Joe Namath is beloved by generations of Jets fans as the one and only quarterback to deliver a Super Bowl championship to the franchise, but there is one topic that Namath’s stubborn refusal to budge on will not sit well with Jets Nation: Mark Sanchez.
The former first-round pick was thought by many to have the best chance to become the team’s next great quarterback and perhaps the first to deliver a championship since Namath led a spectacular upset of the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969. But like the rest of the quarterbacks since Namath, Sanchez turned into yet another reminder of the team’s inability to find the next Namath.
But Namath himself remains a staunch believer in Sanchez, despite the fact he is now on his third team after signing with the Broncos earlier this offseason. Sanchez will compete with first-round pick Paxton Lynch when the Broncos embark on a Super Bowl defense following the retirement of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
“I’ll tell you what, Denver has at least one quarterback that can still play, contrary to what people around here think, and that’s Mark Sanchez,” Namath said Tuesday at the GTIF Charity Day event in Manhattan, where he was a guest stock trader along with several other current and former star athletes, most of whom are associated with the New York sports scene.
The conversation with Namath began with his take on free- agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s inability to reach a con tract agreement with the Jets, but it was Namath who brought up Sanchez when the subject of Fitzpatrick came up. It was Namath who suggested Sanchez was a better quarterback than the Jets’ 2015 starter, and that it wouldn’t even be a close competition if the Broncos had chosen to sign Fitzpatrick in addition to Sanchez.
“I don’t think he can beat Sanchez out,” Namath said. “He’s got a younger body [than the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick], a stronger arm, and he’s a guy that has some experience.”
Sanchez started his NFL career in promising fashion, easily beating out Kellen Clemens as a rookie in 2009 and then helping the Jets get to back-to-back AFC Championship Games his first two seasons. Sanchez was more of a game manager than a gunslinger, especially in an up-and-down rookie season, but he was a big reason the Jets were able to beat Manning and then Tom Brady in the 2010 playoffs.
After that, though, Sanchez’s career took a nosedive. The Jets went 8-8 in his third season, slipped to 6-10 a year later in a season remembered more for the ill-fated trade for Tim Tebow, and then he suffered a shoulder injury in the 2013 preseason when coach Rex Ryan inexplicably put him back in during the second half of a preseason game against the Giants. He was released the following offseason, and spent two years as the Eagles’ backup QB before joining the Broncos this season.
Sanchez’s NFL future could be as a backup, but Namath refuses to give up on him.
“My mind, my experience, sees a quality person and a quality player,” Namath said. “I still believe he’s going to be around 12 to 15 years, whether he’s the starter or not. He’s good for any team he’s on.”
Namath wishes Sanchez had never left the Jets, even though he understands the circumstances surrounding his inevitable departure. Once John Idzik took over as general manager in 2013 and drafted Geno Smith in the second round, it was obvious Sanchez’s time in New York would soon be up.
“I saw the process he went through,” Namath said of Sanchez. “It was a rather unique process, especially the third year. Then some things hit the fan. Things changed quite a bit, and he took the beating without complaining.”
Sanchez has a chance to revive his career, although the odds are still stacked against him in Denver. The Broncos didn’t draft Lynch to sit on the bench for very long, so even if Sanchez wins the starting job in training camp, it is likely he will be replaced by Lynch in the not-too-distant future. Broncos general manager John Elway even hinted as much during a radio interview last week.
“Is [Lynch becoming the starter] going to happen tomorrow? Probably not,” Elway said. “But you never know when it can happen. We think he’s going to be ready quicker than a lot of people think.”
Sanchez understands the deal, because he was in Lynch’s situation at the beginning of his career. Will Sanchez be the Broncos’ version of Clemens, the veteran quarterback who gives way almost from the start? Or will he have at least the first part of the season — or perhaps even longer — to justify the kind of faith Namath still has in him?
The defending champs will likely know the answer sooner rather than later. Even so, Namath will continue to vouch for the quarterback he continues to believe in — even if he’s one of the only ones left who feels that way.