownership. This is too important a time to be on the fence about what is and is not in the best interest of the organization. Get all the facts and make the decision about what vision the team will have in the future and go all in on that decision. That’s the only way such a team will turn things around in the future so tha they can become one of the franchises that the other 31 teams look at and say “this is how we want to run our team”



Thoughts on John Idzik’s Spending and Decision Making with the Jets via SN


In this week’s Sporting News piece I look at the decisions made by John Idzik in his attempt to rebuild the Jets, their lack of spending, over-reliance on late draft selections, and limited moves in free agency. Normally I would just have the article direct link to here but I figured I would open this up to comments here  if anyone wanted to discuss him further.

Read the Full Article Here