Jets Signing Sanchez Made Little Sense to NFL Statisticians

Photographer: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Quarterback Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. Close

Quarterback Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets.

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Photographer: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Quarterback Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets.

In a National Football League era dominated by elite quarterbacks, past seasons’ statistics help show that the New York Jets haven’t had one in a long time.

Mark Sanchez’s fourth year with the franchise after being drafted No. 5 has been his least successful. The 6-9 team will end its season on Dec. 30 at the Buffalo Bills.

Sanchez, who was given a new salary-cap draining contract in March that guaranteed him a combined $20.5 million in 2012 and 2013, quarterbacked the Jets to the American Football Conference’s championship game his first two seasons. Statistics show that the 26-year-old perhaps didn’t deserve the extension or a place in the team’s starting lineup even with the winning records.

“To give Sanchez an extension in the offseason was monumentally ridiculous,” said Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of FootballOutsiders.com, which uses advanced statistics to analyze player values. “His performance is the equivalent of your average backup quarterback.”

Sanchez had 13 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions while completing 54.8 percent of his passes before being benched following five turnovers in a Dec. 17 loss to Tennessee that ended the Jets’ playoff hopes. He’s had 50 turnovers the last two seasons.

Sanchez will return to the first string for the finale. Greg McElroy, who got his initial career start in a 27-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers four days ago, informed the staff today that he was feeling the effects of a concussion suffered during the game, coach Rex Ryan said at a news conference.

Statistical Start

Sanchez threw for 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions as a rookie in 2009, then seemed to improve the following year, tossing 17 scoring passes while being picked off 13 times. Another 15 of his passes in 2010 should have been interceptions but were dropped by defenders, according to FootballOutsiders.com.

“That’s the most dropped interceptions we’ve tracked from any quarterback in the four years we’ve been doing this,” Schatz said in a telephone interview.

The website uses a ranking called DYAR, which stands for Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement. The metric measures how a player’s performance compares to generic “replacement- level” players in the same situation. Out of 39 quarterbacks who have thrown 100 passes this season, Sanchez ranks last. He also ranks 34th in rushing out of 34 quarterbacks who’ve attempted at least seven runs.

Rookie Preferred

“There’s no reason why you would want Mark Sanchez right now instead of a rookie you could get in the second or third round,” Schatz said.

Backup Tim Tebow wasn’t trusted to become a starter when Sanchez was benched. McElroy, a third-stringer who was a seventh-round 2011 draft pick, was sacked a team record-tying 11 times by the San Diego Chargers.

“Clearly, the die is cast,” Brian Billick, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2000 season who is now an analyst for Fox Sports, said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got to go in a different direction. It’s hard to imagine that they believe McElroy is going to be the long-term answer. We know Tim Tebow is not.”

Tebow’s Role

Tebow, acquired in an offseason trade with Denver, probably will be released and play with the Jacksonville Jaguars next season, ESPN reported. Brought in to operate the Jets’ wildcat offensive packages that mix quarterback runs and passes, Tebow told reporters he was disappointed that Ryan chose to start McElroy against the Chargers. Prior to the game, Tebow informed his coaches he didn’t want to be used in the wildcat, ESPN said, citing multiple unidentified people in the Jets’ organization. Yesterday, Tebow denied that he had asked not to be used for the plays.

NFL teams no longer can win Super Bowls without elite quarterbacks, as the Ravens did with Trent Dilfer and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did with Brad Johnson two years later, Billick said.

Aided by one of the best single-season defenses in NFL history, Baltimore’s title came during an era devoid of elite quarterbacks, Billick said. Future Hall of Famers such as John Elway, Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Dan Marino were retiring and current top-level players such as Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger were emerging or in college.

Different Era

“There was a void there but now it’s changed,” Billick said. “Can you win games? Yes. Can you be a good team? Yes. Can you win a championship? No. Not without solid play at the quarterback position.”

The top quarterback prospects for the 2013 NFL draft are the University of Southern California’s Matt Barkley, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, according to Russ Lande, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams.

Barkley is most prepared to play in the NFL because he’s been in a pro system and is very intelligent, though not a great physical talent, said Lande, scouting director for the National Football Post.

Smith, a strong-armed quarterback with a very good understanding of the game, “needs a lot of technical work” on his footwork and mechanics, while Glennon, a 6-foot-5 passer with a strong arm and poise, is slow to release the ball, Lande said.

“There is nobody that I’ve spoken to that has told me, ‘This guy is the guy,’” Lande said of his conversations with other NFL talent evaluators. “Every guy, there’s concerns and questions about.”

Calling Turner

Both Lande and Schatz suggested the best option for the Jets would be to hire Norv Turner as offensive coordinator if the 60-year-old is let go as coach of the Chargers, who are also 6-9. Turner, with a reputation of being a strong developer of quarterbacks, was the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator from 1991 to 1993, when the team won two Super Bowls.

“Let Norv try to fix Sanchez and give him a young guy to work with in case Sanchez never makes it,” Lande said.

Ryan made Sanchez his first draft pick in 2009. The recent formula for new NFL coaches is to find a young quarterback with whom to build a team, said Billick, citing successful pairings of Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan, and current Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

“Rex reached out to get Sanchez and it didn’t turn out,” Billick said. “Typically when you miss on a first-round quarterback, it costs you. The question is, are you going to be given another chance?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

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

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