After a brief flirtation with free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning, who apparently didn't send an RSVP, the Jets went "all in" on Mark Sanchez by giving the fourth-year quarterback a three-year extension through the 2016 season. The deal is worth a whopping $58.25 million, including $40.5 million over the final three years. Sanchez is guaranteed $20.5 million from the deal.
That's a major investment for a quarterback who is coming off an erratic season in which he produced as many turnovers (26) as touchdown passes. And as general manager Mike Tannenbaum insisted late Friday night in a conference call to announce the deal, this was not simply a move to free up salary-cap space. This is the Jets' way of indicating they are "all in" for the long haul.
"There's countless ways to reduce people's caps in the league," Tannenbaum said. "This was more a substantive extension that will take five years. If we were looking just for cap room, as we've done in the past and other teams have done, there's very simple mechanics."
But this wasn't the right time to make this kind of move with a quarterback who has yet to prove he's as elite as these contract numbers suggest. Sure, there is more upside from the 25-year-old quarterback, but the Jets nevertheless needed to wait at least another year before rewarding him with a new deal, especially with two years remaining on his original $50- million rookie contract.
Could it be the Jets wanted to soothe any raw feelings Sanchez might have had because the team inquired about Manning? Perhaps. But the Jets said this deal has been in the works since mid-January.
The Jets didn't owe Sanchez a penny more than his first contract, which already was one of the richest in NFL history for a rookie quarterback. He has shown gradual improvement in his three seasons, helping the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game in his first two years before they fizzled down the stretch and missed the playoffs last season.
It's unusual enough to renegotiate a contract that has two years remaining as it is; to do so with a player coming off a mediocre season that included 26 touchdown passes, 18 interceptions, eight fumbles and a 78.2 rating is too soon.
Not only that, but it sends the wrong message to the locker room, as many players are forced to finish out their contracts before being rewarded with new ones.
Sanchez believes the financial commitment the Jets have shown will translate into more respect for the quarterback in the locker room. "It gives the team just a reminder that I'm the leader of this team, and I'm excited to get back," he said.
But doesn't the true test of leadership come from the numbers he puts up on the field?
Look at the Giants. They never felt the need to extend Eli Manning's contract that soon; in fact, it wasn't until two years after he had won a Super Bowl that the team rewarded him with a new deal. So why should Sanchez, much less accomplished, be any different?
That's why the Jets didn't need to go "all in" so early here. Better to have waited at least another year to see how things worked out before taking a $58-million leap of faith.