Friday, December 7, 2012

Mark Sanchez and Sunk Costs

Sanchez's best position, right here!

The word ‘circus’ has been attributed to the 2012 New York Jets on at least 15,000 occasions. The description is accurate, sure, but it doesn’t nearly begin to describe what is happening this year in the green version of MetLife Stadium. It just…falls short – like calling Ron Artest odd. Of course he’s odd! Did you not see him charge into the seats in Detroit (DETROIT, OF ALL PLACES!) to assault a fan?! And ‘odd’ is all you can come up with?

Similarly, ‘circus’ just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Think bigger, like an entire convention of clowns filling the new Texas Stadium. Thousands of clowns, all dressed up in their creepy makeup and goofy clothes, all milling about this giant stadium in search of some child to abduct and literally scare to death. *SHIVERS* 

The conventions most recent speaker was, once again, its president and leading member, Mr. Rex Ryan.

Earlier this week, Rex announced that Mark Sanchez would once again be the starting QB, his 60th start in the last four seasons. Sanchez, of course, was pulled from last week’s game after completing just 10 of 21 passes and throwing three horrific INT’s en route to three scoreless quarters. Third stringer, Greg McElroy, was inserted and promptly led the Jets to their only score of the day, a 1 yard TD toss in the fourth that would give the Jets the 7 points they needed for the win.

The thought was that Sanchez might have reached the end of his rather generous rope. As I already mentioned, this is a guy who was trotted out there 59 times in four seasons. 59 times, despite a career completion percentage of just 55%, despite a TD-INT ratio barely better than 1-1 and despite a paltry Y/A average of 6.5. To say that Sanchez has disappointed is like saying the Bay of Pigs invasion ‘didn’t quite work out’ – an understatement of the highest order. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Jets organization had seen enough and had finally decided to pull the plug on the Mark Sanchez Experiment. Perhaps, seeing that the playoffs were too far out of their reach in 2012, they had decided to use their four remaining games as an audition, of sorts, for McElroy.

Or not.

The decision to stick with Sanchez really isn’t all that surprising given what we’ve all heard from the Jets and how NFL teams typically handle this type of situation. Basically, we all knew they were going to put Sanchez back out there this week. It was inevitable. What we don’t know is how the Jets can possibly justify this decision. It’s baffling, to say the least, and if I were a Jets fan, I’d have some serious questions as to the sanity of the coaching staff and front office.

Nevertheless, attempts at justifying the decision have already been made. In truth, there are three reasons that, when broken down into their generic form and applied to the right situation, are perfectly legitimate reasons to stick with a struggling starter. The question is, is this the right situation? Let’s look at the three reasons and see: (I’m guess you already know the answer is no?)

1. We’re in the playoff hunt and Sanchez gives us the best chance to win.

The part about Sanchez giving the Jets the best chance to win may or may not be true. It’s impossible to make an accurate assessment of that without a bigger sample from either Tebow or McElroy, but even still, I’ll concede the point to Rex Ryan on the basis of Sanchez’s superior experience. Even still, the reasoning is preposterous, at best. The Jets are currently 5-7, two games back of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot, and with a head-to-head loss to Pittsburgh making the situation even direr. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets have a 2.4% chance at making the playoffs. So no, this is not a reason to start Sanchez. Try again.

2. Sanchez has a strong future and just needs more development time.

This is the primary reason the Jets are giving for sticking with Sanchez, holding fast to their claim that Sanchez is their franchise guy. Granted, this is a terrific reason for a team like Seattle to stick with Russell Wilson after a somewhat shaky start to his rookie season, but it just rings hollow with Sanchez. Again, Sanchez has had 59 starts in four seasons. That’s easily a large enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions, and the conclusion is that, at best, Sanchez is exactly as bad as he was in his rookie season. 59 starts and he hasn’t progressed a single bit. He’s still wildly inaccurate, he still makes horrible decisions, he still struggles to get the ball downfield and he still doesn’t make his teammates better. The numbers are in on Sanchez and they are overwhelmingly NOT in his favor. He’s a bad QB, a bad draft bust and a bad investment. No amount of playing time or development time will fix that.

3. McElroy isn’t any good, so why not just finish out the season with Sanchez?

Call this the Blaine Gabbert corollary since the Jags basically ran with the same philosophy until Gabbert got hurt. “Hey, we know Chad Henne sucks, so why not just hope for a miracle from Gabbert?” The truth is that was pretty solid reasoning for them. For the Jets, though, I’m not buying it. How can the Jets or anyone else know how good/bad McElroy is when he’s only attempted seven passes in his NFL career? Even if Rex Ryan’s gut feeling is that McElroy isn’t good enough due to arm strength, physical stature, or any other real or perceived limitation, the fact remains that he’s an almost entirely unknown quantity – an unknown quantity that only offers upside since the alternative is the established horribleness that is Mark Sanchez.

The truth of the matter is that, while the Jets are going to try to jam these “logical” reasons down everyone’s throats, the true reasons they’re sticking with Sanchez are painfully transparent.



From the day the Jets traded up in the 2009 draft to get Sanchez, the organization has literally bent over backwards to make things work out. They’ve given him two large contracts, acquired countless veteran receivers, changed offensive coordinators, and mindlessly coddled him when what he needed was likely the exact opposite. They’ve invested so much in this guy and gone so far out of their way to tell us how good he was going to be. Sanchez was supposed to be the next Joe Namath, not the next in a long line of disappointments. To admit that all the time and resources poured into Sanchez was a waste, to admit that the $8.25M guaranteed him next year is money down the drain…well, that’s not about to happen without a fight.

And really, that’s what this is all about. The Jets puzzling decision to give Sanchez more money going forward, including guaranteeing the $8.25M next season, is the true reason he’s starting for the Jets this coming Sunday. It’s not because of McElroy, it’s not because of the playoffs, it’s not even because the Jets truly believe Sanchez can turn things around. They need him to turn things around, even if only a little bit. They’re desperate to justify their decision to treat him and pay him like a franchise player. Pulling the plug on their “brilliant” blueprint for the franchise is too big a hit to the wallet and to the ego.

From a human standpoint, it’s understandable for them to feel this way. Nobody enjoys being wrong, especially when you’ve poured considerable time and money into your endeavor. But from a business standpoint, the Jets are making the biggest mistake in the book. A classic mistake, really. You see it all the time, where teams feel compelled to play certain guys because of draft position or dollars spent despite overwhelming evidence that the on field product will suffer as a result. In this case, the Jets are in a position where they feel their only viable option is to ride things out with Sanchez because “we’ve already spent money on him and we need to get something in return.” Yet, somehow, people are actually buying into this line of thinking!

Make no mistake, nothing could be dumber.

The $8.25M the Jets owe Sanchez next year is what is known as a “sunk cost.” A sunk cost is a past cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. From Wikipedia:

“Sunk costs should not affect the rational decision-maker's best choice. However, until a decision-maker irreversibly commits resources, the prospective cost is an avoidable future cost and is properly included in any decision-making processes. 

In this case, the Jets have “irreversibly committed resources.” The money has been spent and it cannot be recovered, thus it should have no affect on their future decisions. Yet, not only is it affecting the decision making, it’s the sole driver of the decision making. Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and the other decision makers are stupidly allowing their past mistakes in regards to Sanchez walk them directly into future mistakes, thus crippling the franchise in the short term.

How anyone could get on board with this is beyond me. Frankly, there is no excuse for it to happen. The New York Jets have a responsibility to their fans to make the right choices and to provide them with a good product. Let me repeat – they have a responsibility to the fans. You know, the customers, the ones who give them their hard earned money, who essentially finance the entire operation because of their love and support of the team. To give them a garbage reason like “we already wasted your money, so we have to see it through…sorry you have to watch trashy Sanchez so we can feel better about ourselves” is unacceptable.

In a well run organization, the $8.25M wouldn’t be a factor. The decision makers would understand the concept of a sunk cost and would be up front with the fan base about the mistakes made, the standing of the team, and the direction going forward. Most importantly, Mark Sanchez would be sitting on the bench while the team got a look at Greg McElroy or Tim Tebow. You know why? Because it’s the right decision. No matter how much he’s owed or how much the organization has staked on him, Mark Sanchez has decisively proven he’s not worth it. It may sting the pride a bit and it may be tough to swallow $8.25M, but the plug must be pulled. Time to admit the mistake and move forward, or the Jets will continue to slide downward.

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