The mistake that the New York Jets made did not necessarily come Wednesday, when Rex Ryan announced that Mark Sanchez would be his starting quarterback again in Week 14. The real error occurred, as just about everyone speculated then and has continued to point out since, back in March, when the franchise handed Sanchez a contract extension with $58 million-plus over five years and $20 million in guarantees.
Now everyone tries to act surprised when Sanchez holds off Captain Sideshow, Tim Tebow, or when the Jets opt for Sanchez over Greg McElroy, despite the latter's relief win in Week 13.
But this situation is what it is. The Jets believed in March that Sanchez was their QB of the present and future. Financially, they're stuck with that approach, even as another season slips away.
We're free to ponder, of course, what exactly the Jets saw in Sanchez that the rest of us did not when they placed that extension on the table. Sanchez had his best season, statistically, in 2011, but it was more of a slow climb from his past years than a major breakthrough -- a 78.2 QB rating in 2011, compared to 75.3 the season prior; a 56.7 percent completion rate vs. 54.8 in 2010. The one big number trending in Sanchez's favor was his touchdown passes, from 12 in his rookie season to 17 in 2010 and up to 26 last season. But his interceptions also rose from '10 to '11 (13 to 18), and the Jets dropped from an 11-5 playoff team in 2010 to an 8-8 disappointment in 2011.
Is there enough in there, if you pick through everything Sanchez did, to find the positive omens, to justify the money promised him?
The Jets believed so.
For better or worse (mostly worse), that means they have continued to give Sanchez opportunities this season, even after adding Tebow ... for whatever reason. The decision to bring in Tebow has backfired at every turn, too -- from placing extra pressure on Sanchez to further handcuffing the team's financial situation to riling up the fan base.
With Tebow relegated to punt-protection duties and, last Sunday, scratched from the active roster, McElroy became the fans' new favorite son. He added fuel to the fire by throwing the winning touchdown pass in a victory over the Cardinals. Maybe he's a superstar in hiding. Or maybe there were ample reasons that he slid to pick No. 208 overall in last year's draft.
Jets fans would love to find out which is true, but that's not how this team operates. Or, rather, it's not how this team is able to operate right now, with more than $10 million committed to its QB position for next season.
True, franchises throw in the towel on bad deals more frequently than they should in the NFL. And it's certainly in the realm of possibilities that Sanchez flops again early in Jacksonville Sunday, and Ryan tosses McElroy back into the mix.
The Sanchez deal, though, is basically the move that Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum hung their hats on last offseason. If it fails, if Sanchez fails, then they unequivocally fail. Some might argue that they already have; that continuing to start Sanchez is like the band playing on as the Titanic sank. Financially, however, this is the corner the Jets have painted themselves into. It is a spot that does not leave a lot of room for common football sense -- not that the Jets have shown a lot of that recently anyway.