Commentary

Rex could close the book on Mark

If Ryan benches Sanchez for McElroy at QB, it means he has flat-out given up

Updated: December 4, 2012, 11:08 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

If Rex Ryan decides to make Greg McElroy his new starting quarterback, it means he has flat-out given up on Mark Sanchez.

That would be the message, loud and clear, from the New York Jets. It would be one thing to bench Sanchez for a franchise rookie or a Colin Kaepernick-type, a young quarterback with an unlimited upside.

McElroy isn't one of those guys. A week ago, he was carrying the clipboard. He's a former seventh-round pick who has attempted a total of seven passes in the NFL. You replace Sanchez with a third-string quarterback, and you're telling the world you've seen enough.

Mark Sanchez
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireMark Sanchez's fate will be decided by Rex Ryan on Wednesday.

That would be quite an admission. It would be a self-indictment. How will it look if Year 4 of the Ryan-Mike Tannenbaum administration ends without a playoff berth (ha!) and without an answer at quarterback?

They'd be right back to where they were in the spring of 2009, the foggy three months between Brett Favre's "retirement" and the draft-day move for Sanchez. Remember that? Ryan, new on the job, was actually trying to sell Kellen Clemens as his starter.

After two days of suspense, Ryan will make his quarterback announcement Wednesday. Despite his recent struggles, Sanchez still has support within the organization and it wouldn't surprise anyone -- except for maybe the pro-McElroy fan base -- if he sticks with the quarterback he fell for four years ago.

You could certainly make the argument that Sanchez, with 18 turnovers in 12 games, doesn't deserve to keep the job. But what has McElroy done to earn it? He orchestrated two nice drives Sunday in his NFL debut, throwing five short completions and finding a way to beat the moribund Arizona Cardinals.

No doubt, he energized the crowd and the team, and we'll soon find out if he had the same effect on Ryan.

"I'd start Sanchez, and keep him on a short leash," one player said Tuesday.

It would be a leap of faith to start McElroy. Until a week ago, the organization saw him as an improving player with the potential to be a No. 2 quarterback one day. Can their feelings about him change that quickly?

McElroy was drafted 208th overall in 2011, the last of 12 quarterbacks. Ironically, the Jets acquired the pick from the Cards in the trade for Kerry Rhodes, who helped send Sanchez to the bench with two of three interceptions.

"I think [McElroy] can be a really good backup," a longtime NFL scout said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He won big games. He can manage the game and play within himself. I hate those clichés, but this kid did it. He never tried to be a superstar.

"He played intelligently and he acted intelligently. But I don't think he's good enough to be a starter. He doesn't have that kind of arm, especially for New York and the bad weather."

McElroy was 24-3 at Alabama, where he won a national championship. He's a poor man's Chad Pennington, instinctive and smart and a winner. Is he good enough to carry a franchise? Ryan has to make that call.

Money will be a factor, no doubt. Sanchez is due to receive $8.25 million in guaranteed money for 2013, thanks to a contract extension last offseason. This would be an entirely different ballgame if Tannenbaum, who was under no obligation to tear up Sanchez's old deal (which ran through 2013), hadn't given that insurance policy to Sanchez.

You can bet Tannenbaum wants to see Sanchez get one more shot. The offensive staff is in Sanchez's corner, according to sources. Owner Woody Johnson reportedly wants McElroy, which is odd because he has so much money invested in Sanchez.

Now we wait for The Decision. Maybe Ryan should hold his news conference at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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