Commentary

Where in the world is Mark Sanchez?

Amid Jets fallout, embattled QB needs to speak up for himself -- because no one else is

Updated: February 9, 2012, 6:01 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

The confetti from the Giants' Super Bowl parade has been trucked away, and the 2011 NFL season is officially in the books. But there's one more bit of business that should be handled before everyone around here moves on to pitchers and catchers in 10 days, or perhaps to throwing a second parade for Jeremy Lin, the Knicks' sudden sensation at point guard who's starting to look like a basketball version of Victor Cruz.

Where's Mark Sanchez?

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez
AP Photo/Bill KostrounNo genuine franchise QB takes the sort of criticism Santonio Holmes and others have leveled lying down. So what's your response, Mark Sanchez?

The Jets quarterback should quit hiding behind surrogates like head coach Rex Ryan and publicly stand up to wide receiver Santonio Holmes and any other character assassins remaining in his locker room now that $15.25 million in Holmes' contract became guaranteed on Wednesday.

And Sanchez should do it now, before his part in the narrative of why the 2011 Jets flamed out so badly cements any further into place.

Eli Manning once had to stand up to Tiki Barber, one of his harshest critics, for mocking his leadership ability. And he did it even though Barber had a far better NFL résumé at the time.

Like Manning then, Sanchez would find that showing some spine now will earn him a lot of respect in his locker room. Not to mention everywhere else.

Holmes is a former All-Pro who made the winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII for the Steelers, but last season the worries that were implicit when the Steelers dumped him off to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick finally floated up. It's dreary to have to rehash it: Holmes called out some teammates early on, and teammates fired back. But Sanchez wasn't one of them. Stories later leaked out of how Holmes mocked or ignored Sanchez's attempts to do extra preparations in the run-up to their final must-win game against Miami, then quit on the Jets to spark a shouting match in the huddle. But Sanchez didn't publicly tell any of them.

The Jets could've helped Sanchez since then. They could've jettisoned Holmes the same way the Giants decided they didn't want other clubhouse lawyers like Jeremy Shockey gumming up things for Manning while he was still a young quarterback. Forget the salary-cap hit.

But so far, no such help is forthcoming.

Sanchez could read that several ways, few of them good.

The most paranoid version is perhaps that the Jets kept Holmes because they really are questioning their commitment to Sanchez after the season he just had, and they really would like to see if it's worth taking a quixotic run at Peyton Manning. He's a guy who would have no problem telling Holmes to shut up if Holmes didn't do it on his own because he was charmed by the thought of having Manning find him for 100 or so receptions a season.

Another possibility is that Ryan could just be asleep at the switch again, kidding himself about how bad the locker-room dynamics remain -- despite promising to pay closer attention after he admittedly lost the "pulse" of the team last year.

But the real answer isn't even important.

Sanchez shouldn't let other developments shape his agenda.

Even if the Jets don't bring him back -- and they insist they will -- Sanchez needs to show something to the rest of the NFL too.

There's no valor in keeping things "in-house" when some of your own teammates have thrown you in the outhouse.

It's one thing when media critics gripe that Sanchez has regressed. It's far worse when other players are publicly sniping at him and suggesting he's soft, lazy, pampered and/or overwhelmed by the game plan some weeks. It suggests Ryan wasn't the only one who lost portions of the team. Sanchez did too.

No genuine franchise quarterback takes any of that lying down.

The longer Sanchez stays underground, saying nothing and making hard-to-buy excuses for why he didn't make any Super Bowl appearances for endorsers the way he always has before, the worse he looks.

Sanchez is under no obligation to wait and have this clear-the-air meeting with Holmes that Ryan keeps talking up and investing so much hope in. Not after the way he was personally disparaged. This is one of those cases where talk isn't cheap.

The lingering question that just grew louder now that Holmes appears to be coming back is: Can Sanchez ever truly take ownership of this team?

The longer Sanchez stays silent, the more the answer travels from "We'll see" toward "No."

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