Congratulations are in order for Mark Sanchez. The erstwhile Jets starter joins an exclusive club this season, as he becomes one of four quarterbacks since 2000 to post four consecutive seasons with a 0.05 EPA/P or worse:
Mark Sanchez. Aaron Brooks. Tim Couch. Joey Harrington. It's a remarkable list* not because of how bad these players were but because of how long their teams decided to stick with them. But this is sometimes the trap teams fall into with quarterbacks -- they become pot committed, too invested in the quarterback's success to back out and push the reset button.
*We could probably add Jake Plummer to it if we had EPA data for the 1999 season, as he carried a streak from 2000-2002.
The immediate aftermath for the three other squads has not been pretty. They combined to win just 17 games over the next three seasons combined, for an average record of 5.7-10.3. Only the Saints managed to pull themselves out of the mess thanks adding Drew Brees and Sean Payton before the 2006 season -- and they still missed the playoffs in two out of the three seasons.
What sets Brooks apart from Couch and Harrrington (and Sanchez) is Brooks wasn't a first round pick. He was a fourth-round third-stringer acquired from the Packers and he only earned a start with the Saints thanks to injuries. Brooks ran with the opportunity and turned it into five seasons as the Saints' starting quarterback.
The Browns and Lions, on the other hand, given the investment (both in terms of money and the early draft pick) in their failed quarterbacks, had much farther to climb to get back to respectability. Both have made just one playoff appearance since, and the clubs have combined to average under five wins per season each.
Could the Jets be in for a similar down period in Sanchez's wake? To get more than just two other quarterbacks to compare him to, let's look at first-round drafted quarterbacks to stay with the same team and post a 0.05 EPA/P or worse for three consecutive years (instead of Sanchez's four):
Joining the crew are Patrick Ramsay, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith and Jason Campbell**. Of the 28 seasons following the exits of these quarterbacks, just five (18.3 percent) resulted in playoff berths. The teams average fewer than seven wins per season over the first three years, with the lights at the end of the tunnel typically not coming until four seasons after the exorcism.
**With a 0.03 EPA/P, Sam Bradford would join this list at the end of the season.
Only one of these squads -- the 49ers -- has had a success story, as they stuck with Alex Smith until Jim Harbaugh arrived. His defense carried the team to the NFC Championship game in 2011 and now Colin Kaepernick is poised to lead them to another playoff berth (and, as of this writing, another division championship should they hold on).
The rest? J.P Losman's Bills and the Patrick Ramsay and Jason Campbell Redskins have failed to reach the playoffs since their exits, although the Redskins may do so this year on the back of Robert Griffin III's performance.
Including the Saints in the Aaron Brooks aftermath, the teams reaching the playoffs after impressive quarterback busts have done so either through the hiring of a great coach (Harbaugh in San Francisco), the acquisition of a great quarterback (Griffin in Washington) or both (Payton and Brees in New Orleans). The roads back have been otherwise long and even fraught with the same mistakes as in prior years.
The Jets probably have more talent, particularly on defense, than any of the listed teams here exhibited in the last year of their quarterback debacle. As such, the road back might be less bumpy, although such talent could keep them mired in the middle of the draft as opposed to near the top, where the Griffins and Andrew Lucks usually come from (Russell Wilson's third-round selection notwithstanding).
It's easy to see why so many quarterbacks are popped in the first round on what appears to be just the merits of being the top quarterback left. Impact talents like Griffin, Luck and Wilson have completely rejuvenated their franchises, and the opportunity to find the same must be difficult to resist. But taking a quarterback just to take a quarterback has dangerous consequences when the team misses -- beyond the failures as the prized draftee takes his lumps for three or four years, it's a difficult cellar to climb out of.