- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Mark Sanchez will be remembered for one play -- a bizarre, comical, inexplicable, can't-believe-what-we-just-saw play.
The Butt Fumble.
And that's too bad because when you look back at his five seasons with the New York Jets, the costliest drop of the ball was committed by the organization itself.
For the way it failed to develop Sanchez.
Call it an Utter Fumble.
To understand what went wrong, you have to go back to the beginning. Sanchez was a raw, somewhat immature kid when he arrived from USC in 2009, but he stepped into a huddle filled with smart, tough and experienced teammates. Guys such as Thomas Jones, Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Tony Richardson, Jerricho Cotchery and Brandon Moore.
It was a ready-made team good enough to win games with a not-so-ready quarterback. The chemistry worked for two years -- two almost-championship seasons. By 2011, Sanchez was ready to make it his team (or so we thought), but the talent around him got old and the whole thing started to sink.
The sinking went on for two seasons, plus a lost year in the trainer's room, and there he was Friday, receiving his walking papers from the franchise that once seemed perfect for him.
What a shame.
The timing never was right for Sanchez. When it was time for him to go from little brother to head of the family, his supporting cast was virtually gone. The front office didn't do a good job of replenishing the talent, sticking him with Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson -- both diminished players -- and the diva of all divas, Santonio Holmes.
The worst move came before the 2012 season. After a fleeting and ill-fated attempt to recruit Peyton Manning, a courtship that lasted as long as a burp, the Jets professed their faith in Sanchez by giving him a three-year contract extension even though he still had two years on his rookie deal. But that wasn't the bad part. That came a few days later with the news that Tim Tebow was coming in a trade.
It was the beginning of the end for Sanchez. Even though Tebow never posed a serious threat as a quarterback, his presence -- and the distraction -- altered the team dynamic and undermined Sanchez. Let's face it: Sanchez crumbled under the pressure. After Tebow was gone, Sanchez admitted, "I just don't know if it was the best situation for either of us."
Translation: The Tebow trade was an unmitigated disaster for everybody.
That season, 2012, was critical for Sanchez because he still had a chance to recapture his Wonder Boy image. But the Tebow soap opera, coupled with a hiring of a coordinator who had no expertise with quarterbacks (hello and goodbye, Tony Sparano), proved too much to overcome.
For practical purposes, Sanchez's career with the Jets ended on that apocalyptic night in Tennessee -- Dec. 17, 2012, when he committed five turnovers and was informed after the game that he no longer was the starter.
Sanchez was exposed that season -- and, really, in parts of 2011 -- as a system quarterback reliant on a strong running game and a powerful defense. He was incapable, either with his personality or physical skill, of elevating the team. Only a handful of quarterbacks can do that, and he doesn't belong in that group of transcendent players.
Some former teammates say Sanchez carried himself with a sense of entitlement, perhaps born of the silver-spoon treatment he received from the organization. He was coddled and never challenged, behaving as if it were his birthright to be the starting quarterback of the Jets. In retrospect, maybe he was a victim of his early success.
But let's be frank: Sanchez had to go. Some might argue the Jets should've reworked his contract, based on the premise that you don't jettison a 27-year-old quarterback with four playoff wins on his résumé, but that Sanchez is gone. In his last 18 starts for the Jets, he went 6-12 with 25 interceptions, turning the fan base against him.
"He can't play in that stadium anymore," a longtime front-office executive said last week. "To me, he's done. The Jets would probably help their popularity with the fans by getting rid of him."
And now they have, with Sanchez becoming the latest on a growing scrap heap of quarterbacks who failed to become The Next Joe Namath.
It's sad because it didn't have to be this way. Sanchez has talent. Anybody who witnessed his six playoff games, especially the two conference championships and that magical divisional win at New England, knows he has the physical ability to do the job.
But the whole thing got messy and complicated because the organization failed to develop its most important asset. Rex Ryan kept drafting defensive players, building his beloved defense and letting his quarterback -- the Sanchize -- erode with the rest of the offense.
The final indignity occurred last August, when Ryan inserted Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a preseason game for no good reason -- unless you buy his half-baked explanation that he was trying to win the game. The unthinkable happened, as Sanchez blew out his throwing shoulder.
Done for the season. Done with the Jets.
In the end, he was treated like a backup by an organization that once considered him a star before he was. It never would've gotten to this point if the Jets had only given him a better chance to actually be a star.