Coming into this season, the Jets had two choices. They could fully commit to Mark Sanchez, signal their confidence in him by signing him to a contract extension, and decide that win or lose, he was going to be the team's quarterback. Or they could acquire a promising backup, one who would immediately have the fans and media clamoring for him to start, and at the first sign of Sanchez struggling, make the change.
(A third option—get some receivers, and pass-catching backs, and an offensive line—was not on the table, thanks to Mike Tannenbaum's salary cap shenanigans.)
The Jets chose the middle ground, picking and choosing the absolute worst aspects of either long-term strategy to create a dumpster fire of a quarterback situation. No single person, not the guy under center, not the guys wearing the headsets, not the guy nominally in charge, not even the guy who owns the damn team, had any idea what the plan was. It was Sanchez's ball, except when it wasn't. Week to week, no assurances for anyone. Tebow coming in for random snaps, seemingly always just when Sanchez was looking effective. McElroy getting the nod, leading a gamewinning drive, then being benched for the next game—over the wishes of Woody Johnson. Tebow being handed his first offensive series of the year, an utter disaster in an utter disaster of a game.
Plenty of teams with playoff aspirations miss the postseason, and have the right to wonder what went wrong. These Jets are not one of them.
And now, just in time to be painfully, hilariously late, some decisive leadership. Manish Mehta of the Daily News reports that someone new, someone not Mark Sanchez, will be the starter for the Jets game against San Diego. Citing someone high up in the organization, "there's no way" Sanchez is back out there Sunday.
Will it be Tim Tebow? Will it be Greg McElroy? Will it be Antonio Cromartie? Nobody knows! [UPDATE: It's McElroy.] But it won't be Sanchez. Because, once again, the Jets are half-assedly making the right move at the precise wrong time. What's the point? Tebow isn't going to magically become a great quarterback. They won't learn much about McElroy from two meaningless starts against two terrible teams. Sanchez, still owed $8.5 million next year, is probably not going anywhere, so why give your presumptive quarterback of the future fewer reps? Because these are the Jets, and they have no plan.
Mark Sanchez had this to say after a four-INT game capped off by a fumbled snap that ended New York's playoff hopes. It is not encouraging.
"I made a couple of mistakes that I shouldn't have made again," Sanchez said. "It doesn't feel good, and I've got to learn from them and play better for us to win."
Sanchez is 26, and has nearly four full seasons under his belt. The time for "learning" not to blindly chuck balls into coverage, or to completely miss a defender ready to jump the route, has long passed. One teammate has "never seen a guy lose his confidence to this level." This is the guy the 2013 Jets will be trusting at quarterback—and they're previewing that trust by benching him in Week 16 at home, in part to protect him from the booing he'd receive.
It's hard to get too worked up about this, and not just because Jets fans are probably secretly happy to have a spectacular implosion of a season rather than boring mediocrity. Because here's the truth: it just doesn't matter. Sanchez, Tebow, McElroy—it doesn't matter who the quarterback is. Next year's team will still be in salary-cap hell, with an aging defense sucking up payroll, an astonishing lack of skill position players, and the same braintrust that mortgaged the immediate future for two years of conference championship losses.
This Jets era is three people: Sanchez, Rex Ryan, and Mike Tannenbaum, and it seems impossible that all three will be back next season. An obvious answer is to clean house, fire two or even all three, and undertake an honest-to-goodness rebuild. Or, perhaps, stick it out—let Sanchez keep the reins during his walk year, and give Ryan and Tannenbaum, both signed for two more seasons after this one, time to start the rebuild themselves. These are the Jets, though, so you can pretty much count on the band-aid solution of firing some coordinators. So 2013 will look much like 2012—a quarterback without confidence, a coach without purpose, a GM without flexibility, and all without the job security to act decisively. This soggy waffle of a franchise might be low now, but it can only go sideways from here.