The $anchez deal

The Jets’ deal with Mark Sanchez that was struck on Wednesday was only a matter of time. After the Brett Favre experiment of 2008 and the bold move toward the future to trade up for the rights to Sanchez in April’s draft, this was a contract we knew was coming sooner rather than later. As my colleague Michael Lombardi suggested, the Jets were ready to make a preemptive strike to remove any doubt about Sanchez’s presence at the first snap of the first practice of training camp in six weeks. Like Matthew Stafford with the Lions, there are rumblings that the teams are preparing these players to start leading their teams right away. Ya think?

Sanchez’s numbers are predictably striking but no more conspicuous than expected. Last year, Matt Ryan received over $34M of guaranteed money from the Falcons at the third slot in the draft on a six-year deal. Sanchez has $28M in guaranteed money at the fifth slot, although he took a shorter five-year deal, allowing him – at least in theory – to hit the open market a year earlier in his career. As for the increase from last year’s fifth, Glenn Dorsey of the Chiefs, to Sanchez, that will be off the charts but a nonstarter issue as the position requires a different view in the market. Recent quarterbacks in the top five of the draft – Ryan, Stafford and now Sanchez – are carving an entirely different marketplace, one elevated even from the top rookie contracts that have become fodder for so much debate about their enormity.

And what of the total value of the Sanchez contract? This is where the media spin is a bit removed from the reality of the NFL. Stafford’s numbers in the $70M range, Sanchez’s numbers in the $60M range, but those are just numbers on a page. Yes, if they become the reincarnations of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, they can realistically think about those values.

However, the chance of these contracts reaching their endpoint is minimal. The players will either be underperformers whose contracts will be renegotiated downward (Alex Smith) or released (Ryan Leaf), or they will live up to or exceed expectations and have these contracts torn up and replaced by larger top-of-market veteran contracts (Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning and Philip Rivers to come). Thus, the overall amount of the contract, while catchy for headlines, is of little relevance.

As to the inevitable debate about the magnitude of these top-of-draft rookie contracts, stemming the tide was not going to happen with Stafford and was not going to happen with Sanchez. The position they play, the circumstances under which they were drafted, the public relations aspect of their situations and the uncertainty regarding the future of the Salary Cap and the rookie pool system created the perfect storm for these two quarterbacks to continue the trend of oversized deals at the top of the draft.

Interestingly, the “quarterback premium” argument will be used against agents at the top now that the quarterback market has settled. St. Louis, Kansas City and Seattle picking in between Stafford and Sanchez (and Cincinnati right behind the Jets) will all be making the argument that there is indeed a significant premium paid to quarterbacks at the top of the draft, making the market for Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry and Andre Smith still yet to be defined. The agents, of course, will try to define the market through the two blockbuster deals already done, turning against the “quarterback premium” market that all agents representing quarterbacks have argued over the years.

More on Sanchez and a look at the MLB draft and its functioning in Monday Money Matters.

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