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.