The Jets' infatuation with Mark Sanchez began last month on a high-school field in Southern California. In retrospect, it was their first productive West Coast trip in some time.
In a private workout, they were impressed with his passing and struck by his leadership. But to make him a Jet and to keep him from the clutches of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, they needed help from the man who presided over last season's West Coast follies.
Thanks to Eric Mangini, the Jets have a new franchise quarterback.
Adding a delicious subplot to a blockbuster trade, the Jets made a deal with the Browns - Mangini's Browns - to land the former USC star Saturday at the NFL draft. Sitting in the 17th spot, the Jets moved up 12 places for Sanchez, a giant leap for a quarterback and a bigger leap for a franchise looking to create a buzz in the post-Brett Favre era.
"It is ironic, but we also looked at it as an opportunity," GM Mike Tannenbaum said with a grin, commenting on striking a deal with the man he fired only four months ago.
Actually, the Jets almost made another deal with Mangini. When the Browns were sitting at 21 after trading down again, the Jets tried to obtain the pick to select Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, according to a league source. At that point, the Jets didn't have enough ammunition to get it done.
To acquire Sanchez, the Jets traded their first- and second-round choices (17 and 52), plus three marginal players - defensive end Kenyon Coleman, quarterback Brett Ratliff and safety Abram Elam. (This means Mangini has eight former Jets on his roster.) Only Coleman was projected as a starter. Ratliff was a favorite of many in the organization, deemed as a possible quarterback of the future, but all it took was an underwhelming performance in last week's minicamp to earn a ticket out of town.
On paper, it looks like the Jets got great value in the deal for Sanchez, who became the Jets' highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath was selected first in the 1965 AFL draft. The pressure on Sanchez, 22, will be immense.
"I don't think he's afraid of the big stage at all," coach Rex Ryan said.
Sanchez - who about five hours after he was drafted sent his first "Tweet" ("J-E-T-S . . . Jets! Jets! Jets!!! Hello NYC!") on the popular site Twitter - will compete with Kellen Clemens for the starting job, according to Ryan, who can start his regime with his hand-picked quarterback. Ryan said he'd have no problem starting a rookie; his former team, the Ravens, did it last season with Joe Flacco.
Clemens has the advantage of three years in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system, but as Sanchez said on a conference call from Irvine, Calif., with the New York media, "I didn't grow up dreaming of being a backup and I'm sure Kellen feels the same way." Ryan called Clemens immediately after Sanchez was picked. He said Clemens took it well.
Despite public support for Clemens and Ratliff, the Jets were desperate to add some sizzle at quarterback. After failing to trade for Jay Cutler, they ratcheted up their interest in Sanchez, targeting him in the days leading up to the draft. On Friday, they called the Browns to propose a trade, as reported in the Daily News. The conversation included Tannenbaum, Mangini, Ryan and Browns GM George Kokinos.
Ryan said he was sold on Sanchez at his private workout in Mission Viejo, Calif., not far from where the NFL owners' meetings were taking place. After the field work, they snuck him through a back door at the league's posh hotel in Dana Point, where the Jets rented a suite and quizzed Sanchez in a chalk-talk session.
"We saw the great feet, we saw the poise and how confident he was," said Ryan, recalling the workout at Sanchez's old high school. "Brian put him through every route known to man and he passed every throw with flying colors. We knew right then this is the guy we wanted."
There is some risk involved, considering Sanchez started only 16 games at USC. After capping a brilliant, 34-touchdown season with an MVP performance in the Rose Bowl, he turned pro against the wishes of coach Pete Carroll, who felt Sanchez wasn't ready. Indeed, there's a high bust rate for junior quarterbacks.
Is he a one-year wonder?
"I bring up Matt Cassel. He didn't start at all and look what he's doing," said Sanchez, referring to his former USC teammate.
Sanchez, realizing the league would be skeptical because of his lack of experience, knew he'd have to blow teams away in his postseason workouts. And he felt he did just that.
"They wanted to make sure, 'Is this guy for real? We've only seen him for 16 games,' " he said. "When they saw me throwing in shorts and a T-shirt, they were amazed."