To survive in the NFL, it seems that every player and coach must believe his team will thrive. Every year, we hear from pretty much every team words of optimism and hope and positivity.
And so when the zero-sum game that is the NFL unfolds and bad teams inevitably balance out the good teams, many who predicted big things come off as being even more delusional than the American Idol contestants who refuse to accept the absence of an invitation to Hollywood despite the lack of any discernible talent.
Still, optimism and hope and positivity remain prerequisites in pro football, even for the causes that appear to be already lost.
Enter Mark Sanchez. With two very good years followed by two very bad ones, he’d be gone by now but for an $8.25 million fully-guaranteed salary with no offset language that would have to be paid in full within 30 day if he’s cut. Sanchez is in danger of being benched, and by all indications it will be his final year with the team.
But to have a chance to play more like he did in 2009 and 2010 and less like he did in 2011 and 2012, Sanchez can’t afford to think that way.
“[I]t will turn around,” Sanchez recently told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “We’ll get back on track, get a couple wins, and once we get in the playoffs this year we’ll make a little run. That’s all you need to do is make your run, get hot at the right time, stay healthy.”
It’s an amazing statement. It’s not from a prediction. Far from it. Sanchez sees the playoffs (and, presumably, Sanchez starting at quarterback) as a given.
If that happens, the Jets will have little choice but to be giving Sanchez more money — a $2 million roster bonus and a $9 million base salary in 2014, per a source with knowledge of the terms of the contract. With neither payment guaranteed, that’s the biggest impediment to Sanchez playing this year. The last thing the Jets need is to have Sanchez play just well enough in 2013 to tie their hands for 2014.
As a practical matter, then, the job is Geno Smith’s to lose. And Smith will have to lose it very badly for Sanchez to get a chance to keep it beyond the coming season.
Sanchez is smart enough to know that. He’s also smart enough to know that, if he does anything other than play dumb about his chances, he’s even more destined to fail.