Mark Sanchez: From Disgraced Backup to Guaranteed Starter?

mark-sanchezWith all but two teams eliminated from NFL title contention this year, many players have an eye towards the offseason and free agency. New York Jets backup QB Mark Sanchez is one of these players since he’s coming off a year where he didn’t play a single snap, yet he makes $8.25 million a season. Add in the fact that he’s due a $2 million signing bonus in March, and it only fuels speculation that the Jets will part with the 27-year-old.

With New York likely sticking to their second-year QB Geno Smith, there’s little reason to keep an overpaid backup. Sanchez hurt his shoulder in a preseason game while working behind the second team offensive line. He remained injured the rest of the season, though, it was largely reported that Smith had already won the starting job in the preseason anyways.

Assuming the Jets do cut Sanchez, there’s at least one team that guaranteed they would make him a starter. An anonymous head coach told the New York Post the following regarding the five-year veteran, “We’d take Sanchez. He’d be the starter as soon as he walked in the door for us.”

When looking at Sanchez’s numbers over the four years that he started, they don’t exactly scream high-profile free agent. He’s thrown just 68 touchdowns against 69 interceptions and has a career passer rating of 71.7%. But despite the subpar numbers, Sanchez’s talent has always intrigued teams.

mark-sanchez-1He was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and quickly assumed the Jets’ reigns in his rookie season. He also started twice in the AFC Championship game, just missing out on trips to the Super Bowl both times.

Given his experience, there are multiple teams that would be interested in a player like Sanchez. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders all enter the offseason with huge questions under center. It’s very possible that one of these teams could have the mystery head coach with Sanchez on his wishlist.

When you put Sanchez up against some of the other free agent QB’s this year, he’s especially attractive. Michael Vick and Josh McCown lead the 2014 free agent class, while Josh Freeman, Chad Henne, Shaun Hill and Matt Schaub (likely to be cut) will all draw interest too. Top NFL draft picks that’ll warrant heavy consideration among the league include Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr.

Still, that’s only 10 total quarterbacks when you consider both free agency and top-flight draft picks. So it’s no wonder that at least one head coach is already discussing how he’d start the veteran Sanchez in a heartbeat. The QB is currently rehabbing his shoulder in Birmingham, Alabama after having surgery last October. Assuming he can get back to full strength by the summer, there’s a great chance that he could land a starting job somewhere.

Is This Finally It for Mark Sanchez in New York?

mark-sanchezWhen the New York Jets selected Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, they thought he’d be their quarterback of the future. And after leading the Jets to AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two seasons, it seemed as though Sanchez might live up to the hype.

But here we are in the present, and New York has now missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. Last year was particularly bad after the Jets limped to a 6-10 record and lost 7 out of their last 11 games. Sanchez certainly wasn’t a bright spot in this season either as he had his worst year since being a rooke; the USC product threw for 2,883 yards, 13 TD’s, 18 INT’s and fumbled 14 times.

Perhaps most telling of Sanchez’s performance was when he got benched in favor of seventh round draft pick Greg McElroy late in the year. But 2013 will bring a fresh season and a new opportunity for Sanchez to prove he’s worthy of that fifth round selection from four years ago. So are the prospects good for the five-year veteran returning to his 2010 and 2011 form? Let’s take a look at what’s going on with him lately.

Poor Practice

mark-sanchez-1If Mark Sanchez was on a road to redemption, he took a U-turn right out of the gate. During the Jets’ recent organized team activity, Sanchez tossed three interceptions in just 15 snaps. His overall day wasn’t bad since he completed 6 of 11 passes; however, the three interceptions is impossible for head coach Rex Ryan to overlook.

“It’s a good thing defense makes the plays, but no, I’d rather him not turn the ball over once,” Ryan told USA Today. “It’s funny, because you look at the practice and he did a lot of great things and then those negative things. At the end of the day, that’s what gets you beat. And so we’ve got to do a better job of eliminating those turnovers.”

Ryan continued by saying, “That’s going to be the pressure that we’re putting on him. It’s not that you try to cover up the fact you had some bad plays – no, no, no you flat tell him. We can’t have these and all that type of stuff. He knows.”

Losing the Team

geno-smithDuring Sanchez’s previous struggles, he could always count on the support of his teammates. This was evident when media members and fans suggested that he be benched in favor of Tim Tebow last year – a point which had many Jets players rushing to defend Sanchez.

However, coming out of the recent three-interception OTA performance, the mood seems to have changed. CBS Sports writer Mike Freeman actually talked to an anonymous Jets player who claimed “80-90 percent of the team” thought Sanchez should be benched.

“Everyone on the team likes Mark personally but there’s a general feeling among some of the players that maybe it’s time to give someone else a chance,” said the anonymous player.

Understudy or Successor?

Once a lock to be the first quarterback off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft, Geno Smith was the second QB taken and fell to the Jets at pick number 39. And while being an early second round pick is pretty good, it doesn’t guarantee you anything in your rookie season.

However, with the way Sanchez has performed, Smith will at least get a crack at the starting QB role. The Jets organization was impressed with his rookie minicamp performance and truly believes in his talent. That said, a strong preseason could thrust the West Virginia alumni into the first string.

On the other hand, New York is believed to be in a rebuilding year and putting Smith out there right away could be counterproductive to the future. Most believe that the Jets have no real chance of making the playoffs, so they’ll merely try to restock talent and ween rookies into the mix.

So taking all of this into account, Mark Sanchez may get one more year to be the starter in New York. However, Smith and/or McElroy will taking some snaps if things get too ugly.