For Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets, something has to give in 2012. After a painful end to this past season, the Jets have to move on and commit to getting back to the potential Super Bowl contender they were in prior seasons which gave hope to a long-suffering fan base.
In order to give support to their much-maligned quarterback, the Jets announced that Sanchez would receive a three year extension for $40.5 million. Even though they didn’t have to yet, the Jets are gambling that this move will be an incentive for their aspiring star quarterback to live up to the hype, to prove the critics wrong, and to be the expected leader on a team in desperate need for one.
Sanchez’s extension isn’t even that surprising when you fathom that Sanchez was already going to be in the pocket for the next couple of seasons anyway. The Jets partially made this deal so they can create more cap space that they desperately need. With glaring holes on both sides of the ball which could include upgrades at safety, OLB and WR, the Jets need to be active in both the upcoming draft and in free agency.
Yet, everything always seems to come back to the quarterbacks as teams live and die by them on a yearly basis. After giving up plenty to draft Sanchez, the USC standout has been a mixed bag. Despite his erratic performances, Sanchez and the Jets defense got the team to the championship games on back-to-back years before falling short. While many doubters believed that Sanchez was overrated and a beneficiary of an elite defense, supporters argued that his clutch performances against the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady offered a glimpse of the bright future ahead.
However, all the positives quickly disappeared in a matter of weeks. With a defense that wasn’t as previously dominant and a disappointing running game, more pressure was put on Sanchez to save the team. The spotlight proved to be too much as Sanchez made one debilitating mistake after another with costly interceptions and errant throws to receivers who clearly weren’t on the same page.
Besides the statistics, Sanchez also let down teammates who couldn’t wait to anonymously call him out for his laziness and being coddled too much. The youngster’s inability to connect with star wide out Santonio Holmes who blew up in Miami on the last drive of the season was the breaking point in a lost season. While their cross-town rivals, the Giants, found Super Bowl glory again on another improbable run, the Jets were once again the punch line of New York City.
Entering the offseason, rumors of Peyton Manning coming sparked some interest but, in the end, he was never coming to New York City which is Eli’s town. After the Manning pipe dream mercifully ended quickly (do we really want to go through another Brett Favre experiment?), the Jets needed to make sure the quarterback they’ve already invested themselves with wasn’t too offended. Besides, there’s nothing like some added money to cure any feelings of resentment.
With his team’s commitment no longer in doubt, it’s all on Sanchez to return the favor to the Jets. As he enters next season, there will absolutely be no excuses as he can’t use the inexperience card anymore after three years. Sanchez’s extension will no doubt target him as a blameworthy figure. Jet fans have to be asking themselves how a guy who turned the ball over twenty-six times last year gets rewarded with more money? After last season, Sanchez’s every move will continue to be scrutinized and his past successes will feel like obscure memories to most New Yorkers.
Many Jet fans are hoping that Sanchez follows the footsteps of Eli Manning who can relate to what Sanchez is going through right now. Of course, before he became “Elite”, Manning was a much-hyped quarterback who went through hell from the New York media in his first seasons before becoming a two-time Super Bowl winner. Optimists would look at the statistics for both quarterbacks in their first three seasons and draw parallels in terms of how similar their numbers are.
2012 will undoubtedly be the make or break year for Sanchez as the quarterback of the future. While the extension will make him more difficult to get rid of if he tanks next year, the Jets are hoping that the new deal is a vote of confidence in the abilities of Sanchez. Hopefully having Tony Sparano replace the out-of-favor Brian Scottenheimer as offensive coordinator will benefit Sanchez in the same way as it did Eli Manning when Kevin Gilbride took over after his second season.
Mark Sanchez needs to grow as a player and as a leader both on and off the field. It’s now or never for the Sanchise.