Hey, Jets: Don't Sign Peyton Manning

An aging, injured quarterback won't fix the team's woes.

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Reuters

To paraphrase Georges Clemenceau on Brazil, the New York Jets are the team of the future—and always will be. Except for a few relatively recent expansion teams, no franchise in NFL history has less of a past than the Jets. In 1969 Joe Namath led the Jets to one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets ever, turned the pro football world on its ear, and helped accelerate the merger of the National and American Football leagues. That's it. There's nothing else in the Jets history to brag about.

A couple of years ago it looked like things were going to be different when the brash and blustery Rex Ryan took over the coaching job. In his first year, 2009, the Jets were 9-7 and very nearly went to the Super Bowl before losing the conference championship to the Indianapolis Colts in a tough 30-17 loss. The following season they posted their best record in decades, 11-5, and again looked headed for the big game. They lost again in the conference championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-19, in a game in which they couldn't find a way to score in the fourth quarter from the one-yard line.

This past season, things spun entirely out of control: The Jets fell apart in the second half of the season, finishing 8-8, and the front office immediately began looking for scapegoats. It's worth noting that the Jets were just a single victory from matching the New York Giants' 9-7 regular season record. Nothing could be more bitter than the fact that the fortunes of both teams hinged on the next-to-the-last game of the season. On Christmas Eve the Jets lost to the Giants 29-14 in a sloppy, mistake-filled performance. From there, the Giants went on to their second Super Bowl victory in four years, and the Jets went back to saying "Wait till next year."

Inevitably, the finger was pointed at Mark Sanchez, the 25-year-old quarterback from the U of Southern California whose performance declined sharply over the last two seasons. Or, rather, his statistics declined sharply over the last two seasons: My observation is that Sanchez was exactly the same quarterback in 2011 that he was the year before, but everything around him went to hell.

The New York Daily News was particularly savage, quoting nearly a dozen anonymous Jets to the effect that their quarterback had gotten "lazy," that he "just doesn't have the mental toughness to be great," and that they "see the organization babying him. They see him with a sense of entitlement. He's being given all this and hasn't done anything."

Yes, God forbid pro football franchises should pamper their quarterbacks.

I wonder if some of the players the Daily News spoke to—those brave, anonymous, 300-plus pounders—played on either the offensive or defensive lines that were responsible Sanchez's poor season? Or are there really football players who believe that a quarterback's performance isn't dependent on his team's pass blocking, the running game, and defensive play? Do the players who think Sanchez is coddled believe that he should block for himself, run the ball himself, and perhaps go out and contribute to the defense?

Let's look at the defense first. The Jets went from one of the best defenses in the league, giving up 304 points for sixth place in the NFL to one of the worst last year, allowing 363, 20th. Sanchez's run support sagged terribly; the Jets went from average 4.4 yards/rush in 2010 to 3.8 in 2011. As for the pass blocking, it was simply atrocious. It's hard to rate pass blocking because a team with a mobile QB will generally give up fewer sacks than a team with a passer who usually stays in the pocket, but in terms of sacks, hits, and "hurries," Sanchez was one of the most maligned QBs in football last year.

Presented by

Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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