Free agency and the Sanchez factor

July, 21, 2011
7/21/11
10:41
AM ET
What do the Jets really think of Mark Sanchez as a passer? Obviously, they like him, but we might found out how much during the upcoming free-agency period.

The Jets' top two receivers are free agents, and it's going to be fascinating to see how much they're willing to pay for Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. If they re-sign both at the expense of another key free agent, (Antonio Cromartie?), or if they pay crazy money to lock up one receiver and replace the other by signing another top veteran, it will be the Jets saying that Sanchez needs premier talent around him to be successful as a passer.

Great quarterbacks elevate the play of those around them. The best passers can win with average talent around them. Tom Brady passed for 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns last season with Wes Welker, a couple of rookie tight ends and a bunch of interchangeable parts. Peyton Manning lost most of his weapons to injury, yet he passed for 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns with Reggie Wayne and a cast of nobodies.

Nobody is saying Sanchez is -- or should be -- Manning or Brady. Besides, the Jets' offensive philosophy is different than those of the Colts and Patriots, although the Jets made a significant shift last season. They passed 51 percent of the time, way up from Sanchez's rookie year, 41 percent.

Clearly, the coaches are becoming more comfortable with the ball in Sanchez's hands. Do they feel he's ready to go up to 55 percent? Can he continue to improve if the talent around him is a notch below last season?

In the biggest games, in the biggest moments, Sanchez has a knack for getting it done. The man has won four playoff games, all on the road. But over the long haul, a full season, he's still not at the stage where he can be That Quarterback. Any passer who completes only 53 percent still needs to be surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

That's just my opinion. Whether the Jets feel the same way could be another story, although I doubt it. The manner in which they divide their free-agent resources will tell us a lot. It's a tricky situation because there are other factors:

Where will Sanchez be in a year or two? Can Dustin Keller be the No. 1 or No. 2 option? Can Jerricho Cotchery go back to being a starter now that his back issues are behind him? Can either of the rookie wideouts, Jeremy Kerley or Scotty McKnight, be factors down the road?

We should find out some answers soon, when the check-writing starts.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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