How to explain the failure of the Tannenbaum era? Mark Sanchez.

Mark Sanchez in Miami. (nfl.com)
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So Mike Tannenbaum is gone as the Jets' general manager.

And now we can expect an offseason of quotes and insinuations from anonymous team officials blaming him for the catastrophe of 2012.

It's actually not unreasonable in this case to blame the poor fortunes of an entire organization on one person. But for the Jets, that person isn't Mike Tannenbaum. It’s Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez was beyond awful this year again: According to ESPN.com’s Total QBR rating, Sanchez ranked 36 out of 36 eligible quarterbacks. He’s been in the league for four years, and for three of those years, he’s been in the bottom third of quarterbacks in this stat.

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Once you consider that Sanchez has basically been awful three of his four years, the lone exception being 2010’s improvement to mere below-averageness, the fact that Tannenbaum built a contending team around him at all is something of a feat. Show me the guy who built a team that dragged Mark Sanchez to two straight A.F.C. Championship games, and I’ll show you a guy who can build a team.

Of course, Tannenbaum accomplished this by adopting an “all-in” strategy that sacrificed draft picks and created the hellacious salary-cap situation the Jets are in now. But everyone knew this was the case when this strategy was being implemented, and nobody seemed to have a problem with it during the good times.

The crest of the success cycle is long in the past, and the bad times are here. But it’s the quarterback who’s making things seem as bleak as they do.

Locker-room issues notwithstanding, Rex Ryan’s supposed narrow fixation with defense notwithstanding, Ryan’s misguided loyalty to “his guys” notwithstanding: The prevailing feeling around the franchise would be 180 degrees different had Sanchez been adequate, even if that adequacy fell far short of the expectations that compelled the Jets to select him fifth. It’s true that the Jets are adrift, with sustained success nowhere in sight. But this owes more to the fact that the N.F.L. can basically be divided between the teams that have good quarterbacks and those that are looking for them, and the Jets, as they were in 2009, are still looking.

Of course, Tannenbaum deserves blame for misevaluating Sanchez to begin with. But if he deserves blame, so do Ryan and Woody Johnson, who supported the choice with equal enthusiasm.  

The same principle applies to the short-term team-building strategy the Jets have adopted over the past several years: In a room in which Tannenbuam, Johnson, and Ryan sat, Tannenbaum wasn’t the only impatient one. What he was was the guy who knew how to make the salary-cap numbers work, allowing the three of them to keep doubling down on their bets.

Time was against them: The talent level was at its best when Sanchez was a rookie. The hope was that when the talent tapered off, Sanchez would improve enough to make up for it. The talent has tapered off, particularly on the offensive line and on defense, and Sanchez has responded by getting worse. 

Tannenbaum has been limited in restocking the talent cupboard by the draft choices he traded to make 2009 and 2010 possible. But the totality of his drafting, per pick, has been mixed, and not nearly as bad as suggested.

Sure, Sanchez, Vernon Gholston, Vlad Ducasse and even Shonn Greene were misses. But Tanenbaum also drafted the core four of Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris, which was the driving forces of those two straight trips to the A.F.C. Championship game. More recently, Muhammad Wilkerson has turned into a star, and Quinton Coples showed flashes in the second half of the year of turning into one. Dustin Keller was a very good player up until this year. Kyle Wilson is, at worse, serviceable, and may yet improve into an asset. If Sanchez not been such a unmitigated bust, we’d be talking about a G.M. with a good draft record, not a bad one.

Even now, the roster isn't devoid of talent. The defense might not be what it was in 2009, but it managed to allow the seventh-fewest number of yards on a per-drive basis in the league, even without Darrelle Revis. As such, the Jets defense was actually better by this measurement than that of the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, two Super Bowl contenders known for their defense.

The offense was a disaster, of course, but having the worst quarterback in the league is a recipe for making everything else look bad. The receivers have to get significantly better next year, but they probably will: Santonio Holmes will be back, Stephen Hill won’t be as raw and useless as he was this year, and Dustin Keller, if re-signed, will be healthier and more effective.

Shonn Greene, who with his grinding, cloud-of-dust style was exactly the non-playmaker the struggling Jets offense was least equipped to carry, will likely be replaced as the starter as the similar-looking but significantly more dynamic Bilal Powell.

Next year's Jets will will keep punching their way out of the proverbial paper bag Ryan is fond of using in analogies. They can attain respectability or better if they get even average play from the quarterback position, and they’ll keep floundering if they don’t. Changing the G.M. doesn't change that fact.