Ever since the Denver Broncos orchestrated the trade that brought veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez to the Mile High City, I've been relatively high on him. Rather than visions of the 'Butt-Fumble', I remember the player Sanchez was coming out of USC back in 2009 — and his early years with the New York Jets.
As a Trojan, Sanchez proved a skilled technician of the West Coast Offense. His last year at USC, he tossed 34 touchdowns — to 10 interceptions — for 3,207 yards. Pete Carroll's winning culture helped shape Sanchez into one of the nation's best passers and an eventual top-five draft pick.
I expect Sanchez to fit in perfectly with Denver's locker room culture and winning expectations. He also happens to be an excellent fit for Gary Kubiak version of the WCO. When the Broncos acquired Sanchez, GM John Elway called it "the first step" in the team's quarterback search.
The Broncos sniffed around some other veterans on the open market, and even tried trading for Colin Kaepernick, leading up to the NFL Draft. All the while, the public message coming out of Dove Valley was one of confidence in Sanchez.
That confidence is real. And he's earned it, too.
Asserting himself as a leader right out of the gates, he took his offensive line out to take in a Colorado Rockies game, and organized a passing camp in his home state of California, of which guys like Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Jeff Heuerman attended. Sanchez has already built chemistry with his new teammates.
"For the guys to come out to California, a few of them I hadn’t even met," Sanchez said Monday. "For them to really put that thing together—sure I led the charge, these guys were calling each other and making sure that they were going to be there holding each other accountable. [TE] Jeff Heuerman coming off of a knee injury, wants to be out there throwing with his new quarterback. Emmanuel Sanders is calling other guys, ‘Hey, make sure you get there on Sunday. Don’t come in late.’ That kind of stuff means a lot for a quarterback. It’s tough to find guys like that. Now that you’re here, you just want to maximize all of this time together and realize our potential.”
When the Broncos traded up in the first round of the Draft to select Memphis gunslinger Paxton Lynch, many veteran quarterbacks would have taken that as a shot across their bow, like Philadelphia's Sam Bradford, who demanded to be traded in the wake of his team's trade-up for a quarterback.
But the only thing Sanchez has in common with Bradford is the fact that they both played in Philly. Otherwise, they're polar opposites. Sanchez is the antithesis of Bradford. Instead of crying over the Lynch selection, Sanchez sees it as a vote of confidence by the Broncos.
“That’s been the message that I’ve received," Sanchez remarked. "I’m thrilled about this opportunity. Whether it was a veteran that came in, any of the names that were out there, any of these guys in the draft that are becoming pros this year—my focus wouldn’t change. The most important thing for me was getting involved with the players here, meeting these guys, develop a relationship, learn this playbook as fast as I can and then get involved in the community and establish myself as a leader on this team. That’s going to take time and that’s going to take reps, no matter who was here. It happens to be Paxton. We’re happy. He’s a great talent. He’s going to add to our quarterback room. That’s going to make it fun.”
Sanchez was one of the first of Lynch's new teammates to reach out and welcome him to the team.
“It’s a special day for all of those guys," Sanchez said. "Drafted or undrafted, they’re realizing their NFL dreams. That was the first thing I said. ‘Congratulations on that, welcome to the team, holler if you need anything.’"
When asked about what Elway or Kubiak said to Sanchez in regard to the Lynch pick, the eighth-year veteran kept the cat in the bag.
“I keep those discussions private," he said. "They don’t owe me that. They don’t owe me anything like that [or] any of the players. This is their team. They’re going to do exactly what they want to do. I think the message is clear. We’ll roll with that. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Did you sense any entitlement in that response? Look, Sanchez is in the final year of the contract the Broncos took on from Philadelphia. He realizes that he's in the perfect situation for a QB hitting a contract year. He gets to quarterback the defending World Champions, likely start five primetime football games in 2016, mentor the youngster and hope to hit it big on his next contract in March of 2017.
Is he keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch? Absolutely. But there's no guarantee that Lynch will pan out. And in the event that he doesn't, Sanchez has proven that he can be prolific in the West Coast Offense and win with a stout defense.
The Broncos have the perfect hedge in Mark Sanchez. So far, he's doing everything right and he's been around long enough to know that anything can happen, even in the NFL.
"Who knows what’s going to happen and who cares," Sancehz queried. "What are you supposed to do? Meet your teammates, develop relationship with them, learn the playbook and get involved in the community. That’s it. Those three things. I’ve had a blast doing that the last couple of weeks.”
Something tells me that although much of the fanbase will be engaged in 'Paxton Lynch Watch' when training camp opens up, it won't take long for Sanchez to earn their admiration — and the Broncos starting quarterback job.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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