- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Many New York Jets fans are torn on the decision to sign starting quarterback Mark Sanchez to a five-year, $58.25 million contract. It essentially ensures Sanchez is New York's franchise quarterback for at least the next two seasons.
But for better or for worse, the Jets have made their decision. Now it's time to maximize on their investment. This offseason for New York should mostly be about helping Sanchez become the best quarterback he can be during the life of this contract.
Here are four ways the Jets can help their fourth-year quarterback succeed:
Move No. 1: Build a scheme that fits Sanchez
Former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense was a disaster last year. It was very bland and the play-calling was predictable, which led to Schottenheimer's resignation. New York's offense was ranked 25th in the NFL last season, despite some talented players.
There is no question Schottenheimer's struggles hurt Sanchez. We just don't know how much — until now.
New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has a very important job with the Jets. It will be Sparano's responsibility to put together an offense that best suits Sanchez. Sparano most likely spent plenty of time this offseason studying tape of Sanchez to figure out what the quarterback does well and where he struggles. Similar to what the San Francisco 49ers did with Alex Smith last season, New York must maximize Sanchez's strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
Some feel Sanchez’s ceiling isn't very high and we’ve seen pretty much all he can do. But a new and improved offense could reinvigorate Sanchez and highlight some of the skills he couldn't show under Schottenheimer.
Move No. 2: Get Sanchez another WR
New York's feud between Sanchez and No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes last season was well-documented. The two didn't get along on or off the field and it finally boiled over in the regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
But the Jets this offseason should be less worried about Holmes and more worried about who will start opposite their leading receiver. Plaxico Burress wasn't the answer and will not return in free agency.
Sanchez needs a deep threat at receiver. Holmes is a good, all-around player. But he's not a speedster that's going to put fear in a defense to keep teams honest.
Right now Jeremy Kerley is the projected starter. Kerley is more suited to be a slot receiver at this stage of his career. If the Jets are serious about Sanchez improving, they need to get him a big-play receiver.
Move No. 3: Get a starting right tackle
It's hard to get a firm read on what the Jets thinks of Wayne Hunter. First, they guaranteed Hunter's contract for 2012 and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said he's the starter. Then, the Jets reportedly put Hunter on the trading block.
My take is Hunter was the worst starting offensive tackle I watched in the AFC East. Pass-rushers ran by him and through him too often. There were times when I thought Hunter would get Sanchez knocked out of the game with his inability to protect the edge. Sanchez was sacked a career-high 39 times in 2011.
New York's offensive line had three Pro Bowlers last season. This isn't a group lacking talent. But the right tackle spot is definitely a spot that needs to be upgraded if the Jets want to keep Sanchez upright and healthy.
Move No. 4: Add to the running game
I list the running game last, because that was probably the strength of New York's offense last season. Jets starting running back Shonn Greene rushed for a career-high 1,054 yards last year. Backup tailback Joe McKnight also showed flashes of being an exciting player. He may be ready for a bigger role next season.
But something is still missing with the Jets' ground-and-pound formula. Adding a blue-chip running back would be ideal. If Alabama's Trent Richardson somehow fell to No. 16, the Jets shouldn't think twice about taking him. But that doesn’t seem likely.
Perhaps the Jets need to sign someone in free agency who can simply add to the pile. There are some veteran free agents who are affordable options, such as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Benson and Peyton Hillis. A solid stable of rushers is what Sanchez needs. One of his biggest strengths is play-action passing.
It remains to be seen whether Sanchez develops into a franchise quarterback or becomes a bust over the next two years. But if New York follows these four steps, the Jets would give Sanchez a better chance to succeed.