With release, Mark Sanchez's sad Jets saga comes to a close
The New York Jets released Mark Sanchez late on Friday, almost two weeks into free agency, after most every team in need of quarterbacks had already signed or traded for one. They released him soon after Oakland acquired Matt Schaub, after the Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, at the same time the Jets themselves inked Michael Vick.
How appropriate. Even at the end, the Jets did little to help Sanchez, once the face of their franchise known as Sanchize, later the Buttfumble of so many NFL jokes.
It's not that that Jets wanted Sanchez to fail. It's just that it sometimes seemed that way.
I covered the Jets back in the beginning, back in 2009 when Gang Green traded for the fifth pick in the draft. They selected Sanchez, signed him to richest contract in team history and gingerly placed him into a locker room filled with veterans, alongside Thomas Jones and Alan Faneca and Tony Richardson and Jerricho Cotchery.
Sanchez did not regress in recent seasons so much as he struggled throughout. He threw 20 interceptions as a rookie. His completion percentage never climbed above 56.7. His worst performances were epic disasters, blunder clinics, turnover parades.
What Sanchez proved in his first two seasons was that in the right offense, surrounded by the right players, backed by a stout defense, he could win games. Or at least not lose too many them. He took the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons. He beat Peyton Manning in the playoffs.
Coach Rex Ryan loved the story about how the Jets interviewed Sanchez in Los Angeles and how after dinner they said goodbye and Sanchez hopped on a motorcycle -- a joke that showed his moxie, his charm. Those were the days. Ryan tattooed a picture of his wife on his right arm, clad in only a Sanchez No. 6 Jets' jersey, linked by ink then to his franchise star.
The rest of the Sanchez-Jets era unfolded in comical failure. Sanchez proved a mediocre quarterback at times, a bad quarterback at others. But the thread that connects 2011 to 2014 is that the Jets did not help Sanchez, did not give him even the slightest chance to succeed. They made an average quarterback worse.
At first, the Jets coddled Sanchez. They gave him a personal assistant during his rookie season and forbade one-on-one interviews. They delivered criticism lightly. They limited both the playbook and his development.
The talent purge came next. Gone were some of the linemen who protected Sanchez, the backs he handed off to, the experience he relied on. He needed to win games instead of not lose them. The Jets signed Santonio Holmes to a massive contract, but instead of a No. 1 receiver, they got a No. 1 headache. They used most of their top draft picks on defensive players. They tried to land Manning. They did land Tim Tebow and the circus that accompanied him to New York.
So much of that made so little sense. Sanchez was one of the Jets' least mature, most sensitive players, and to boost his confidence they let key offensive players walk and chased after other quarterbacks. If the thought was that competition would make Sanchez better, would force him to raise his play, it had the opposite effect. Besides, who was he supposed to throw to?
The rest of the Sanchez era played out like a serial drama: the illicit hotdog consumed on the sideline, the 17-year-old he allegedly dated, the GQ cover, the TMZ interviews and finally, sadly, infamously, that Thanksgiving night in 2012 when Sanchez ran smack into his lineman's butt and fumbled against the Patriots, a play that will live forever on NFL blooper reels.
Late Friday, I sent a text message to my buddy Joe, the biggest Jets fan I know. What did he make of Sanchez's tenure? "Overall it sums up the history of being a Jets fan," he wrote back. "The second, and I mean the very second, you buy in, the rug gets pulled out from under you."
Now, Sanchez is looking for work. The Jets are still looking for their first Super Bowl quarterback since Joe Freaking Namath, and the next candidates are Vick and Geno Smith. Ryan should be looking for another tattoo to cover up the other old one.
All of this of course is the most Jets-like development ever. (Insert Buttfumble joke here.)