AFC East: Mark Sanchez
That held true when Rex Ryan took the podium on Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. While there wasn't any new information, Ryan's assessment of the Bills' quarterback situation was the biggest takeaway.
"I think this league has proven that when you have a great quarterback, you almost -- it's rare that you don't go to the playoffs with a great quarterback," Ryan said. "So obviously that's a priority and not just for our team, but any team in this league. But it's a lot easier said than done.
It's not exactly a ringing endorsement of Manuel, who is one of just two quarterbacks, along with Jeff Tuel, on the Bills' roster.
The Bills brought in veteran quarterback Josh McCown for a free-agent visit Monday, a meeting that Ryan addressed on Wednesday.
"We did bring Josh in," Ryan said. "So obviously there's some interest there on our part. We wanted to bring him in, just to get to know this young man and also for him to get to know us. I'm excited about our coaching staff, and I think that's probably the best selling point that I have right now, along with the players that we have. Obviously, we got an outstanding group of players, too, that I like to show off to a lot of guys."
McCown met with the Chicago Bears on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Once free agency opens next month, the Bills could have a shot to sign Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez, but Ryan dodged a question about his former signal-caller on Wednesday.
"All right, here we go, I’m going to bat right-handed on this one,” Ryan said, stepping away from the podium and pretending to hold a baseball bat. “I’m going to let that bad boy go, too. Nah, he’s on somebody else’s team I think."
In fact, three of the first four questions directed to Ryan during his news conference Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis were about the Patriots, including a question off the top about how he felt about the Patriots' recent Super Bowl win.
"It was terrible. Next question," Ryan deadpanned. "Nah, you know what? That was a great game. Obviously a great game. I think it was anticipated that it was going to be a great game. You had two outstanding teams, both of them really well coached, and obviously it was an outstanding game."
"I was waiting [for that question]," Ryan said. "I knew it would come from somebody. See, my first year I would have done this and swung at that pitch and probably been fined for tampering or something like that. This time, no way am I going to talk about somebody else's player. So I refuse to do that."
The Bills have interest in luring Revis to Buffalo this offseason, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Patriots, however, have already filed tampering charges against the Jets after owner Woody Johnson made comments about Revis in December.
Ryan stepped away from the podium again when asked about a possible reunion with Mark Sanchez, who will become a free agent next month, in Buffalo.
"All right, here we go, I'm gonna bat right-handed on this one," Ryan said, drawing laughter. "I'm gonna let that bad boy go, too. Nah, he's on somebody else's team, I think."
Quarterback is one of this draft's thinnest positions, with a significant drop-off after underclassmen Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are selected in the top 5.
The Bills don't have a first-round pick. They have a variety of needs to consider in the second round, so they could be looking at third-round quarterback prospects, at best. That's the territory of Bryce Petty, Sean Mannion and Garrett Grayson. I watched all three have an inconsistent week at the Senior Bowl; it's unlikely any of them are ready to immediately lead a team.
Buffalo's best option will be to explore the free-agent market. There are interesting veterans capable of pushing Manuel, including Matt Moore, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, who has strong ties to new Bills head coach Rex Ryan. (Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and free agent Blaine Gabbert also knows new offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system well, but I think that's asking for trouble.)
The easiest solution for Buffalo is for Manuel to turn the corner in his third season. But the Bills, who have playoff aspirations, cannot go into the season expecting it. Quarterback insurance is a must-have for Buffalo this year.
Tannenbaum's track record has come to the forefront in South Florida after the Miami Dolphins hired him as executive vice president of football operations this week to take over the front office. On Tuesday, Tannenbaum stood by his record in New York.
“When you look over the 16 years I was there and the seven years as GM, I am proud of our record,” Tannenbaum said on a conference call with the Miami media. “Not every pick worked out. It usually doesn’t. I go back to what I said earlier that I wouldn’t trade the last two years for anything. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve really had a chance to reflect and spend time with college coaches, basketball coaches, player procurement, be it whatever sport. There are a lot of different things you can learn.”
Here are several hits and misses during Tannenbaum’s tenure as Jets’ general manager from 2006 to 2012:
- Tannenbaum usually shines in the first round. He has a list of home runs with New York’s top pick, which includes cornerback Darrelle Revis, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Miami has a quality pick this year at No. 14 overall and needs to get this pick right.
- On the flip side, Tannenbaum has a history of second-round busts. He drafted quarterback Kellen Clemons in the second round in 2006, offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse in 2010 and receiver Stephen Hill in 2012. All three were didn't work out. Tannenbaum’s only good second-round pick during his seven-year as general manager was linebacker David Harris in 2007.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Chris SzagolaThe Jets missed on several second-round picks under former GM Mike Tannenbaum, including WR Stephen Hill.
- Tannenbaum struck gold on several trades and free agents that led to New York’s playoff success. Veteran acquisitions such as cornerback Antonio Cromartie, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, linebacker Bart Scott and receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards helped fuel New York’s playoff runs in 2009 and 2010.
- As we mentioned early, Tannenbaum does not have a good history identifying quarterbacks. Clemons was a bust in 2006. The Tim Tebow trade was inexplicable. However, the Sanchez pick is debatable. New York traded up in the first round (No. 5 overall) to get him and he helped get the Jets twice to the AFC title game. Those are positives. But Sanchez clearly didn’t improve and New York signed him to a contract extension that signaled the beginning of the end for Tannenbaum. However, the Dolphins already have their quarterback in place for at least next season in Ryan Tannehill.
- Finally, the Vernon Gholston pick at No. 6 overall in 2008 may be the biggest stain on Tannenbaum's résumé. Gholston remains one of the worst NFL selections in the past decade. He flamed out in three seasons and has been out of the league since 2010.
As with most personnel bosses, there are hits and misses. The goal for Miami is that Tannenbaum builds on his strengths and learns from prior mistakes.
Tannenbaum said Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey will retain control of the draft and personnel moves. But rest assured Tannenbaum will have his fingerprints on Miami's roster this upcoming season.
“Everybody’s going to have input, but ultimately who we pick and when we pick, the roster decision will rest with him,” Tannenbaum said of Hickey. “Again, I’ve seen him work. I know he’s a collaborative leader. That’s my belief.”
Date: Nov. 22, 2012. Site: MetLife Stadium
The people have spoken. The voters picked the Butt Fumble as the New York Jets' most memorable play. My take? Give yourselves a round of applause.
"Memorable" doesn't mean the best, it means something that will be remembered. If the objective was to determine the best play, it would've been Joe Namath-to-Don Maynard in the 1968 AFL Championship Game or Ken O'Brien-to-Wesley Walker in the 1986 classic against the Miami Dolphins. Those were tremendous plays displaying great skill and poise under pressure. We could probably add a few more to a great-play list. Truth be told, the franchise's most iconic image is that of Namath, flashing the No. 1 sign as he trots off the field at Super Bowl III -- a picture that transcends a simple photo caption.
But like I said, we're talking memorable plays here, folks.
Mark Sanchez), a slapstick moment (Sanchez crashing into the buttocks of guard Brandon Moore), a significant outcome (a fumble recovery for a touchdown), a national stage (Thanksgiving night, 2012) and two bitter rivals, the Jets and the New England Patriots.
The ramifications of the Butt Fumble were significant. It fueled an epic meltdown in the second quarter, which led to an embarrassing loss, which all but ruined the Jets' playoff hopes and led to the demise of general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
Oh, did we mention the hilarity of the play?
In many ways, the legend of the Butt Fumble was enhanced by the social-media landscape. It blew up on Twitter and YouTube, and ESPN contributed by playing it over and over and over. It topped the "Not Top 10" list for 40 consecutive weeks before it was mercifully retired. Of course, the fans voted, so don't place all the blame on us. The point is, if Namath had run into Randy Rasmussen's rear end in 1968, the fallout wouldn't have been anything close to the Butt Fumble.
I was there for the other two nominees, Dan Marino's fake spike in 1994 and Jumbo Elliott's improbable touchdown catch in 2000. The impact of Marino's play can't be overstated because it shattered the psychologically fragile Jets, who never won again that season, costing Pete Carroll his job. I was happy for Carroll when he won the Super Bowl last February at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the fake spike occurred in the old Giants Stadium. Elliott's touchdown was a terrific moment, no doubt, but I don't consider it an all-timer.
Anyway, the fans got it right. It had to be the Butt Fumble. Anything else would've been a butt ... well, you know.
This is one of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in New York Jets history. Previously, we featured Dan Marino's infamous fake spike against the Jets in 1994 and Jumbo Elliott's improbable touchdown catch in 2000. Please vote for your choice as the Jets' most memorable play.
Score: New England Patriots 49, New York Jets 19
Date: Nov. 22, 2012 Site: MetLife Stadium
Mark Sanchez and Brandon Moore.
On Thanksgiving night, before a national TV audience, the Jets staged a botched play that became an instant YouTube sensation, a blooper for the ages. After all, how many plays have their own Wikipedia page?
It was supposed to be an inside handoff to the fullback, Lex Hilliard, but Sanchez turned the wrong way as he stepped away from the center. Trying to salvage something, he tucked the ball and ran toward his right side of his offensive line. When the hole closed, Sanchez did the right thing: He slid. Incredibly, he slid into the rear end of right guard Brandon Moore, who was trying to fight off the Patriots' massive defensive tackle, Vince Wilfork.
Sanchez crashed into Moore's buttocks with such force that it jarred the ball loose. Naturally, Moore fell on top of Sanchez, almost completing the slapstick moment. But there was more: The ball bounced up for Patriots safety Steve Gregory, who made the scoop-and-score, returning it 32 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez later said the entire play was like "a car accident."
The short- and long-term ramifications were significant. The Jets entered the game with a 4-6 record, hoping to jump back into the race with a win against their top rival. It was scoreless after one quarter, but the Butt Fumble helped fuel an epic second-quarter meltdown. Gregory's touchdown made it 21-0, and it became 28-0 seconds later when the Patriots' Julian Edelman recovered a mid-air fumble on the ensuing kickoff and returned it for a score.
By halftime, it was 35-3. It was so embarrassing that "Fireman Ed," the Jets' celebrity fan, walked out on the game and his beloved team at the half. He has yet to return to the stadium for a game. The loss ruined the Jets' playoff chances, prompting owner Woody Johnson to fire general manager Mike Tannenbaum at the end of the season. Some people feel the Butt Fumble game sealed Tannenbaum's fate.
The play defined a lost season and the Jets' long and hapless effort to overtake the Patriots. It remained in the national consciousness, thanks to ESPN's "SportsCenter." Voted by fans online, the play led the "Not top-10" blooper reel for 40 straight weeks before it was mercifully retired.
2. Stress-free environment: At this point in free agency, Sanchez didn't have many attractive options, but this move makes sense. After five years in the New York crucible, he goes to a non-pressure situation, backing up Nick Foles. He can continue to rehab his surgically repaired throwing shoulder, learn Chip Kelly's system and work himself back into form -- just in case he needs to play. Being around an offensive guru such as Kelly can only help Sanchez, who could benefit from fresh coaching techniques. It could get his career turned around after two disappointing seasons.
3. Quarterback controversy? No, not really, but Sanchez absolutely believes he still can start in the NFL. Foles won the job last season with a brilliant performance (a 119.2 passer rating), but he has only 16 career starts and has missed time due to injuries in three of the past four seasons. In other words, it's not like Sanchez is playing behind Tom Brady. Even if he rides the bench for a year, Sanchez can rehabilitate his battered image and look for a starting gig elsewhere in 2015. If he gets on the field, he'll be surrounded by top skill-position talent, something he didn't have with the Jets.
4. No homecoming: The Jets don't have the NFC East on their 2014 schedule, but they always play the Eagles in the preseason finale. As a backup, Sanchez figures to see significant action. Unfortunately, it's at Lincoln Financial Field, not MetLife Stadium. That would have been really interesting.
Before the deal is complete, the Eagles will examine Sanchez's surgically repaired throwing shoulder. Assuming his shoulder checks out, the two sides will move quickly toward a contract. Everything fell into place Monday, when ESPN Senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen reported that Sanchez would sign with the Eagles.
UPDATE: The Eagles have confirmed that Sanchez has signed a one-year contract.
Sanchez, who was released last Friday by the Jets, will become a backup to Eagles starter Nick Foles. Sanchez is said to be about 80 percent healthy, but he's making good progress and should be ready for late-spring practices.
"Guys, the tattoo is still there," he said, rolling up his sleeve to provide a partial peek. "I'm not going to say anything about the Sanchez tattoo. It was my tattoo and it's still my tattoo."
For those not familiar with Ryan's celebrated body art, the tattoo is an image of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey. The tattoo was done back in the good old days, when Sanchez still was the Jets' franchise-type quarterback, but it didn't become a news item until January 2013, when he was photographed by a paparazzi on vacation in the Bahamas.
"I may alter it, who knows?" Ryan said. "I'm going to put 75 on it, to honor Winston Hill. That's the idea. That's what I'm going to do."
The Jets made the long-anticipated move last Friday, cutting ties with Sanchez after five seasons. Ryan claimed "there was always the possibility that Mark could've come back to our team," but I'm not buying that one. I think he was a goner, no matter what.
Ryan said it was difficult to release his former starter -- this from someone who once vowed that Sanchez would be his quarterback for as long as he coached the team. Ryan still believes Sanchez can be a starter in the league. It won't happen right away because he's expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he'd serve as a backup to Nick Foles.
"I hope he ends up in a good situation for him," said Ryan, commeting for the first time since Sanchez's release. "I hope it all works out for him. He's a tremendous young man. I have a lot of admiration for him. Obviously, I want him to do extremely well. With that being said, I don't want him in our division."
Ryan turned a bit nostalgic.
"I don't know if we were only rookie head coach and rookie quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games or not, but we're certainly on a small list," he said. "I think that's a pretty good accomplishment. He played a lot of good football. Unfortunately, people remember one play. Mark played well for us. We had some success, albeit not what we wanted -- ultimate success but we did have some success."
Sanchez wrote "We shared some incredible moments together that I'll never forget" and that he "gave everything I had to win the Lombardi Trophy.
"I only regret that we couldn't bring it home for all of us to share, especially for those guys in the locker room and for my friend Aiden."
That was a reference to Aiden Binkley, who formed a friendship with Sanchez during the young fan's struggle with a rare form of cancer. Aiden died on Dec. 30, 2010.
"I'd say that there is interest," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told USA Today Sunday at the owners meetings in Orlando. "I can't say how much. But there certainly would be interest. I don't have a backup with experience on the roster right now."
The Rams make sense on a number of levels. Starter Sam Bradford is coming off ACL surgery, his backup is the inexperienced Austin Davis and the coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer -- yep, that Brian Schottenheimer. He was the Jets' coordinator for Sanchez's first three seasons in the league. It also doesn't hurt that Fisher and Sanchez are USC alums.
Sanchez, in the final stages of his recovery from shoulder surgery, is expected to take his time before making a decision. The Jets cut Sanchez last Friday after five seasons with the team.
2. Ready, set, compete: Obviously, the brass wants Smith to succeed, building on his promising finish last season, but this will probably be presented as an open competition. It'll make for a compelling training-camp battle: the talented, but unpolished, Smith versus the cagey vet looking for one last shot at glory. It brings back memories of Vinny Testaverde's arrival in 1998. If Smith buckles under the pressure, it'll tell the organization he's not their guy. Their hope is that Vick's presence, on and off the field, will elevate Smith to a higher level. They believe Vick can mentor Smith; he wouldn't have received that from Sanchez.
3. The Marty Factor: This doesn't happen without Marty Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator. Because of Mornhinweg, the Jets had "inside knowledge" of Vick, according to Idzik. They wouldn't have signed one of the most polarizing players in NFL history if they didn't have someone on staff who knows Vick and what makes him tick. Mornhinweg and Vick spent four years together in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012. His familiarity with Mornhinweg's system is another plus. It should make for a seamless transition, another reason for Smith to worry about his job. You can't accuse the Jets of babying Smith, a la Sanchez.
4. Potential risks: Vick's checkered past -- nearly two years in jail for his involvement in a dogfighting ring -- will surely be dredged up at the outset, perhaps even causing animal-rights activists to protest, but it will die down as long as Vick continues to carry himself in a mature fashion. This won't be similar to the Tim Tebow circus. Football wise, yes, it could spark a quarterback controversy, but it's worth the risk, especially for coach Rex Ryan, who might not survive another playoff-less season. Bottom line: Vick upgrades the position.
5. Depth chart: It means that Matt Simms, the No. 2 quarterback, will be knocked down to third string. The Jets like his potential, but they could draft a quarterback in the later rounds to provide competition.
6. Is D-Jax next?: The Jets reportedly inquired about Vick's former teammate, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who is said to be on the trading block. A lot of people are connecting the dots, speculating this means they will pursue Jackson, but the Jets were interested in Vick before Jackson became available. Trading for Jackson, who has a huge contract and character issues, would be a serious curveball by Idzik.
"At this time, I would like to announce my retirement from the NFL," McElroy tweeted. "Thank you to Marvin Lewis, the Brown family and the entire Cincinnati Bengals' organization. The fans make this decision especially difficult, as you have provided so much joy throughout my career. Playing in the NFL was my lifelong dream; therefore, I must also thank the New York Jets for providing me with my original opportunity. The future is bright, and exciting things are on the horizon! God bless to all."
McElroy, who led Alabama to a 14-0 record and the BCS championship as a junior, was a seventh-round pick of the Jets in 2011. He was thrown into the three-ring, quarterback circus in 2012, when they had Sanchez and Tebow. McElroy's shot was fleeting. On Dec. 2, he replaced an ineffective Sanchez and helped the Jets to a come-from-behind win against the Arizona Cardinals in quite possibly the ugliest game ever played.
Three weeks later, the Jets' quarterback controversy exploded when Sanchez was benched and McElroy -- not Tebow -- was named to start against the San Diego Chargers. McElroy was battered in the loss, as he was sacked 11 times. He suffered a concussion, but it wasn't diagnosed until a few days later, prompting Rex Ryan to replace him with Sanchez for the finale. McElroy, perhaps knowing he'd never get another chance to prove himself, wasn't forthcoming with regard to the concussion symptoms.
He lost his third-string job last summer to Matt Simms. As a member of the Bengals' practice squad, McElroy received a shout out from the coaching staff for preparing a detailed scouting report on the Jets, which they used in Week 8 -- a 49-9 win by the Bengals.
His final NFL statistics: Two games, 19-for-31, 214 yards, one touchdown, one interception.
McElroy, who posted one of the highest Wonderlic scores in history, is exceptionally bright and has talked about a career in TV or politics. His transition to the "real world" should be seamless. Like he said, the future is bright.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South
Key free agents: RT Austin Howard, PK Nick Folk (franchise player), TE Jeff Cumberland, LB Calvin Pace, RG Willie Colon, S Ed Reed.
Where they stand: The Jets are trying to re-sign Howard before he hits the open market. He's not a household name, but he's a massive blocker with surprising athleticism. Howard has two years of starting experience and he's only getting better. They've expressed an interest in re-signing Cumberland and Pace, although it's unclear if deals will get done by Tuesday. Pace produced a career-high 10 sacks last season, playing for the minimum salary, but he's 33 -- and the Jets won't throw significant money at a player that old. The Jets are rebuilding at tight end, so Cumberland's role is undefined, which could affect negotiations. Colon and Reed are fallback options. In Reed's case, way, way back. Colon is recovering from biceps surgery and won't be healthy until the spring.
What to expect: With an anticipated $30 million in cap space, the Jets could be aggressive buyers if they so choose. They need a wide receiver (or two), a tight end and a veteran quarterback to push Geno Smith. There aren't any true No. 1 receivers on the market, so they'd better be careful not to overpay for the second-rate talent. Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate could be on the radar. They're likely to have interest in QBs Josh McCown and Michael Vick, who'd be ideal because he already knows Marty Mornhinweg's system from their days together in Philadelphia. If they strike out with free agents, the Jets could retain former starter Mark Sanchez, contingent on his health and a massive pay cut. The Jets could have 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), so they don't have to overpay to fix every need in free agency.
ESPN.com colleague Paul Kuharsky, our Tennessee Titans team reporter, did the research and came up with this nugget on the number of quarterback selections since 2004:
Denver Broncos: 7
New York Jets: 6
Philadelphia Eagles: 5
Green Bay Packers: 5
Cleveland Browns: 5
Baltimore Ravens: 5
San Francisco 49ers: 5
Washington Redskins: 5
During his run as general manager, 2006 to 2012, Mike Tannenbaum subscribed to the Ron Wolf theory on quarterbacks: It never hurts to draft one every year because of the value in the position. There's also the need factor. You could argue the Jets haven't had a true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. Tannenbaum selected five quarterbacks, and his successor, John Idzik, took one in his first draft. It wouldn't be a surprise if they add another in May. A look at the six:
Geno Smith, 2013, second round: He went 8-8 in an up-and-down rookie year. He hasn't been anointed yet, but he's the likely opening-day starter.
Greg McElroy, 2011, seventh round: He started only one game for the Jets (it was ugly) and was released last preseason. He's on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster after spending last season on their practice squad.
Mark Sanchez, 2009, first round: He was the Sanchize for two seasons, but it fell apart and now he's a likely salary-cap casualty. His career record is 33-29, plus four playoff wins.
Erik Ainge, 2008, fifth round: He never played a down for the Jets. His career was derailed by substance-abuse problems and he's out of the league.
Kellen Clemens, 2006, second round: He was drafted as Chad Pennington's heir apparent, but he played poorly in 2007 and never regained the confidence of the organization. He will be a free agent after spending the last three years as a backup for the St. Louis Rams.
Brad Smith, 2006, fourth round: The Jets converted him to wide receiver, used him in the Wildcat and made him a kickoff returner. His quarterback days are over, but he's still hanging around, playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.