There are three schools of thought here. On one hand, Sanchez could continue to start as he has for the past four seasons. A second option would be for him to ride the bench and serve as a mentor to rookie quarterback Geno Smith. A final option would be to call it quits and release him entirely.
While fans' emotions can run high, the real question is what the Jets organization is likely to do.
Option 1: Start Sanchez
One could easily make the argument that Sanchez deserves to start, at least in Week 1. Geno Smith might not be ready to go so soon, and feeding a young rookie to the wolves is not usually the best way to develop him. David Garrard, though a quality veteran leader, has dealt with major injury concerns over the past two years.
Meanwhile, Sanchez has been the starter for the past four years and has four playoff wins to show for it. While there will without a doubt be competition this summer, it will be important to watch who gets the most snaps with the first-unit offense. Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com provides a breakdown:
[The New York Jets] can't let the quarterback situation preoccupy them and become counterproductive for the team. It seems like new GM John Idzik will follow the Seahawks' model from last preseason. The breakdown of the actual game reps shows it was basically a two-man race: Russell Wilson 138 snaps, Matt Flynn 99, Josh Portis 31 and Tarvaris Jackson eight, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Seahawks didn't have to learn a new system on the fly, a huge benefit. In the Jets' version, rookie Geno Smith will play the role of Wilson; he'll get every chance to show he can play. Sanchez bears similarities to both Flynn (big contracts) and Jackson (incumbents on thin ice).
Cimini raises several key points. With the current rules limiting practice times, there are a finite number of reps to go around. The team can work out five quarterbacks and evaluate them, but realistically, only two of them, at the most, can get sufficient reps to develop a strong relationship with the offense.
Common sense says that one of those two players will be Geno Smith, while the second will be either Sanchez or Garrard.
Option 2: Bench Sanchez
For obvious reasons, having Sanchez sit on the bench might not be the most popular move. However, it may be the most rational. The most important thing to understand is Sanchez's contract situation. While cutting Sanchez this year would result in over $17 million in dead money, releasing him at the end of the 2013 season would cause no dead money at all.
In a vague way, paying a lot of money to a backup quarterback on the bench might not sit well. However, in effect, Sanchez would be playing almost for free because the money comes out of the salary cap space, whether or not Sanchez is on the team.
This is a classic example of a sunk cost. To take the literal definition from Wikipedia:
Sunk costs are retrospective (past) costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered... In traditional microeconomic theory, only prospective (future) costs are relevant to an investment decision. Traditional economics proposes that economic actors should not let sunk costs influence their decisions. Doing so would not be rationally assessing a decision exclusively on its own merits... Evidence from behavioral economics suggests this theory fails to predict real-world behavior. Sunk costs do, in fact, influence actors' decisions because humans are prone to loss aversion and framing effects. In light of such cognitive quirks, it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists deem rational.
Okay, that was a lot of words. But the point is simple—if you already wasted a bunch of money, let it go and make the best decision for your future. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum structured Sanchez's contract in a way that made it virtually impossible to release him before the end of the 2013 season.
Obviously, Tannenbaum made a mistake. However, the mistake is in the past. It is a sunk cost. New general manager John Idzik has to make the right decision going forward. He can either keep Sanchez on the bench, or he can release him but not get much in return.
From a rationalist's perspective, the choice is obvious.
Options 3: Release Sanchez
There are two motivating factors that could lead the Jets to cut Sanchez and eat the dead-money cost. One is reasonable. One, not so much.
The first reason would be to silence the media. Sanchez is a media lightning rod. As we learned from the Tim Tebow situation in 2012, putting a media lightning rod on the bench does not create silence. Even on the bench, Sanchez would likely be the most talked-about player on the Jets.
Personally, I do not buy this reason. I have never been a believer in making personnel decisions based on media response. Ultimately, winning silences the media, and it is best to optimize only for winning.
A second reason, which is more reasonable, is a basic concern about roster size. Ignoring Matt Simms, who, in my opinion, is not likely to see game time this season, there are four quarterbacks who are in the thick of the competition: Garrard, Smith, Sanchez and Greg McElroy.
It would be unconventional and wasteful to have four quarterbacks on the active roster. If Sanchez is not going to play at all, he might not be worth the roster spot.
For either of these two reasons, the Jets might ignore the financial ramifications and release Sanchez.
All three of these options are still realistic possibilities at this point. However, I have to place my prediction with Sanchez being on the bench. Smith should be the future quarterback of this team, and if healthy, Garrard can be better than Sanchez in the short term.
I would like to see Garrard and Smith dueling for the Week 1 starting job. Nevertheless, I would like to see Sanchez on the bench and ready to go in case he is needed. Injuries happen, and Sanchez is far more talented than your average NFL backup.
Is Sanchez done in New York forever? I am not so sure.