In an effort to solidify the quarterback position behind rookie starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys opted to sign veteran signal-caller Mark Sanchez on Sunday following his release from the Denver Broncos on Saturday. The Broncos elected to go with one-time Cowboys target Austin Davis and (now-starter) Trevor Siemian alongside presumptive eventual starter Paxton Lynch to fill out their QB corps.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, were desperate to add a veteran signal-caller to the mix, to back Dak. Or, in a worst-case scenario, just in case things don’t work out for "Dak To The Future.''
On paper, once you muddle beyond the Butt Fumble stuff, Sanchez seems like a fit for what the Cowboys are looking for in a backup QB. But is the 29-year old up to the task? And what exactly does he bring to the table for the ‘Boys? Let’s break it down the good, the bad, and the ugly of Sanchez:
The Good: Experience and Tools
The main draw to Mark Sanchez for any NFL franchise at this point in his career is his veteran experience, as a backup and a starter. From 2009-2012, Sanchez was the starter for the Jets under Rex Ryan. In that time, he started 62 games, throwing for 12,092 yards and 68 touchdowns, while completing 56 percent of his passes. He also went 33 and 29 as a starter, in that time, including leading them to their best record since 1998, when Vinny Testaverde, was under center.
Sanchez also earned valuable playoff experience while in New York, leading them to the playoffs in 2009 and 2010, and reaching two straight AFC title games. The Jets would go on to lose both games however, the first to the Colts in 2009 and next to the Steelers in 2010. Sanchez’s playoff record as it stands today, is 4-2, which gives him two more playoff victories than Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Ryan.
We’re not saying that he’s as good or better than any one of those quarterbacks by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he’s far from it, but the stats are the stats.
Sanchez also possesses all the physical tools needed to be a successful NFL quarterback. At 6’2 225 pounds, he has all the size and strength needed to play the position at the NFL level. He also has a live arm that can make all of the NFL throws, terrific footwork and balance, and as quick a release that you will find from anybody not named Rodgers, Romo, Stafford or Brady.
To put it simply, from a physical tools and athleticism standpoint, there wasn’t another quarterback available on the market that was equal to Sanchez in these respects.
And the learning curve is a factor here, too.
“Give me a few minutes," Sanchez joked to the media on Monday when asked about learning the playbook. "I've got a long way to go.“
But he should be able to consume this quickly, and says he's already had help since his weekend arrival.
"Just keep chipping away, keep studying," said the newcomer, once upon a time the fifth pick in his entire NFL draft but now on his fourth team in four years. "I’m thankful a guy like (injured backup) Kellen Moore has been a great resource for me. Dak has been great, and I’m sure Tony will be awesome, too.”
The Bad: Inconsistency
With the good however, also comes the bad with the Sanchize. Throughout his career, Mark Sanchez has fluctuated from extremely high highs, to very lowest lows. On any given night, he can throw the most beautiful dime of a throw you have ever seen, and then follow it up with a terrible read and a lame duck pass. Going into his seventh year in the NFL, it’s going to be tough to change that.
In short, Sanchez-led teams have always been more successful when they aren't "led'' by Sanchez, when he was asked to do nothing more than be a game manager.
Take 2009 and 2010, for example. Sanchez averaged just 185 yards per game behind a good offensive line, a good running game, and one of the top defenses in the NFL. The strength of those Jets teams was field-position play, defense and clock management. In games where Sanchez was asked to do more than manage, the Jets faltered. When the defense and running game were in control, they were very tough to beat. When the Jets defense and running game declined (specifically against the run) over the next couple of seasons and they couldn’t control the clock and Sanchez was asked to do more, the Jets posted records of just 8-8 and 6-9, and Sanchez was booted out the door the following year.
The Ugly: Pocket Presence and Bad Turnovers
Here is the biggest issue with Sanchez as a whole. Over his career, when defenses have dialed up the pressure, and forced him to make plays under duress with his arm, Sanchez hasn’t been able to handle it.
Throughout his career in New York, Sanchez ranked at or near the bottom of the league in Pro Football Focus’s adjusted accuracy percentage under pressure, completing 52.7 percent in 2009, and less than 50 percent of passes from 2010-2012.
A slew of lowlights show him buckling under pressure, leading to fumbles, bad reads and interceptions. One of the most infamous blunders of his career came against New England, in what has become known as the Butt Fumble, play which lived in infamy in Sportcenter’s Not Top 10 until its retirement.
The "Butt Fumble'' was a fluke. But Mark's reputation as a "turnover machine'' (something folks inside Cowboys HQ said about him just weeks before his acquisition) has been a big issue and is one that warrants a lot of concern.
So what do we make of all of this?
The Cowboys brought Sanchez in as an insurance policy against a Dak Prescott injury nightmare. So to say that he will be forced to win games for the Cowboys at any point this season is premature. Should Dak go down with a injury that forces him to miss time however, it would also be premature for Cowboys fans to start running for the hills.
Sound optimistic? Sanchez shares that feeling.
“This is a group that’s been there, knows how to win and has created and cultivated a winning atmosphere,’' said Sanchez, who has a one-year, $2.5 million deal to help buoy a position that may determine whether the Cowboys can be a winner in 2016. “To be a part of that. … I know that’s really important.”
In the event he gets on the field, Sanchez would be playing behind the best offensive line in football, throwing to a talent group of receivers and tight ends, and likely handing the ball off to Zeke Elliott no less than 25 times a game. So in that scenario, Sanchez would be in game manager mode from start to finish, which plays to his strengths as a player in most respects.
Accepting that Dallas didn't do more in the offseason to strengthen the QB room ... realizing that drafting Dak may have been "strengthening'' enough ... this move, at this time, makes sense for Dallas and Sanchez.
Romo is going to stay on the 53-man roster, it seems (but only after "circumcising a mosquito'') and Dak is trying to catch up to his level of play, starting this week against the visiting Giants. One way of understanding how Sanchez is due just a little bit of respect here: The gap between Romo's ability to win an NFL game and Dak's ability to win an NFL game is far wider than the gap between Dak and Sanchez.
Think about it.
Get the details on Charles Tapper's back injury here in Cowboys Premium ... Sean Lee tells Fish he's a full-go for this week, and he's been practicing that way ... CHQ thinks the coaches are envisioning Lance Dunbar being part of this week's gameplan for the Giants. Is he healthy enough? ... Kyle Wilber lining up as an edge-rusher gives this team a tiny bit of depth at the position. But only "tiny.'' ... Ezekiel Elliott is in the legal clear in Ohio - but Fish writes here in his column, has other behavioral hurdles to deal with. ... Romo, Tapper and Nzeocha were the notable Cowboys not practicing on Wednesday.
THE FINAL WORD
"There's no leash on Dak. You guys blow me away. There's no leash on him. Heck, he's in. He's going to be playing. We're very comfortable with him. There's no short leash. There's no long leash. We got us a player we hope can win the ballgame for us (Sunday)." -- Jerry Jones, to "Shan & RJ'' on 105.3 The Fan, part of "Jerry Unleashed,'' here.