At times in the NFL there are awkward periods of time when a team clearly wants to move on from players representing its recent past as it looks to the future. It occurs with every team at some point—I saw it firsthand at the Packers during the transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers—and it is now happening with the Jets and Mark Sanchez.
This week the Jets placed Sanchez on injured reserve, with the return designation that allows him to possibly play again in eight weeks. While both sides are saying the right things and being professional and courteous, the relationship is headed for inevitable divorce. In removing the emotion, let’s step back and take a measured look at the organizational decision-making with Sanchez, past, present and (lack of) future.
Behind the extension
In 2012 Sanchez had two years left on a lucrative rookie contract signed in 2009; he was in the penultimate “bonus baby” class prior to the CBA rookie “correction.” There did not appear to be any grousing from Sanchez for an extension nor urgency for a contract adjustment. Then something happened: the Colts cut Peyton Manning, causing a seismic outpouring of team affection. Not surprisingly, the Jets, who had in recent years taken big swings at quarterback—trading for Brett Favre and moving up for Sanchez—expressed interest.
Although the flirtation was fleeting and the Jets were never considered a serious contender to sign Manning, Sanchez was aware the Jets had “cheated” on their starting quarterback. Facing this low rumble of discontent and knowing that Sanchez was their quarterback, for better or worse, the Jets negotiated an extension with Sanchez to (1) smooth any lingering tension from the brief Manning courtship; (2) provide necessary cap relief and (3) secure additional contract years beyond 2013.
As NFL teams do all the time, the Jets made a bet. The bet was simple: Mark Sanchez would be their starting quarterback for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. From the outside looking in, this was not a poor business decision, although not one that was required. The detail where the Jets went too far, however, was the lack of offset in the 2013 guarantee. Let’s examine:
Prior to the extension, Sanchez was scheduled to make $11.75 million. After the extension, Sanchez made the same $11.75 million! The Jets simply moved money around to provide Sanchez an immediate bonus, cutting $6.4 million from their bloated cap (and adding it to future years) in the process. With Sanchez secure at quarterback, and no other viable options, the impact on 2012 was nominal.
Herein lies the rub.
Sanchez went from making a nonguaranteed $6 million to fully guaranteed $8.25 million, money that would not be offset by any earnings from a new team were he to be released and latch on elsewhere. Thus, Sanchez was to make $8.25 million in 2013 whether he was on the Jets, another team, or no team. This clause turned out to have great value for Sanchez, ensuring his continued presence on the team, at least for this year.
The Jets secured three additional years worth approximately $37 million, not an unreasonable amount for a respectable starting quarterback (I know there is debate here on whether Sanchez qualifies as that). From Jets’ management perspective, they were exchanging one guaranteed year for three additional nonguaranteed years at a (relatively) reasonable rate. However, that was then, this is now.
I understand the bet the Jets made 18 months ago on Sanchez, saying “We’ll ride this guy for two years, and if he’s any good we’ll have him three more years.” Unfortunately, Sanchez’s performance soured since that bet was made leading, in good part, to the hiring of a new, future-focused regime. Now, the chances of Sanchez seeing that $37 million are as likely as, well, you or I seeing it. Speaking of which …
Meet the new boss
Incoming general manager John Idzik brings a stoic presence to a team trying to shake the drama of the recent past. Idzik quickly moved on from the failed one-year Tim Tebow experiment, silenced annual rumbles of discontent from Darrelle Revis by trading him and reduced coach Rex Ryan’s influence by establishing clear separation between management and coaching. Indeed, the reason Idzik had no problem with Ryan attending his son’s game on cutdown day was more than needed family time: Ryan was not needed to set the roster, only to coach it.
Idzik is intent on establishing a “draft and develop” philosophy for the Jets: building infrastructure with young players, trusting his scouts and avoiding veteran quick fixes. He drafted quarterback Geno Smith 39th overall in this year’s draft and has already moved on at quarterback, simply waiting for Sanchez’s no-offset guarantee to expire in January. Ryan, a coach not looking past the next opponent, is clinging to a tent pole player from the recent past in Sanchez, aware they may be walking the plank in tandem come January. It is an uncomfortable drama playing out to a national audience.