Hey, Jets: Don't Sign Peyton Manning

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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.

I wonder if the Daily News' anonymous sources included offensive tackles Wayne Hunter and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who between them allowed 19 sacks, the league's worst performance by a pair of OTs.

It wasn't long till the Jets' management, one of the most consistently incompetent in the NFL, let slip that they might be interested in signing Peyton Manning, who almost certainly won't be back with the Colts this season. Again in the Daily News, Manish Mehta quoted a Jets source—anonymous of course—as saying, "C'mon, that's a no-brainer. If you have a chance to get a healthy 36-year old Peyton Manning and you don't do it, then you're stupid. If I could get a healthy 36-year old Peyton Manning, then hell yeah, I would trade Sanchez."

Whoever the guy is who said that, he got one thing right: The Jets' front office operates with no brains. You have a bad team riddled by dissension and, as back-up quarterback Greg McElroy was brave enough to point out, selfishness and a bad work ethic, and the cure for this is to bring in a quarterback past his physical peak who missed all of last season because of a neck injury? It's astonishing that anyone who knows anything about football would even consider such a scenario; it certainly seems astonishing that Manning himself would even consider putting on a New York green jersey (though to his credit, he hasn't yet shown much enthusiasm for the deal).

But because it's the off season, and all the hype is centered around LeBron James and Jeremy Lin and the upcoming baseball season, no one is taking the Jets' statement of intentions too seriously. I think they are seriously underrating the New York Jets' capacity for stupidity and greed. I seriously doubt if anyone thinks that bringing Peyton to the Meadowlands would result in anything but another grievous neck injury, but on the bright side, it would be a financial bonanza for the franchise.

How soon the New York press forgets. In the winter of 2008 the Jets whipped up a fantasy in which the team could only be redeemed by signing another aging quarterback with a Super Bowl ring, 39-year-old Brett Favre. All Favre's season in New York did was put off the inevitable: namely, the acquisition and development of a young quarterback. Actually, it did do one other thing: signing Favre raked in millions for the Jets in the form of jerseys, sweatshirts and t-shirts. Such a cynical move is the one way an NFL franchise can boost their revenues without really doing much work.

The signing of a new superstar, whether or not it does much to actually help the team, is a virtual license to print money. Never mind that when the superstar leaves the team, racks of clothing go unsold. There are still rumors of swarms of kids down in Panama and Costa Rica wearing Jets jerseys with "Favre" on the back, that being apparently where NFL merchandising dumped the unsold apparel when Favre moved on to the Minnesota Vikings.

If Peyton Manning does come to the Jets, the New York media will have a field day with the "Two Mannings in New York" theme, and within a week, there will be tens of thousands of various items to which Peyton's name and homely all-American visage can be attached. What will the likely end be to Manning's tenure in New York? I'd give odds that by 2014 you can get a real bargain on Peyton Manning jerseys on your Central-American vacation.

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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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