Updated: March 21, 2014, 8:51 PM ET
Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
Mark Sanchez, once considered the Jets’ franchise quarterback, was released Friday, completing a stunning downfall even by New York standards.
The former USC star, dubbed “Sanchize” after helping the Jets to back-to-back playoff appearances in his first two seasons, was cut for a variety of reasons, including a bloated cap charge of $13.1 million and a surgically repaired shoulder. In reality, the team started moving away from Sanchez last spring, when it drafted Geno Smith in the second round.
The Jets also signed Michael Vick on Friday. The veteran, widely regarded as the top free-agent quarterback, wrapped up his deal after a visit with the team earlier in the day.
Sanchez was due a $2 million roster bonus March 25, forcing the issue. The Jets will save $8.3 million against this year’s cap, incurring $4.8 million in “dead” money on the cap.
The team met with Sanchez’s representatives last month at the scouting combine and maintained an ongoing dialogue, but at no point did the Jets ask him to take a pay cut, according to a source. Sanchez wasn’t happy that the process dragged out this long but was prepared for the news and was said to be at peace with it.
As soon as the Jets received a commitment from Vick, they informed Sanchez of his release.
The move culminated a five-year run in New York that included four playoff victories.
“I love New York. I’ve had a ball there,” Sanchez said last weekend. “Things were going great. I was competing well. I felt like I was winning the job and then I got hurt. We’ll see what happens. I know management has some decisions to make here in the next few days. We’ll see what happens. Whatever happens, it’ll be great.”
Coach Rex Ryan had long been a fan of Sanchez. His affinity for the quarterback remains visible on his right arm, which has a tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey. Ryan got the tattoo a few years ago.
“We were rookies together and had some early success, becoming the first rookie head coach and quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games,” Ryan said in a statement Friday. “We experienced a lot together and I really appreciate Mark. He’s a great player, a great teammate, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Sanchez’s popularity faded in recent years as the fan base turned on him. His low point was the infamous “butt fumble” in 2012, a slapstick play that became an instant classic for blooper reels.
Despite the adversity, Sanchez was on the verge of winning the starting job last summer after outplaying Smith in an open competition, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. The torn labrum was repaired in October, and sources say Sanchez is ahead of schedule, throwing with good velocity.
Sanchez is a far more accomplished player than Smith, but general manager John Idzik didn’t want another Sanchez-Smith competition, perhaps fearing his handpicked quarterback — Smith — would lose.
After drafting Sanchez fifth overall in 2009, the Jets thought they didn’t have to worry about the quarterback position for a decade. Following a promising start, Sanchez regressed in 2011 and ’12. He received a three-year, $40 million extension before the 2012 season, but everything unraveled in a controversy-filled year with him and Tim Tebow sharing the spotlight. Sanchez was benched late in the season.
He was 33-29 in four seasons as the Jets’ starter and had four road playoff wins. Ryan said as recently as 2011 that Sanchez would be his starting quarterback for as long as he remained the coach.
Sanchez has 68 career touchdown passes, 69 interceptions and a 71.7 passer rating.
In November, Sanchez said he had no desire to play elsewhere.
“It’s been a dream come true to play here and I don’t want to go anywhere else, that’s for sure,” he said. “I know I have [three] years left, and I don’t ever want that to end. I love being a Jet and I plan on being here.”
Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
Syracuse University graduate