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Jets Face $17.1 Million Salary Cap Hit If Mark Sanchez Leaves

Mark Sanchez would cost the New York Jets as much as $17.1 million if he’s cut or traded, almost twice the price of keeping the benched quarterback as a backup next year.

The Jets, out of contention for the National Football League playoffs, must decide what’s next for Sanchez, the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, and backup Tim Tebow, who was passed over in favor of Greg McElroy to start this week against the San Diego Chargers.

New York would face a $17.1 million salary cap hit if it cut Sanchez, who has made 50 turnovers in the last two seasons. A trade of Sanchez would still count $8.9 million toward the Jets’ salary cap next season, and the team probably also would have to pay a sizable portion of the $8.25 million he’s guaranteed in 2013, said Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive and now an ESPN business analyst.

“They have to get a team willing to take on that money, which means a team willing to make him a starter,” said Brandt, who negotiated player contracts and managed the Green Bay Packers’ salary cap as a vice president from 1999 to 2008. “That may be difficult.”

The Jets reached the American Football Conference’s championship game in their first two seasons with Sanchez, 26, and in March gave him a contract that guaranteed a combined $20.5 million during the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons.

Turnovers Soar

In the last two years, Sanchez has thrown 35 interceptions and lost 15 fumbles. This season, he’s shouldered the brunt of criticism for the struggles of a Jets’ offense that ranks 30th out of 32 teams in yards gained. Sanchez lost his job after four interceptions and a lost fumble in a 14-10 loss in Tennessee three days ago.

“They made a bet that he’d be their quarterback for two years,” Brandt said in a telephone interview. “I understand why they did that deal last year. They locked Sanchez into three additional years for very little additional money. And we’ll see if they hold to that bet, otherwise they have to pay him anyway or try to offload him.”

Sanchez said yesterday he was disappointed in the quarterback change, while acknowledging that he needs to cut down on turnovers. Sanchez said he hadn’t had any discussions with the team about his future.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals of me being here, not being here, whatever,” Sanchez told reporters. “We’re focused on this week, we’re ready to play San Diego. That’s where my mind’s at. So any question about, ‘What’s going to happen next year? Are you ever going to be a starter again?’ I’m not even going to go there.”

Both Gone?

ESPN reported today that the Jets will explore all options with Sanchez, including a trade, citing unidentified people in the NFL familiar with the situation. The Jets also plan to part ways in the offseason with Tebow, the Walt Disney Co. unit said.

Acquired as Sanchez’s backup in an offseason trade with the Denver Broncos, Tebow expressed frustration yesterday about his limited role in New York, where he’s played only 70 offensive snaps. Tebow was also passed over when Jets coach Rex Ryan opted for McElroy, a second-year player from the University of Alabama who will be making his first NFL start.

“All you can ask is a chance to go out there and play the game you love and help this team win football games,” Tebow told reporters. “I tried to make the most of every opportunity that I had. I would have loved to have more.”

Tebow’s Future

Tebow, 25, said he’d wait until after the season to address questions about whether he wants to stay with the Jets. Brandt said that decision may be made for him.

“It’s kind of naive to think that the player decides where to go,” said Brandt, who left the Packers just before quarterback Brett Favre was traded to the Jets in August 2008. “The team will hold his rights and figure out what’s best for the team before it does anything.”

Brandt said the limited opportunity Tebow had with the Jets probably won’t lessen his value. The Jets sent fourth- and sixth-round draft picks to the Broncos for Tebow and a seventh- round selection.

“He came out of Denver and I don’t think anyone was interested in trading for him to be a starting quarterback, so I’m not sure how much this devalues him,” Brandt said.

Brandt said the potential for a player to be a distraction, on or off the field, is a factor when assembling an NFL roster. After leading Denver to the playoffs last season and generating international attention by espousing his Christian faith, Tebow’s arrival in New York attracted a great deal of media coverage. Sanchez was asked about Tebow’s presence throughout the season.

Starter First

“The Jets have bigger concerns than what to do with Tim Tebow,” Brandt said. “If he’s there, they have a nice option at backup quarterback; if he’s not there, they have to figure out something else. But they have to figure out the starting quarterback much more than the backup quarterback.”

If Sanchez remains with the Jets and isn’t the starter next season, he wouldn’t be the NFL’s only highly paid backup.

The Seattle Seahawks signed Matt Flynn during the offseason to a three-year, $26 million contract that included $10 million in guaranteed money and then gave the starting job to rookie Russell Wilson, a third-round draft pick.

The Jets’ options may also be limited this offseason because of the quarterback talent available. While Wilson is among five rookie quarterbacks currently starting, the 2013 draft isn’t deep at the position, ESPN analyst Todd McShay said. Brandt said the best veteran quarterbacks who may be available are a pair of former No. 1 picks who have lost their starting jobs: Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Time can heal a lot,” Brandt said. “You get into the offseason and get a month or two away from the season and realize what are the options beyond Sanchez and they don’t look that great.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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