Burns: Mark Sanchez Failed to Live Up to Expectations, Future with Jets Uncertain

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez officially has been benched. Signal-caller Greg McElroy will be behind center for Sunday’s game versus the San Diego Chargers.

Coach Rex Ryan’s decision came as no surprise following Sanchez’s disastrous outing against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

Sanchez had five turnovers – four interceptions and a fumble – in the Jets’ 14-10 loss that eliminated them from playoff contention.

Sanchez will end up somewhere. However, unless some major shakeups occur, the Jets don’t look to be the best somewhere for Sanchez to end up

- Maria Burns

However, the move had far greater implications than just a routine depth-chart decision. Sanchez has not only seen his final start of Jets for 2012, but possibly his final start ever in New York. The Jets’ current quarterback situation and the surrounding controversy continue to make headlines.

The Jets’ other backup quarterback, Tim Tebow, reportedly has asked to be released or traded. Other reports state that the Jets – who signed Sanchez to a three-year extension in March – are looking at their options when it comes to moving the fourth-year quarterback and examining the salary-cap implications any deal might have. Sanchez is one of the 10 highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.

Considering Sanchez’s performance this season, he hasn’t shown he warrants such an investment. The financial factors will be a major issue if the Jets put him on the trading block. Cutting Sanchez is pretty much out of the question considering the team would take a $17.1 million dollar cap hit. The team could spread that money out over two years, but it’s still $17 million. Trading Sanchez isn’t a dramatically more attractive option and also comes at a steep price: a $8.9 million cap hit plus probably the bulk of Sanchez’s $8.25 million salary.

Sanchez ranks 33rd in the league in passing with a rating of 67.9. His 17 interceptions are the third-most in the NFL. For comparison, he’s passed for just 13 touchdowns and been sacked 33 times.

Monday night was a microcosm of Sanchez’s season. Beyond the turnovers, Sanchez went 13-for-28 passing, was sacked three times and had an abysmal 32.6 passer rating. Meanwhile, his teammate and the NFL’s most high-profile backup quarterback, Tebow, went 0-for-1 passing and was sacked en route to a rating seven points higher (39.6) than the Jets’ starter.

Just two years ago, as the Jets made back-to-back AFC championship game appearances, Sanchez was the talk of New York. Sure, the success was largely driven by the defense. And sure, Sanchez was never going to be a Hall of Famer. But he certainly seemed to have at least what it took to make the Jets contenders.

Yes, the defense was always the backbone of the team. That’s the hallmark of any team under Ryan.

And yes, Sanchez had limited offensive weapons.

And yes, the addition of Tebow to the Jets’ roster made no real sense to anyone.

And maybe Sanchez wasn’t developed as well as he could have been. But Sanchez was not expected to be –or ever going to be– in the strata of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning in on-the-field ability.

Still, Sanchez has to do better than basement dweller when it comes to NFL quarterback performance.

Ultimately, for Sanchez, the discussion comes down to the intangibles.

Playing for the University of Southern California, a quarterback position rivaled only by Notre Dame in terms of national visibility, Sanchez was groomed for the spotlight in a way few college quarterbacks are. He seemed comfortable in the limelight of New York’s professional sports scene.

From a marketing standpoint, Sanchez couldn’t have been a better pickup. In his first and second seasons in New York, Sanchez certainly had off-the-field endorsement potential that few athletes ever possess.

But the sports landscape is driven by two things: marketing and wins.

The latter trumps the former. Win enough games, and the success may be all the drawing power a team and its marquee athlete needs. Lose too many, and your selling power tanks. Sanchez is coming off consecutive struggling seasons.

And with on-field intangibles – the ones that win games and that multimillion dollar contracts are based on – Sanchez has failed to live up to the expectations. He hasn’t come through in pressure situations. He never took the Jets past the AFC title game. As expectations grew, Sanchez seemed to slump. For a player projected to make almost $60 million through 2016, Sanchez hasn’t risen to the challenge.

Make no mistake, Sanchez will end up somewhere. However, unless some major shakeups occur, the Jets don’t look to be the best somewhere for Sanchez to end up.

And maybe another place will be a better fit. Maybe Sanchez gets the chance to develop in a way he hasn’t with the Jets. Maybe he’ll fare better under a different coach and a different system. Maybe what we’ve seen from Sanchez so far is what we’ll always get. In the coming months, those questions will certainly be pondered.

Add one more question to the mix. We know we’ve seen Mark Sanchez’ final start as quarterback of the Jets for 2012, but was Monday night’s start the last of his career in New York?

Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz

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