To Mark Sanchez's Critics: Coddle This!

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Considering the clouds of nonsense that descended on the New York sports scene over the last three or four weeks, it's refreshing that the local sports media got the message late Friday when the Jets announced a three-year deal on Mark Sanchez's contract. Or, more correctly, they got the message that trying to make a deal for Peyton Manning was a pie in the sky with no possibility of a happy ending for either Peyton or the Jets.

That is, most of the New York media got the message. The spokesman for those who didn't is ESPNNewYork's Stephen A. Smith. Smith's attitude towards sportswriting can be summed up thusly: Shut off your brain, make a decision, and scream at the top of your lungs about it, analysis be damned.

"Perhaps Gang Green," Smith wrote on Saturday, "will be something more tangible, significant, on another day. But on this day, let it be said that the Jets are a joke. When you take the time and effort to reward your quarterback and the leader of, arguably, the NFL's most dysfunctional franchise with a three-year, $40.5 million extension -- knowing the man still had two years remaining on his contract -- clearly, you're looking to be laughed at ... Even if this was an exercise to appease Sanchez after the Jets' supposed pursuit of Peyton Manning."

Okay, first. Sanchez's contract wasn't so much a reward as a reassurance -- a restructuring of the deal that gave him just a little more and yet left the Jets with $6.4 million in salary cap space.

Smith, like many New York area writers, seems to believe that the appropriate response to the Jets' failure this past season is to blame the quarterback -- not the head coach, not the offensive line, not the running game. Even better, they seems to want to see if the quarterback can be humiliated just a bit.

And. like most people who share this attitude, Smith seems to think that the Jets' support of Sanchez comes at the expense of others on the team: "It's just about time to fret over Sanchez's mental makeup and this insatiable need the Jets evidently feel to nurture his psyche, no matter who else they alienate in the process."

Someone on the team told him, or at any rate, Smith claims told him: "This is an NFL locker room. When men see another man protected a lot more than others, you don't like it. Especially when it's your quarterback ..."

If Smith actually heard this from someone who has been in an NFL locker room, then the man was either full of shit or Smith is. An NFL locker room is, traditionally, exactly where one man is protected more than others. That man is invariably the quarterback, and the reason for that is the quarterback is more valuable than any other man in the locker room.

What does all this talk of coddling mean? Does it mean that Sanchez gets a foam rubber mat laid down in the backfield for when he is slammed down by pass rushers -- because his own pass blockers couldn't protect him? If so, the Jets had damn well better start coddling Sanchez for real, because the way they pass blocked last season allowed their quarterback to get hit just about more often than any passer in the league.

Tone it down, Mr. Smith, and everyone else who thinks the Jets made a bad deal, and try to keep one simple thought in your heads: for his first two seasons in the league, Mark Sanchez had the New York Jets just one game away from the Super Bowl. There are very few quarterbacks in the history of the NFL about which the same could be said. Once you've grasped that, then try this one: The New York Jets collapsed last season in every way possible -- in pass blocking, in their running game (for the third straight season their rushing yardage and yards per rushing attempt went down) and, especially, in their defense, which, unless you are expecting Sanchez to rush off the sideline and make tackles, has nothing to do with his performance.

Let's applaud the Jets for a rare display of patience and maturity. Now let's hope they take the second step: acquiring some decent offensive linemen.


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