Mark Sanchez knows what it’s like to be Russell Wilson.
It was only three years ago Sanchez was the rookie quarterback who was young and fun, starting for a playoff contender and inspiring an entire fan base to not just imagine, but assume he would be the team’s cornerstone.
A Franchise Quarterback. It’s a proper noun in the NFL, the closest thing to a golden ticket entitling a team to perennial playoff contention.
New England has one in Tom Brady, the Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning has shown the franchise quarterback can switch teams, going from Indianapolis to Denver, without losing the title while Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is playing his way into the conversation.
Halfway through Wilson’s first season in Seattle, the Seahawks have every right to think they have a quarterback who has a shot to blossom into that kind of player.
There’s no reason to assume it will automatically happen, though, and anyone who thinks otherwise is advised to look across the field today to the Jets and Sanchez for how quickly things can turn sour.
The Jets bet big on Sanchez in 2009, pulling off a draft-day trade with Cleveland to move up 12 spots and pick the USC quarterback No. 5 overall, which meant the Jets weren’t choosing Sanchez so much as anointing him. And for two seasons, he was a capable starter for a run-oriented offense on a team driven by its defense to consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game.
Since then, Sanchez hasn’t regressed so much as he failed to take a step forward. He is the caretaker who has yet to become a playmaker.
Halfway through his fourth season, he has completed 52 percent of his passes, which ranks No. 33 among quarterbacks in a 32-team league. Without a second-half turnaround, his team will miss the playoffs a second consecutive year.
Go ahead, knock Sanchez for the fact he has as many games with multiple interceptions as multiple touchdown passes this season at two apiece. Make fun of his pretty-boy good looks or the fact he has dated a model, Eva Longoria and Meadow Soprano while with the Jets. Just know that nine games into Wilson’s NFL career, his numbers look an awful lot like Sanchez’s statistics through the first nine games of his rookie year.
That’s not to say Wilson is headed down the same path. Other quarterbacks, like Roethlisberger, have blossomed as passers after beginning their careers in a ground-bound offense that catered to the team’s defensive fortitude.
But Sanchez’s path should serve as a reminder that development at that position takes years. Finding a QB is not like panning for gold. The process does not stop with the discovery.
Wilson has done everything asked of him, systematically improving his third-down passing, to learning to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling to becoming more efficient and dangerous in the red zone.
But for everything that has gone right, there’s still a chance it could go wrong. They say it takes a franchise to raise an elite quarterback. It also takes years, and as encouraging as Wilson’s first season has been, there’s still a long way to go.