There are a few absolute rules in the NFL. Written or unwritten, there are certain codes that players are expected to follow on a no-matter-what basis. One of them is that you never take what's said in the locker room and the meeting room public. Another is that if you want to rip a teammate in public (not generally a good idea in any case,) you'll at least have the stones to attach your name to the criticism.
The New York Jets seem to have lost the manual.
Rookie quarterback Greg McElroy took care of the first rule when he discussed the team's "corrupt mindset" recently, and several anonymous Jets have now shot the second rule straight to heck. In an incendiary column written by the highly respected Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, members of the team's organization ripped quarterback Mark Sanchez to an extreme degree.
There are so many money quotes in the piece, it's almost hard to know where to start. But here are a few cappers:
"We have to bring in another quarterback that will make him work at practice," said one player. "He's lazy and content because he knows he's not going to be benched."
"How can we when he's not improving at all?" [another teammate said, when asked if the Jets can hoist the Lombardi Trophy with Sanchez]. "He thinks he is, but he's not. He has shown us what he's capable of."
"So many games, he looked defeated before he ever took the field," a team source said. "He didn't have much confidence in what he was about to go do. You could tell throughout the week in practice. He never felt comfortable with some of the things we were doing. It was too much for him."
[When asked whether the team should go after quarterback Peyton Manning with everything they could, age and injury situations and all, the answer was definite.] "Come on. That's a no-brainer," a Jets source said. "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."
[One player agreed]. "We already have [Manning's former] coach — [ex-Colts offensive coordinator] Tom Moore," one well-respected player said. "Plus, he's a field general and will get everyone lined up. He will get his playmakers the ball. We can win a Super Bowl with Peyton."
It's an unusual stand to take against a quarterback who set career marks in attempts (543), completions (308), completion percentage (56.7), passing yards (3,474) and touchdowns (26). But the issues seem to be more about intangibles than stats.
A great deal of the resentment seems to be tied to the perception that Sanchez is being coddled — that, in effect, he's getting superstar treatment before he's earned it.
"They see the organization babying him," said a Jets source [about Sanchez's teammates]. "They see him with a sense of entitlement. He's been given all this and hasn't done anything. They call him 'San-chise.' They make him the face of the organization. They gave him the captain tag. He's not a captain. He should have never been a captain."
OK, so … who are these mysterious sources? Metha isn't the kind of guy who's going to spin the truth, but hypothetically, the team source could be anyone from the team president to the towel boy, and the Sanchez pans could be coming from starters or practice-squad schleps.
"It's always been my experience that guys are much more comfortable talking to you in that form," Mehta told the NFL Network on Wednesday. "They're more truthful and forthcoming. I know it's easy to point to 'anonymous sources' and say, 'Is this guy a significant player on the team,' but I spoke to key players and key members of this organization, from top to bottom about their quarterback, and I really asked them an open-ended question: 'What's your honest evaluation of Mark Sanchez?'"
Asked about the size of the anti-Sanchez camp, Mehta said that "it's definitely more than a few isolated players, but I wouldn't necessarily say that it's just about every player. It's a significant number, and it's a number I've been keeping tabs on throughout the course of the season. After a team missed the playoffs for the first time in three years, and they lose their last three games, and Mark Sanchez contributes nine turnovers in those games, you're going to have a lot of people who are unhappy with him."
That's all well and good, but look at the playoff teams that lost three straight to end the season. The Denver Broncos? Tim Tebow threw four picks in those last three games and completed 27 percent of his passes in the season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Houston Texans? T.J. Yates failed to throw a single touchdown in their season-ending losing streak. But you'll hear nothing but support for those quarterbacks from their teammates. Admittedly, Tebow's a second-year player with intangibles up the wazoo, and Yates is a rookie injury fill-in with intriguing potential, but still … the extent to which certain Jets players felt comfortable talking this way about Sanchez has to be of grave concern to the organization.
And if it isn't, it should be.
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Still, other people were on board with Sanchez to varying degrees. The Jets' offensive line regressed in the 2011 season, and that was an issue to a degree "At one point, he was looking at the [pass] rush and wasn't seeing the receivers," the source said. "I think that's a lack of confidence in what we're doing. I think that's a lack of confidence in how we're protecting him... When you get hit the way that he got hit, there were some quarterbacks that wouldn't have made it through the season."
Two of Sanchez's linemen were quick to defend him. "If there's really a problem, if there is something wrong, you should man up and own up to what you're going to say," center Nick Mangold told ESPN New York. "When no one has their name attached to it, I think it's kind of an easy way out to air your personal grievances that should be kept in the locker room … I'm going to fix these things. It's disappointing that there's somebody out there, but I don't think this should be an issue for us, moving forward."
Right tackle Wayne Hunter was in his quarterback's corner as well, though there are those who would say that Hunter should have been protecting Sanchez better on the field.
"I back Mark all the way like I always have," he said. "People need to realize that it is not all Mark. The whole offense is at fault. I need to get better at my craft and I will. Players need to be held accountable. Play-calling can only go so far without execution. For our own teammates to call out Mark in the media is selfish and to remain unnamed is cowardly."
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The Jets expect a lot of Mark Sanchez, but they have also done a lot to support and surround him. He's in a run-based offense that doesn't always put the pressure on him to win games. The team went out and got him talented receivers to add to that picture when they fell short in two straight AFC championship games, but things have not jelled for a number of reasons. The addition of Moore as an offensive assistant was supposed to help the passing game, but Sanchez regressed in many ways and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was recently fired.
There's no doubt that Sanchez has to improve, but as yet another "team source" said, this was just the latest example of a real perception that this Jets team is rolling downhill at warp speed — and it's more about the stuff that's happening off the field.
"I don't think that he'll come here," the source said, when asked about the chances that the Jets could acquire Manning as a free agent. "We have to change the perception of our organization. We're not the organization that players said they wanted to play for a year or two ago. We're starting to come across a little flaky. We talk the talk. We don't back it up. We're out of control. There's no discipline. It's a mess right now."
Few team sources, anonymous or otherwise, would disagree.
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