The benching of Mark Sanchez didn't last long, as New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is going to announce on Wednesday that he'll go back to Sanchez as the starter after pulling him in favor of Greg McElroy last week against the Arizona Cardinals. The move is surprising to some but there are legitimate reasons why the Jets went back to their former top pick, and legitimate reasons why they should have.
While it was reported that owner Woody Johnson wanted the Jets to stick with McElroy, he'll probably be happy if the Jets can find a way to quickly fix Sanchez for next season, and for one reason only. Woody Johnson likes money, and Sanchez is owed over $8 million guaranteed next season. From a strict salary cap and numbers standpoint, that's reason enough to start him the rest of this year. He's going to be on the roster next year. There is no way that, given his performance this year, Sanchez won't be in a competition for the starting job in training camp. That competition will likely be with McElroy and a veteran - think Matt Moore or Matt Flynn - and you start the best guy for the job in Week 1 of 2013. But either way you slice it Sanchez will be on the roster next year, and if he still isn't any good he'll be gone in time for 2014.
There is no question that the Jets have failed Sanchez as much as he has failed them. This isn't to say that Sanchez has played well. At all. He absolutely hasn't. But the Jets' roster has deteriorated on all sides of the ball over the past two seasons, so much so that they're among the least talented teams in the league. It's likely they are more bereft of talent on offense, especially at the skill positions, than anyone else. Now, quarterbacks can indeed raise the level of those around them, and Sanchez hasn't been good enough to do that this season. That's on him. But let's not make the Jets out to be a team budding with talent that is ripe for a title run if they could only get some decent quarterback play. This team is a long, long way from being competitive, and that's not all on Mark Sanchez.
[Ryan: Sanchez decision was his]
It's pretty amazing that less than two calendar years ago, the Jets went to their second AFC Championship game in two seasons with Sanchez at quarterback. A lot of people make the argument that those Jets teams won in spite of Sanchez, but that's not exactly the case. Against the Patriots in the Divisional Round in 2011, the Jets defeated the 14-2 Patriots in Foxboro, and Sanchez wasn't a bystander. He outplayed Tom Brady in his own building, in a playoff game, throwing three touchdowns.
Sanchez has always seemed to play better when the stakes are higher for some reason, and his performances in the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 don't absolve him of his horrible play for this season and most of last year. But what I think it proves is that he's capable. Maybe his struggles have ruined him, maybe the Jets screwing around with his targets after that 2010 season (jettisoning Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, two guys Sanchez had great chemistry with made absolutely zero, zero, ZERO SENSE) ruined him. Chances are that Sanchez can be successful with a very good team around him, with good coaching and an offense that is tailored to his strengths. Guess what? That goes for just about every quarterback in the league outside of the guys at that "elite" level.
The main reason the Jets should have went back to Sanchez is because last Sunday marked the first time Sanchez realized he could lose his job for poor play. He should have realized this without it happening, and it should have happened sooner. But now Sanchez knows what it feels like; the humiliation of being benched and having a guy come in and do what you couldn't do that day, the fans who once cheered for you reveling in your embarrassment. If that doesn't motivate you to play better, if that can't get you to wake up and realize that your career is on the line, then that's it. If Sanchez doesn't respond to the benching, then it's over for him as a viable quarterback for the Jets. But if you are the Jets, with all the time, money and assets you invested in this guy, you have to turn over every stone. You have to be absolutely 100% sure that he's not that guy. At this point, you're probably 99% sure. But you might as well find out for sure.
The other options, McElroy and Tim Tebow, have their benefits, but for the long-term success and health of the franchise you need to give Sanchez one last shot. We can't go nuts off of one five completion performance from McElroy. Giving him the starting job for the rest of the season wouldn't be a bad idea at all, but does anybody really, really deep down think Greg McElroy is going to be a big time quarterback in the NFL? Just wait until teams have film on him and can game plan for him. Chances are he wouldn't look much different than Sanchez, especially given the talent the Jets have on this roster currently. As for Tebow, it's clear the Jets' coaches don't view him as a viable option, and sorry Tebowmaniacs, they're correct.
Rex Ryan and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum are going down with the guy they drafted and invested their careers in and you cannot blame them for doing that. They need to be sure he's not the guy before they dump him. Since he's going to be on the roster next season, it's worth seeing if you can retool the roster and try to get a team that mirrors the 2009 and 2010 versions, teams that Sanchez had success with. It also wouldn't hurt getting a competent offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, something Sanchez has never had.
There is probably enough evidence that Sanchez just isn't good enough to be a long-term winning quarterback. While it shouldn't have ever gotten to this, while Sanchez's benching should have come a lot sooner, what's the harm in giving him one more shot? They're not going anywhere this season, and there are only four games left. If you benched him now, you can bench him again this season, and you can make him the backup next season. But give the guy these next four games and see if he's woken up.